The reluctance of the legal profession to acknowledge that members of the public are as qualified to recognize metaphors, puffery and hyperbole in the marketing of the legal services as they are when they are buying cupcakes or hiring plumbers continues to astound. Many state bar associations still have, and enforce, ethics rules that make the kind of obvious analogies routine in TV, online and print advertising violations because they are deemed “misleading or deceptive.” Florida has long been one of the most notable laggards in applying common sense to lawyer advertising. In contrast, the District of Columbia, with the largest bar in the nation, has largely eliminated such rules. except in conduct constituting outright lies. Just a few days ago, I told a client that the other bars were slowly moving in D.C.’s direction. I did not expect Florida’s bar to again embarrass itself and its lawyers–AND MY DOG—again, after making itself the butt of jokes over a decade ago with virtually the same complaint it made against a lawyer’s ads more than a decade ago. I thought the Florida Bar had learned. I thought eleven years was more than enough time for it to accept the basic concept of advertising…and to learn about dogs.
The Bar has issued a formal ethics complaint against Florida lawyer Robert Pelletier is facing an ethics complaint by the Florida Bar for describing himself as a “pit bull lawyer” and using various images of pit bull-type dogs in his ads. The March 2 complaint alleges that Pelletier violated the Florida rule against misleading ads and quotes a particularly foolish Florida Supreme Court opinion from the earlier case stating that
“… These devices, which invoke the breed of dog known as the pit bull, demean all lawyers and thereby, harm both the legal profession and the public’s trust and confidence in our system of justice.”
Wow. To begin with, as Ethics Alarms has discussed repeatedly, there is no such “breed of dog known as the pit bull.” There are several breeds that are commonly called “pit bulls,” such as the American Pit Bull Terrier, the Bull Terrier, and the Staffordshire Terrier. Then there are several others, like the American Bulldog, and the Corso Cano, that are commonly called pit bulls because people who don’t know a dog breed from a rutabaga think they are. In fact, the dog pictured in Pellatier’s ad above is a Cane Corso, an Italian mastiff breed without any terrier in its lineage. (“Pit bull” breeds are terrier-bulldog hybrids. So are Jack Russell terriers.) All the mastiffs are sweethearts.
Second, that opinion was risible when it was issued for its holding that a comparison with pit bulls demeans lawyers. In fact, the Florida pit bull breeders complained about the lawyer ads in question in 2011, arguing that comparing the dogs to lawyers unjustly denigrated the dogs.
In the earlier pit bull ad case which I reference frequently in seminars as an example of how silly and stubborn bar associations can be regarding the modern practice of law, Florida successfully challenged ads by personal injury lawyer Marc Andrew Chandler that used pit bull imagery while it allowed other lawyers to use images of panthers and lions on their websites. I really thought this was a dead issue by now.
As the dog breeders pointed out in the Chandler case, all of the pit bull breeds are noted for their loyalty, obedience, intelligence, affection and trustworthiness, as well as their protectiveness. If only lawyers were as reliable allies. But if that’s too hard for the bar association and the Supreme Court to grasp, it’s high time to give the public credit for having the base-level intelligence to realize that a lawyer comparing himself to a dog isn’t claiming that he is literally a canine or that he poops in his front yard.