Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Florida Supreme Court opinion approving (with minor revisions) Bar Rule 4-7.14, which sets forth the requirements for Florida lawyers to call themselves “experts” and “specialists” in advertisements and other documents. The case is In re: Amendments to Rule Regulating The Florida Bar 4-7.14., Case No. SC18-2019. The June 27, 2019 Supreme Court of Florida opinion is here: https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/content/download/527989/5865891/file/sc18-2019.pdf. The rule revisions become effective on August 26, 2019.
As I blogged previously here: https://jcorsmeier.wordpress.com/2015/10/02/federal-district-judge-enjoins-the-florida-bar-from-enforcing-rule-prohibiting-truthful-claims-of-expertise/, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle found in 2015 that non-certified lawyers could have the skills and experience of certified lawyers and held that the Florida Bar Rule restricting the use of “expert” and “specialist” to lawyers who were certified by The Florida Bar (or its equivalent) was unconstitutional and he enjoined the Bar from enforcing it. The Florida Bar did not appeal.
The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors (BOG) imposed a moratorium on enforcing the rule as written and proposed rule amendments to comply with Judge Hinkle’s ruling; however, the Florida Supreme Court rejected them. The BOG revised the proposed rule amendments and filed them in 2018. The opinion approved the revised rule with minor revisions.
The revised Florida Bar Rule 4-7.14 states that lawyers may not claim to have specialization or expertise in an area of law unless they are certified by the Florida Bar, the American Bar Association, another Bar’s accredited plan, or “can objectively verify the claim based on the lawyer’s education, training, experience, or substantial involvement in the area of practice in which specialization or expertise is claimed.” The Bar’s proposed draft rule stated “and substantial”; however, the court changed the “and” to “or”, which is an important revision.
In addition, a law firm may make that claim of expertise in an area of practice if it can show that at least one of its lawyers can meet those standards and if all firm lawyers cannot meet those standards, it must have a disclaimer that not all of its lawyers specialize or have expertise in that area of practice. Revisions were also made to the rule comments stating that a lawyer who is “of counsel” to a law firm would permit the firm to claim specialization and expertise if the “of counsel” practices solely with that firm.
Bottom line: The revised Florida Bar rule has been in development since 2015 and the Supreme Court rejected a previous version of the proposed rule. The rule will now permit lawyers to call themselves “experts” or “specialists” if they are certified by the Florida Bar, the American Bar Association, another Bar’s accredited plan, if the lawyer “can objectively verify the claim based on the lawyer’s education, training, experience, or substantial involvement in the area of practice in which specialization or expertise is claimed.”
Be careful out there.
My law firm focuses on review, analysis, and interpretation of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, advice and representation of lawyers in Bar disciplinary matters, advice and representation of applicants for admission to The Florida Bar before the Board of Bar Examiners, defense of all Florida licensed professionals in discipline and admission matters before all state agencies and boards, expert ethics opinions, and practice management for lawyers and law firms. If there is a lawyer or other Florida professional license involved, I can defend the complaint or help you get your license.
If you have any questions or comments, please call me at (727) 799-1688 or e-mail me at [email protected]. You can find my law firm on the web at www.jac-law.com. In addition to handling individual cases, matters, problems and issues for my clients, I also am on retainer to provide ethics advice to numerous lawyers and law firms throughout the state of Florida. I also provide legal assistance and advice to numerous individuals and non-legal entities to help insure compliance with the law and rules related to UPL and other issues.
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Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150
Clearwater, Florida 33761
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