An Interview With Chere Estrin
The legal field is known to be extremely competitive. Lawyers are often smart, ambitious, and highly educated. That being said, what does it take to stand out and become a “Top Lawyer” in your specific field of law? In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law”, we are talking to top lawyers who share what it takes to excel and stand out in your industry.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stacey A. Giulianti.
Stacey A. Giulianti, Esq. is the Chief Legal Officer at Florida Peninsula Insurance Company, where he oversees the Claims, Special Investigations, and Legal Departments. He founded the company with his partners in 2005 and has since helped it grow to become the 7th largest homeowners insurance company in Florida. He has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1993, and is the Author of Florida Insurance Law, Thomson West Publishing, 2007–2021.
Be honest in every dealing you have with every person, all the time. I cannot stress that enough. Your word is your bond, and ensuring that you treat every transaction with the utmost fidelity and integrity is mission one. Don’t exaggerate and don’t BS people. Under-promise and over-deliver.
Stacey A. Giulianti, Esq. is the Chief Legal Officer at Florida Peninsula Insurance Company
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. What is the “backstory” that brought you to this particular career path in Law? Did you want to be an attorney “when you grew up”?
As a kid, my dream was to become a television or film director. I obtained a degree in broadcasting but realized that my real love was writing and speaking — even acting, to some extent. What better way to use those skills in a professional environment than as a lawyer? After spending just one year at a large law firm in South Florida, I joined a few law school colleagues in a boutique law firm representing policyholders against insurance carriers for failing to pay benefits. After a dozen years and many trials, I met an insurance agent with the idea to start our own insurance company, and we spent the next two years researching and writing our business plan.
Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your practice and what you focus on?
I am the Chief Legal Officer of Florida Peninsula Insurance Company and Edison Insurance Company, having co-founded the company in 2005. We are a residential property insurer in the State of Florida, with over 150,000 customers and $63 billion in Total Insured Value (TIV). We sell homeowners, condo-unit, and renter’s insurance policies in Florida through a network of 2,500 agents. I oversee legal disputes, large claims, corporate governance, contract review, and special investigations.
You are a successful attorney. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? What unique qualities do you have that others may not? Can you please share a story or example for each?
For me, the most important trait is the willingness to delegate. I know so many lawyers that try to “do everything,” mostly because they have unnecessarily large egos and can’t imagine that some of their work can be done more quickly by others. Once you understand you are an expert in certain areas — but not others — and that your time is best spent focusing on your areas of expertise, you free up thousands of hours annually to improve your skills and create value. I am not a financial wizard, so I have a bookkeeper handle writing my checks and balancing my personal accounts; that saves dozens of hours each and every month.
In a similar vein, saying “no” to time wasters and non-essential opportunities is critical to controlling your “bandwidth.” Each of us only has so much mental and physical currency to spend, and being strong enough to decline projects or plans is crucial to success. I have been asked to join countless charitable organizations — all of which have laudable goals — and have said yes to only one or two at a time. We’ve been wrongfully told that we “can do anything we put our minds to,” but that presupposes you are focusing your mind solely on important tasks. Successful attorneys continually hammer the areas about which they are passionate and reject anything else.
Finally, refuse to limit yourself. I was a small firm lawyer representing “mom and pop” against huge insurance companies; now I help run one. Plenty of people said that our dream was impossible; it could never happen. Believing in yourself means throwing caution to the wind on occasion and challenging yourself to do what others term “impossible.” This is the only life you’re going to get — don’t waste it punching the clock and ignoring your dreams.
Do you think you have had luck in your success? Can you explain what you mean?
Anyone who ignores the role of luck isn’t being honest with themselves. There are always external variables that play a role in success. However, “luck favors the prepared mind.” You can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket. I met my first business partner in the insurance world, Clint Strauch, at a dinner party. He was a long-time insurance agent for a major national carrier, and understood the ground floor operations of an insurance organization. We started talking about our careers and realized that there was an opportunity to meld our different areas of expertise into a modern take on a homeowners insurance carrier. Meeting him and sharing our entrepreneurial passions was luck; working every week for the next two years to implement our idea was hard work.
Do you think where you went to school has any bearing on your success? How important is it for a lawyer to go to a top-tier school?
In most markets, your law school gets you into the door for your first job. Sure, some big-time firms only hire from Ivy League universities, but in Florida it was the local knowledge that got you a position. My first job, at a large statewide law firm in Florida, gave preference to graduates of Florida-based law schools, and everyone proudly displayed their school colors in the office. Going to law school in Florida meant that you would know the judges, the state attorneys, future corporate leaders, politicians, and opposing counsel. To a smart law firm, those contacts were pure gold — much more than a degree from a well-known law school.
Based on the lessons you have learned from your experience, if you could go back in time and speak to your twenty-year-old self, what would you say? Would you do anything differently?
To be honest, I don’t think I would change much in my career trajectory. I still believe that you enter a field, become an expert in a tight area of the law, and then use it in an entrepreneurial way. Being an hourly attorney may be a high paid hourly worker, but you’re still an hourly worker. Using your skills and drive to get your firm or business to work for you, and not vice versa, is the key to top level success.
This is not easy work. What is your primary motivation and drive behind the work that you do?
As in-house counsel, growing our business in an intelligent way — and beating the pants off our competition — keeps me awake and passionate. The law is interesting, for sure, but nothing tops the pure game that is ‘business.’ It’s a win-win for everyone involved. If we do a phenomenal job for our customers, they sing our praises, and more people buy our insurance products. If we treat our employees fairly, they spread the good word and even more talented people knock on our doors to work with us. Insurance is a low margin enterprise, which means you must be on top of your game every single day. To me, that’s extremely exciting and motivating.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Increasing our use of technology to service insurance customers is the next great frontier, and we have embraced it with both hands. Insurance is seen — often correctly — as an old-fashioned business model. Since day one, we have challenged the old guard and sought modern ways to operate and serve policyholders. As a lawyer and a businessperson, being involved in both the regulatory and the creative end of a new product or process is gratifying. Automating payments, claims, policy issuance, and agency relationships — while still having a real person available via telephone — helps us edge out our competitors in the tightly contested home insurance space.
Where do you go from here? Where do you aim to be in the next chapter of your career?
At some point, I would love to teach law and entrepreneurship full time. I have taught classes at both Florida International University and Southern Maine Community College in the past, and sharing my passion for business just feels right. Getting the next generation of legal and business leaders off to a strong start would be a great legacy.
Without sharing anything confidential, can you please share your most successful “war story”? Can you share the funniest?
My initial business partner, Clint, and I took well over a year to create the draft of our business plan, which we showed to a couple of very successful entrepreneurs. Our plan showed that by year three projected revenue would be $60 million annually. The entrepreneurs — two Harvard MBA’s — laughed profusely at our plan and sent us back with a list of close to a hundred questions — literally. We spent the next several months researching their questions, and finally presented them the re-drafted plan. Although they were certain that we could never achieve anywhere near that level of success in three years, they agreed to provide the seed money and join us as partners in the venture. Three years later? Well, we exceeded $100 million dollars in annual revenue in year three. Our plan was wrong — we underestimated the potential!
Ok, fantastic. Let’s now shift to discussing some advice for aspiring lawyers. Do you work remotely? Onsite? Or Hybrid? What do you think will be the future of how law offices operate? What do you prefer? Can you please explain what you mean?
While I can’t speak to law offices per se, in-house legal operations will ultimately depend on the attitude of management and the willingness to embrace the future. I believe strongly in remote work, with some hybrid office appearances when absolutely necessary. During the first 18 months of Covid-19 lockdowns, I worked exclusively remotely. I didn’t waste two hours a day in traffic; I didn’t waste time catching up with coworkers on sports or television shows; I didn’t have to pretend to be interested in what people did over the weekend. Instead, I went down to my home office in the basement and — imagine this — got straight to work. I was completely focused and got much more work done than if I had been a commuter to corporate headquarters. Smart companies will reduce the crushing expense of office rent and waste of commuting time and permit most staff to work remotely.
How has the legal world changed since COVID? How do you think it might change in the near future? Can you explain what you mean?
The biggest change since Covid-19 is the movement to permit more staff to work remotely. Since our original launch, most of our litigation representatives and claims adjusters have worked remotely, typically from home or the field. Once the lockdowns took effect, we realized that allowing more departments to work independently and remotely benefitted both the corporation and the team member. Less stress means a better work product. More importantly, new hires are demanding an increase in flexibility, which often includes fully or partially remote work environments. There is very little reason that a white-collar office worker needs to be in a specific physical location like a corporate office. As long as metrics are met, it shouldn’t matter where that person is located in the “real world.”
We often hear about the importance of networking and getting referrals. Is this still true today? Has the nature of networking changed or has its importance changed? Can you explain what you mean?
Networking is still best done in-person, whether at conferences, meetings, events, or seminars. Nothing beats face to face for establishing a trusting relationship in the business world. Online networking can be a close second; LinkedIn and other such sites keep you informed as to the movement of people and ideas in your industry. Most jobs are still won because you know the person hiring or are introduced to an opportunity through a personal contact; blindly emailing resumes is a fool’s errand.
Based on your experience, how can attorneys effectively leverage social media to build their practice?
I’m the wrong person to ask, as — other than keeping up with industry news on social media sites — I don’t put too much stock in social media for business. Pounding the pavement, old school style, and shaking hands with leaders of law and business is still, by far, the best way to build your “brand” and get the call when a position opens up or when a client needs a new lawyer.
Excellent. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law?” Please share a story or an example for each.
- As an in-house lawyer, the first thing you need is a stable of knowledgeable experts and outside attorneys to turn to for advice. You can’t know everything in the law, just like one doctor can’t perform every type of surgery. The one huge lesson law school taught me was that I didn’t have to know everything, but I needed to know where to find everything. With a team of smart people to tap into, you almost can’t go wrong.
- Be honest in every dealing you have with every person, all the time. I cannot stress that enough. Your word is your bond, and ensuring that you treat every transaction with the utmost fidelity and integrity is mission one. Don’t exaggerate and don’t BS people. Under-promise and over-deliver.
- There is no substitute for hard work. Arriving late and leaving early will not get you to the top of the mountain. While it is important to “work smart,” and find methods to increase your efficiency, nothing beats flat out hard work in growing your legal career. I still make sure I get to the office early and stay until all required projects are completed. Do I make time for family activities? Of course I do — but I try my best to schedule those events into my week and then work extra time to make up for it.
- Follow the military wisdom to “improvise, adapt, overcome.” Your plans will fall apart, and people will quit at the last minute. The government will change the rules on you midstream. Instead of letting the world steamroll you, stand back up and figure out a way to make your plan work. I always told my children growing up that life will send lightning bolts out of nowhere, and being ready for anything is key. In our first year of business, our state — and company — was hit with four hurricanes. Nothing could have prepared us for that type of weather brutality, and the entire industry was pummeled. Instead of rolling up our tents, we dug in our heels and worked tirelessly with a team of dedicated employees and contract workers to help our customers. We beat the models and paid claims accurately and quickly — and our reputation for “being there” for our customers was soon etched in stone. We have since grown our policyholder base by 500% since that season, in large part to our willingness to write a new playbook during that first season.
- The last rule is the simplest: follow the first four rules without fail.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
As a ‘wanna be’ music composer, I would love to meet David M. Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs. Not only is he a super successful leader in the financial services industry, but he’s a well-known music producer creating tracks under the name D-Sol. I would be interested in learning how he balances the needs of work, life, family and music — and how I can follow in his footsteps!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!
About the interviewer: Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a top national and international staffing organization and MediSums, medical records summarizing. She is the Co-Founding Member and Vice-President of the Organization Legal Professionals providing online legal technology training. Chere has written 10 books on legal careers, hundreds of articles and has been written up in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek, Entrepreneur, Above the Law and others. Chere is a recipient of the Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Award, a finalist for the Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award and a Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient She is a former administrator at an AmLaw 100 firm and Sr. Vice President in a $5 billion company. Reach out at: firstname.lastname@example.org.