Recently, the law firm of Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley filed a federal lawsuit in Tallahassee against The Florida Bar. It claims that the Bar’s ethics rule restricting a law firm’s website content and postings on blogs was an unconstitutional infringement on the firm’s First Amendment rights.
As a practicing attorney for more than 30 years and a staunch defender of the First Amendment, not only do I support the law firm, but also find these rules to be archaic, arbitrary and an affront to the legal profession.
Attorneys are the protectors of our justice system and democracy. Courts have held that the First Amendment is the preeminent amendment. Yet, The Florida Bar mandates that lawyers give up those rights to speech when it comes to advertising, websites and blogging that other citizens enjoy. How can it be that those who are trained to protect freedoms enjoy fewer freedoms than others?
The age-old argument that attorney advertising is undignified or that scrupulous adherence to rigid, but nebulous, Bar rules somehow protect the public must give way to constitutional freedoms. Attorneys should push to extend freedoms, not be stifled in our own exercise of the rights we are sworn to protect.
Daniel Aaronson, chairman emeritus and immediate past president of the First Amendment Lawyers Association, Fort Lauderdale