Personal Injury Law Firm Sues Florida Bar Over Advertising Rules

, Daily Business Review

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Greg Barnhart
Greg Barnhart

Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley in West Palm Beach is suing The Florida Bar, alleging its new attorney advertising rules violate the First Amendment.

The prominent personal injury law firm is represented by two First Amendment lawyers—Richard Bush of Bush & Augspurger in Tallahassee and Greg Beck of Gupta Beck in Washington—in the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Tallahassee federal court.

The lawsuit challenges amendments to bar advertising rules that took effect May 1.

Florida Bar spokeswoman Francine Walker declined comment, citing the pending litigation.

The Bar completed a massive overhaul of its attorney advertising rules, which were approved by the Florida Supreme Court. The rules, which regulate attorney websites, social media, ads and commercials, are widely considered the most stringent in the country.

Other law firms have sued The Bar over its attorney advertising rules in prior years. Beck said this is the first lawsuit targeting the new rules.

"A lot of lawyers are reluctant to file suit against The Bar, especially when it's related to ethics," Beck said. "But I've been contacted by a number of lawyers who were supportive. So we may have other lawyers joining in with amicus briefs."

Searcy Denney filed the suit after submitting its website, blog and LinkedIn pages to The Bar for an advisory opinion, said partner F. Gregory Barnhart. The Bar objected to all versions, including Barnhart's resume listing every case he has tried or settled for more than $1 million. The Bar stated such information was not "objectively verifiable," Barnhart said.

The law firm appealed The Bar's decision to its standing committee on advertising. After three meetings, the committee affirmed The Bar's decision.

"The advisory opinion was so scattered and so impossible to deal with that we just decided there is no way you can work with them," Barnhart said. "It's such a denial of our First Amendment rights. It's an impossible morass.

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