One of the unexpected consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic is that I was able to watch a live courtroom go by from my desk at home (at work). The idea of this was absolutely fascinating to me because there was what I considered to be a big case and I had a front row.
If you are in insurance and in Florida, or if you are at all interested in a case where a state attorney is seeking sanctions against an attorney, the case of The Florida Bar against Scot Strems should catch your attention. It did mine and I did not even know I was so interested in watching a lawsuit to decide
The whole thing lasted for two weeks on and off. They streamed over 20 hours of public testimony. The Florida Bar makes its case with documents after rejecting the evil from Mr. Strems and his office. The defense responded with testimony after witnesses and documents that largely proclaimed Mr. Strem's sacred nature and the good work that his company tried to do.
To be completely open, I could not handle all 20 plus hours of testimony. I sat through several hours of testimony for both sides, the oral decision and the sanctions that have been heard so far. I found the whole process brilliant and instructive for me. I can tell you about four specific facts that I learned during this case and if you read to the end, there are some other thoughts.
It takes a lot to get the Florida Bar's attention. ] The first complaint indicates 1
I understand that the legal process can take a long time. I have worked in insurance long enough to see claims that take several years to finally settle. However, it seems possible that this could have been taken over sooner rather than later. As an uninitiated observer of legal issues, I wonder if the Bar Association could not have stepped in to take corrective action.
Whatever they did in advance did not have the desired effect. I heard statements where a court gave an oral explanation. It seems like it was like telling them they were bad and sending them to their rooms to think about what they were doing. From the testimony I heard, it sounded like the company was fined repeatedly. It didn't seem to work either. It turns out that when someone receives a fine and there is enough money to easily pay the fine, the fine that would correct the behavior becomes another cost of doing business.
Good behavior does not make bad behavior ok.
On several points in this case, Strems pointed out that his company did a good job and helped people. That point should be allowed. For most people, if they hire a lawyer to represent them, and the lawyer does a reasonably good job of helping their client, the client is happy. It's a simple standard. Did the customer end up in a better position after having contact with you than they were before? By that standard, I think they did a good job and helped people.
He also pointed out that his company was involved in a lot of charity work. This is also something we can be happy about. Companies should give back to society no matter what they can. I can honestly say that the people there were not all bad people. In fact, I tend to say that they are probably good people who did some bad things.
The problem is that nowhere in life do we accept any kind of balance between good and bad or right and wrong. A person can drive responsibly for 20 years and if they drink, drive and cause an accident that kills someone, they can still be convicted of DUI, even vehicle murder.
It just does not work that way and we know that as part of their defense, even while fighting against the original repeal, they argued that they were still doing well.
If it is important to do good, it is also important to do things within the limits set by others. These limits allow us to all play the same game with the same rules. The company complained that closure caused people to lose their jobs and that people would not have access to help in the fight against their insurance companies. To that, I argue that they should have thought that way before things got to this point.
It's not my fault does not work.
In the development of his law firm, Mr. Strömmar went from a terrifying individual lawyer with himself, a team member and gravel on his side to the head of a fairly large company, with lawyers, other legal staff, support staff and a leadership structure . He took fewer errands and put supervisors over others so he could focus on things of higher priority. That's a good thing. I love it when a small business grows beyond just a few people.
But when some of the accusers claimed that lawyers at his company acted badly, he tried to say that it was not his fault. He did the best he could to control people, but you can not force people to follow rules or culture.
Since I never worked for them, I can not say directly what the culture was for sure, but I can comment on what came out during the case and how I have seen things work elsewhere. Some people will adapt their style to suit the culture in which they work. Some people will work in one place and if the culture goes against them, they will work elsewhere. For the most part, people only stay in one place if they feel they can not leave, or if the culture suits them.
Leadership cannot simply abdicate responsibility for their team. Leaders must take responsibility for what happens within their team. If there is a problem that the leader is aware of, the leader must address it or support it. If there is a problem that the leader does not know about, the leader has failed. If someone on my team does not show up, it is my fault and my responsibility to fix it.
This is certainly not the end of the story.
The oral decision has been handed out and arguments have been put forward for the sanctions requested by both parties. The bar asks for permanent suspension and the defense asks for a short-term suspension. This process is far from over.
Both sides will push for what they want until there is a final decision and order, but it is not today. Even when this case is over, the story is far from over.
What will the courtroom do next? Will they take the case as an opportunity to see how they regulate their industry? Will they look at their processes and find places that need updating? Will they consider how they track the lawyer's behavior under their area of responsibility? Will it be common for the bar that they will rarely take action? Who knows? This story continues.
This is certainly not the end of the story for Mr. Strems. It does not matter if he is such a grumpy lawyer as the story that has been told so far. He can be banned. This does not necessarily mean that he will never be able to practice law. He may be ashamed. This does not necessarily mean that he is persona non grata forever.
What do you think will happen if he came out and held a press conference and made this statement? "I have come here today to say that I accept the court's conclusions against me. I made a mistake and I'm sorry. I can see where my actions and failure to act have harmed people, including the people of Florida, my family and friends, the people who trusted me enough to work for me and the insurance market in this state.
As I mentioned, this is something I never expected to happen. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are opportunities to learn things that I did not think I could learn, let alone that I would be interested in. In that case, let me give you two more things I learned
Watching live (and recorded live) court on YouTube is very cool.
It was super cool to sit and listen to the arguments. I thought it was fascinating to see the whole thing play out. It was much more civilian than I expected. There were no red-faced lawyers shouting. There was nothing dramatic about it. It was a very civil procedure. Yes, I meant that pun. No need to thank me.
Watching court proceedings is much more boring than watching TV.
At the same time, it was so boring. The Attorney General listed facts after facts, quoted transcript after transcript, and went on and on about this case and that case. He put documents on the screen, and everyone sat there and read them. Then the defense started and asked yes or no question after yes or no question. Hour after hour with answers to one word was followed by long readings of more documents and such.
I mean, Mr. Strems was sitting there sipping his coffee most of the time and not even playing a drop.
It was so boring, but I learned a lot and can not wait for the next episode to go live.