Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ambulance Chasing By Proxy

The Basics of the Florida Bar's Business Card Rules

As I set about the front work of creating my law firm, I decided I needed business cards to give to my clients in their client packet. This would allow them to 1) find my contact information quickly, 2) take my information and place it in their cell, and 3) ultimately use my card to refer my firm to other people. As usual, I scoured the Florida Bar website for opinions and commentary on how to properly create a business card. Here is what I found, and it may surprise you.

Leaving Stacks of Business Cards at a Business

Chairman Holcomb back in 1963 opined that it would be highly unprofessional for an attorney to leave a stack of business cards with a banker (and presumably any other business) for the purposes of referring business. Professional Ethics of the Florida Bar, Opinion 62-69 (1963, Updated 2011). I found this to be strange, since there were practical workarounds (more on that later) to this opinion on "Canon 27".

Don't get me wrong, I agree in part with the idea. I always found it bizarre to go into a barbershop and find stacks of business cards advertising other services just laying around. It is not how I would like to promote my business. But I find the practice to be similar to a billboard on the side of I-4, which simply tells me that a particular firm exists and wants my business. Business cards are simply small billboards in my mind. I'm not a big fan of billboards either but they are a fact of life.

But the Chairman is consistent, "We believe that it would be most improper for an attorney to give his professional cards to anyone for the purpose of referring business, although in individual cases we find no objection." (Emphasis added.) Id. So in other words, handing out stacks of business cards to a person in a business is improper, but handing out one card at a time is okay even if that card is meant to draw in a referral.

What About Giving to Individuals?

Giving out a business card to individual clients, or people who simply ask is apparently still okay. (Phew.) One should avoid handing out stacks of cards to friendly clients, close friends, family, etc. They would violate the rule by acting as the ambulance chaser by proxy, so that makes sense. Id.

It is a reasonable expectation that a person in possession of your card may refer somebody to your firm. It is the secondary purpose of the business card (the first being a convenient collection of your contact information.) But let us be realistic, attorneys want more clients and a referral here and there doesn't hurt. Maximizing that referral base keeps us busy.

Let's face it: the business card has hardly evolved since the 60s. They are more artistic and flashy, sure... but ultimately they are small pieces of paper with your business information on them. They are also slowly dying off considering new technologies like phone bumping (a 21st century handshake?) Now networking is more a function of personal meetings and digital advertising. LinkedIn, Facebook, and G+ inter alia is fast becoming the more important media to spread news about your business around.

QR codes are another fast growing segment. I include them in my correspondence for my more tech-savvy clients. I am pretty skeptical that they will go mainstream for long. They are subjectively speaking... ugly. For example: here is my profile from LinkedIn.

Self-promotion is always a good thing. But there is one type of self-promotion that the Florida Bar has never opined against (except maybe the QR thing), and that's being a great lawyer.

The Workarounds I Promised

Nothing gets more referrals than great legal work. Winning a big case for a client will up your chances for a referral by... well, I don't have the numbers so I'll say a bajillion percent, give or take. Give back to the community, be involved, take on the hard cases which reek of injustice. You may not win, but everybody loves a good underdog.

That banker I spoke about earlier is constantly asking you for your card because 1) he or she has either forgotten to record your information on a smart phone, or 2) you're not that particularly memorable. Become memorable, and that banker (who talks with a lot of clients) will come across bad situations that may need your services. He or she will then say, "Hey wait, I know a really great attorney, let me get my cell."

Those words will beat any flashy business card hands down.


Jimmy Davis is a practicing attorney in the Central Florida area. He practices in many areas of law, but is most interested in family and business law. He is particularly interested in the aftermath of Constitutional and Florida Constitutional rulings and how they help or hinder his clients' interests. He is available for free consultations on a variety of legal topics. 

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