Florida’s trial lawyers used to be called an Academy…

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They used to be called an Academy.

They were a consortium of thinkers and leaders of their profession. They were serious people engaged in a serious business and their trade association was run by serious professionals who had the respect of their peers.

They were giant killers who knocked off the man who, in his own words, owned the Senate; it was “his chamber” after all.  And they fended off the enemy in high style; beating back an FMA-sponsored ballot measure in 1988 with ease.

And the next decade was very good for them. With near-constant electoral victories through most of the 1990’s, the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers was the 800-pound gorilla in Florida’s political zoo.

Then something happened.

A lawyer who represents himself has – as we all know – a fool for a client. Does the same axiom hold true for a trade association?

First came a stinging loss at the ballot box.

A few short years after they saw one of its past presidents pummeled in a Jacksonville state Senate race, the Academy suffered a far more costly loss.  I

In 2004, the FMA had put up a ballot measure to limit lawyers’ fees in medical malpractice cases and it passed in a landslide by a nearly two-to-one margin. Despite the other two distraction measures on the ballot, the loss of Amendment 3 was a very expensive (some estimates have the trial bar spending north of $20,000,000) shot to the gut. Tens of millions tossed out the window in a failed attempt to sway voters for a measure the court would later determine unconstitutional anyway.

Then came the name change.

No longer called an “Academy,” it was rebranded to something that sounds more like a consortium of men in tights.  The Justice League, err, the “Justice Association” was coming to save the day, leaping tall buildings in a single bound, saving kittens from trees, rescuing damsels in distress, and standing for truth, justice and the American way.

Give me a break.

When things seemed to be possibly getting back on track, next came the infamous “racist” mailer in an insane attempt to defeat John Thrasher in a Republican primary. This was followed by an organizational implosion and an organization that has not had a notable victory since perhaps turning back Jeb’s attempt to defeat Alex Villalobos for the Senate.

I, for one, am not ready to write an epithet for a group of really smart people with a lot of money, but after Tuesday night’s near-sweep in a some pretty high-profile attempts, we can only hope that somebody somewhere is suggesting a change of course.

Here’s some unsolicited advice…

Look around you. See how successful organizations that are right in Tallahassee are run. See how, for example, your sometimes enemy ,the FMA, is organized and note that they depend on their professional staff for guidance, leadership and direction.  Seriously, do you think Tim Stapleton had another great night purely by chance? Or do you think it is because he has the trust of his leadership to make tough decisions in the trenches. Do you think some heart surgeon from Miami is calling him and telling him how to conduct a poll?

How does Marian Johnson still do it?  Have you even met Ryan Tyson? And why aren’t any powerhouse lobbyists on your payroll?

The point is, we all know you are really good lawyers – the best in your profession – and you have our respect. You do what you do and you do it well.  And one of the things you do exceedingly well is hire experts. For tough cases you hire medical experts, trial consultants, forensic accountants, structural engineers and others who know their business.

However, you may not know as much about politics, running campaigns and lobbying as you think you do.

Become an Academy again.

Hire the best. Bring in talent. (Some of them already reside within your organization <cough> Kevin Sweeny <cough>.)  Set clearly defined goals. Pay them well and hold them accountable.

Then get out of their way.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.