Florida has recently joined the lone state of Ohio in allowing lawyers to advertise and solicit prospective new clients by text. The Florida Bar’s decision to allow text solicitation of prospective new business came as a surprise to many lawyers and non-lawyers alike. In the past, the Florida Bar has often adopted a “just say no” approach to enlarging the marketing ability of lawyers via digital media.
The texting solicitation decision was not unanimous within the Florida Bar. The Bar’s Standing Committee on Advertising turned down the request to approve text solicitation of prospective clients, viewing texting as being similar to phone solicitations not allowed under Bar rules.The Florida Bar Board of Governors took a different view of texting, seeing it as a form of written communication, even though it is commonly delivered via a cell phone. All Florida Bar rules governing written communication and emails now apply to the newly approved use of texting solicitations of new clients.
Florida Bar President Bar President Ramon Abadin has already signaled his approval of the Board of Governors’ decision, calling the decision a “sign of the modern times”. He believes that the decision acknowledges that cellphones are used for communication, not just calling, and that the decision enables lawyers “to communicate with their clients over a mobile platform”.
One of the dissenting votes came from a Board of Governors member who views texting as more similar to an in-person communication that should only come from some one known to the text recipient or from someone the recipient has provided with their cellphone number. He believes it doesn’t look good when lawyers send out unsolicited text advertisements for their services.
For a glimpse at your future as a cellphone owner, its helpful to understand that the approval of texting solicitation of prospective clients was requested by an Orlando traffic accident attorney who has developed software capable of identifying the cellphone numbers of traffic ticket recipients and whether their cellphone texting services are free. He argued that texting is so prevalent today that cellphone numbers function like an email address. Email solicitations are permitted under current Bar rules. This attorney claims that some 85% of the 270,000 traffic ticket recipients in Orange County last year were unrepresented. His software will allow him and other users of his software to tap into that huge unrepresented market now that the Florida Bar has approved cellphone texting solicitations.
Consumer reaction to the expansion of legal services marketing via text messaging remains unknown at this early stage. What will the public think about receiving unsolicited texts from lawyers they’ve never heard of and never contacted for assistance? Unlike emails which are reviewed at the choice of the recipient, texts pop up on a cellphone at any time without warning. Recipients may opt out of receiving texts from a law firm, but it requires affirmative action to stop a form of communication never sought by the recipient. If legal consumers embrace the texting solicitations, software identifying cellphone numbers of persons involved in pro se family law filings and other types of court filings will not be far behind.
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