Navigating the laws that regulate advertising options for lawyers can be tricky. Changing times bring up changing opinions on what constitutes forbidden telephone solicitation, and what does not.
Contacting potential clients via text messaging is a practice that has recently been reviewed by the Florida Bar. This method of communication has been deemed acceptable, but there are still restrictions that an attorney must follow.
As a lawyer, how do you keep up with technology, communicating in a way that most people now do, while following state laws and regulations? Let’s take a closer look at how text messaging can work for an attorney and how lawyers are finding business via text messaging.
Acceptable and Unacceptable Means of Communication
Lawyers are not allowed to solicit business in person. They are also not allowed to call someone on the telephone and ask to be hired. But, an attorney can send a text message, according to a recent Florida Bar decision.
In-person and telephone solicitations are forbidden because, the American Bar Association says, “the situation is fraught with the possibility of undue influence, intimidation, and over-reaching.” Just this past February, a Florida Bar committee said the in-person and telephone ban on advertising also barred text messages. But, the Bar’s board of governors reversed that ruling in July. They concluded that texts are more like emails than phone calls.
Times are Changing
Bar President, Ramon Abadin, says that text messages are “an adaptation to reality.” He states, “Most people communicate by mobile data devices that happen to be phones, too.”
Abadin notes that a change in perspective regarding text messaging is “part of the national dialogue. It’s what we should be doing as professionals. We should be looking at how best to serve our clients.”
An attorney, Abadin says, should be looking at the ways in which his or her clients want to be communicated with, and the ways that communication could appear as inappropriate. The issue of text messaging arose when law firms inquired to the Bar as to whether or not texts were appropriate. An Orlando law firm that sent a second inquiry succeeded in getting text messages approved as logical means of communications.
The firm described how it planned to send texts to criminal defendants, those whose email addresses were not available. It offered the argument that “criminal charges can change your life forever,” and suggested that a solid sample message might say, “You might feel scared and alone. The government accusing you has power; it has money; it has police; and it has many lawyers who will be working to convict and punish you. You should have a lawyer, too.”
This law firm presented data showing that 90% of adults in Florida have at least one mobile device like a smartphone or tablet. It also showed that 90% of them use these devices for text messaging.
The Board concluded that laws needed to be updated to reflect this change in American culture. Text messaging for lawyers is now a viable way to gain clients needing representation in a variety of circumstances. There are, however, regulations that must be adhered to even when sending text messages, and it’s important to keep these in mind to avoid breaking the law.