Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert update which will discuss the fallout from the September 30, 2015 Order and injunction by U.S. Northern District of Florida Judge Robert Hinkle finding that the Florida Bar Rule prohibiting truthful claims of expertise without certification is unconstitutional and enjoining its enforcement. The order is in Searcy et al. v. The Florida Bar et al., case number 4:13-cv-00664 (U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida). The order is attached and is in Pacer here: https://ecf.flnd.uscourts.gov/doc1/04914695967
As I reported in my December 23, 2013 and October 2, 2015 Ethics Alert blogs, the Florida law firm of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, P.A. filed a federal lawsuit against The Florida Bar in December 2013 after the Bar found that language on the law firm’s website violated of Florida Bar Rule 3-7.14, which prohibits claims of expertise unless a lawyer is Florida Bar Board certified in that area of practice, whether truthful or not.
The Florida Bar advised the Searcy Denny law firm that it was prohibited from claiming that it “specializes or has expertise in mass-tort or unsafe-product cases, or even in personal-injury cases, even though the firm undeniably has expertise in these areas.” The Order also stated: “ Nor can any individual attorney claim to specialize or have expertise in mass-tort or unsafe product cases, even if the attorney handles only cases of that kind, and even if the attorney has successfully handled many such cases.”
According to an article in the October 15, 2015, Florida Bar News by Gary Blankenship, “As a result of Hinkle’s ruling, the Bar’s Ethics and Advertising Department, which reviews lawyer ads, has announced it will no longer find noncompliance for claims of specialization or expertise from non-certified lawyers. ‘Instead, the Bar will point out to the filer that the advertisement makes claims of specialization or expertise, and the filer may use them only if the filer can objectively verify those claims’, Bar Ethics Counsel Elizabeth Tarbert said in a letter to Bar officials.”
Bottom line: The Florida Bar apparently has decided (at this point) to concede that a lawyer may claim that he or she specializes or has expertise in an area of practice even if the lawyer is not certified to practice in that area, with the important caveat that the lawyer must be able to “objectively verify” the claim of expertise or specialization (i.e. prove that it is truthful).
Be careful out there.
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Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
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Clearwater, Florida 33759
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