The Florida Bar initiated disciplinary proceedings against Florida lawyer Robert Laurence Pelletier for describing himself as a “pit bull” lawyer and using an online image of a pit bull in his advertising.
Mr. Pelletier used the logo of a pit bull with a spiked collar on multiple platforms, including on a website, Facebook page, and as an advertisement on a boat. He also used the name “Pitbull” on his business cards and the door of his office.
The Florida Bar repeatedly requested that Mr. Pelletier remove or correct the advertisements. Although Mr. Pelletier corrected some of the alleged violations (business card and office door), he only partially corrected the website and did not address the boat advertisement until the Florida Bar pressed this disciplinary action.
The March 2, 2021, complaint alleges that Mr. Pelletier violated the rules for lawyer advertising. In addition to citing the Florida lawyer advertising rules, the complaint invokes a Florida Supreme Court case finding that the use of an image of a pit bull and the phrase “Pit Bull” in advertising does not assist the public in ensuring that an informed decision is made prior to selection of the attorney. See The Florida Bar v. Pape, 918 So. 2d 240 (Fla. 2005).
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.See The Florida Bar v. Pape, 918 So. 2d 240, 242 (Fla. 2005).
“Pit Bull” Advertising
It is questionable whether a disciplinary complaint would be viable in Louisiana based on similar conduct by a Louisiana lawyer. The Florida advertising rules are broader than their Louisiana counterparts by capturing conduct outside of the reach of the Louisiana rules. For example, Florida “prohibits the use of statements describing or characterizing the quality of the lawyer’s services.” See Rules Regulating the Florida Bar 4-7.2(b)(3). The Florida Supreme Court has interpreted this rule to include statements about the qualities (i.e., traits or characteristics) of the lawyer. See The Florida Bar v. Pape, 918 So. 2d 240 (Fla. 2005). While the Louisiana rules do not reach quite as far, they do prohibit a lawyer from utilizing “a nickname, moniker, motto or trade name that states or implies an ability to obtain results in a matter.” See La. Rules of Pro’f Conduct, r. 7.2(c)(L). As the Florida Supreme Court noted in Pape, “A courteous lawyer can be expected to be well mannered in court, a hard-working lawyer well prepared, and a “pit bull” lawyer vicious to the opposition.” See Pape, 918 So. at 244. To the extent a Louisiana lawyer advertisement utilizes the “pit bull” nickname to imply he can achieve results in a vicious or aggressive manner, the advertisement could implicate Rule 7.1(c)(L).
Moreover, both the Florida and Louisiana rules prohibit false, misleading, and deceptive advertising. See Rules Regulating the Florida Bar r. 4-7.13 (“A lawyer may not engage in deceptive or inherently misleading advertising.”); see also La. Rules of Pro’f Conduct, r. 7.2(c)(a)(B) (“A communication violates this Rule if it… is false, misleading or deceptive.”). The Florida Supreme Court has held that a lawyer’s use of a pit bull in lawyer advertising was “manipulative and misleading” in violation of rule 4-7.2(b)(4). See Pape, 918 So. at 244. In finding that the pit bull advertisements were manipulative and misleading, the Florida Supreme Court explained:
These advertising devices would suggest to many persons not only that the lawyers can achieve results but also that they engage in a combative style of advocacy. The suggestion is inherently deceptive because there is no way to measure whether the attorneys in fact conduct themselves like pit bulls so as to ascertain whether this logo and phone number convey accurate information.See Pape, 918 So. at 244.
As a result of the similarities between the Florida and Louisiana rules, a disciplinary complaint similar to the one in Mr. Pelletier’s case could be viable in Louisiana.
It is important that clients are able to decide who they want to hire. Some clients may want a laid-back lamb. Others may want a pugnacious pit bull. Whether the lawyer advertises those qualities or not, lawyers should always be mindful not to turn the courtroom into a zoo.