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Description

John Morgan is the founder of the largest injury law firm in the nation: Morgan & Morgan.

John was born in Kentucky to parents who were often under the influence of alcohol, absent, or both. As the oldest of five children, John was essentially caretaker of his family and home at a young age. And though his academic performance was just average, he was a natural-born salesman.

But that destiny was forever changed after a family member’s traumatic injury at a Disney resort.

In recent years, John has leveraged his financial success to organize and bankroll a variety of compassion-centered causes in Florida, including bail reform, medical marijuana, and the $15 minimum wage.

In this episode, Luke talks with John about his difficult youth, whether Cuban cigars are all they’re cracked up to be, and what he’s learned about the balance between mercy and justice.

Transcription

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John Morgan:
I don’t believe you should ever be looking for anything in return. And I believe when you do that, you get everything. And so I’ve lived my life under this motto, it may be even what I would put on my tombstone. Nothing is about today. Everything is about tomorrow.

Luke W Russell:
Welcome to Lawful Good, the show about lawyers in the trials they face inside and outside the courtroom. I’m your host, Luke W. Russell. I’m not a journalist. I’m not an attorney. I’m trained as a coach. I love human connection, and that’s what you’re about to hear. My guest today is John Morgan, founder of the largest injury law firm in the nation, Morgan and Morgan. John was born in Kentucky to parents who were often under the influence of alcohol, absent, or both. As the oldest of five children, John was essentially caretaker of his family and home at a young age. And though his academic performance was just average, he discovered he was a natural born salesman. But that destiny was forever changed, after a family member’s traumatic injury while working at a Disney Resort.

In recent years, John has leveraged his financial success to organize and bankroll a variety of compassion centered causes in Florida, including bail reform, medical marijuana, and the $15 minimum wage. In this episode, I talk with John about his difficult youth, whether Cuban cigars are all they’re cracked up to be, and what he’s learned about the balance between mercy and justice.

Luke W Russell:
So can you talk about what it’s like having alligators in Florida?

John Morgan:
Well, when you grow up around alligators, you don’t really think about alligators. I think people up north think about alligators a lot more than we do. I was taking a walk several months ago down my street, and an alligator was walking on the sidewalk. And there was this kid or the dog was walking close to look at it. I yelled, “Oh rested buddy.” Those alligators, the first 15 yards, they’re fast. Get the fuck away from the alligator.” And my advice to everybody is, get the fuck away from an alligator.

Luke W Russell:
What does a Florida guy like you think about the alligator incident a couple of years ago when the child was injured near the pond?

John Morgan:
The problem with that case was the reason Disney had such exposure is, they knew the alligator was there. Guests were feeding the alligator. And I don’t know what they settled it for. But it had to be an enormous amount. And I think it, I mean to me the loss that I’ve been with so many families who’ve lost a child, that’s the ultimate. But think about losing a child that way on vacation at the happiest place on earth, is so unimaginable that you can’t, it’s hard to think about it. But I think Disney got their arms around that fairly quickly, stomp that out fairly quickly, because prolong litigation could have done such damage to the bookings in the hotels alone.

Luke W Russell:
Yeah. Now you mentioned your dogs. And you had a bear party crash on a fundraiser you had with Barack Obama. Is a bear coming onto your property a common occurrence at your place in Florida.

John Morgan:
In Florida, it is. I’m in Maui right now. There are no bears. But when I look out this window right here, what I’m seeing right now are whales breaching. My backyard here in Maui is the whale capital of the world. They all come here in winter. But bears, I lived in Florida, I live next to a preserve called the Woodcarver Preserve. And back there’s deers, and eagles, and foxes and bobcats. And the bears, you can be walking down the road one day and see an alligator on the sidewalk. And the next day you could be walking down your street and see a bear walking across the street. And we have to keep our garages shut, because they love garbage and they love… One time I came home, and a bear got in my garage and he had or she had demolished all of the frozen steaks, had taken 12 pints of ice cream, and just had eaten like that. And then it found a 12 pack of Diet Mountain Dew, and killed that as well. So bears can be more damaging than alligators.

Luke W Russell:
Thinking about that bear coming in on your fundraiser, I’m imagining like, because I’m kind of wondering, was it like a perfect timing or something? Because I’m just imagining that you’re about to say something in the microphone, Barack’s right next to you, there’s loud music. And then like a bear burst through a giant paper banner like-

John Morgan:
No, it wasn’t like that. It was like, they were there. We had lots of people at the house. And what happened was, the Secret Service started scrambling, because they were outside and inside. I didn’t know what was going on. But they were panicking. And I thought, “My God,” and then I said to one of them, “What’s going on?” And he said, “There’s a bear in the side yard.” But I just said, “Leave him alone, he’ll go away.” And the bear went away.

Luke W Russell:
You grew up in Kentucky, as the oldest of five children. What did you see at home that your siblings didn’t?

John Morgan:
I saw everything, first of all. And if you’re the oldest, and the parents are kind of not there or out of it with alcohol, you have an enormous responsibility. And you see a lot, but then you start looking for a lot. Because here’s the door to lock, here’s the cigarette to put out. You become the parent. So it’s not what you see, it’s what you’re looking for. And you’re always looking to protect those other four behind you. Both of my parents, it’s well documented, that had very bad drinking problems. And my father had jobs and lost jobs. So it was a definition of a dysfunctional family, dysfunctional household. Nobody was watching us to tell us to come in. We roamed outside until we wanted to go to bed. Nobody was making us do our homework. Nobody was checking our report cards. We were kind of like a pack of wolves, semi-raising ourselves.

We were fortunate because we had our grandmother lived close by, and she was the sanctuary. That’s where we all kind of went for sanity and security. It sounds bad on paper. But when you’re living, it doesn’t feel bad. I mean, when I look back, I don’t really feel sorry for myself. Because the truth of matter is, I’ve always had fun. And I’ve always found a way. I got jobs and had paper routes. I realized that I was always going to have to rely on myself. So as bad as that was, it was good another way because I started becoming more self reliant at an earlier age, that probably prepared me better than the people who lived in a perfect cocoon. So my bad luck could have actually turned out to been my good luck.

Luke W Russell:
How old were you when you realize that you had been dealt some difficult cards growing up?

John Morgan:
Well, I would say nine-10. When my brother was born, I was 11 years older than him, my baby brother. And by that time, the whole place was at shambles. I mean, my mother didn’t even get up in the morning. You’d have to change the diaper, get the formula, feed him until she woke up. And then I’d go to school late. And I’d already gotten there a little off. There was just a lot of pressure, you’re spinning plates. But you’re so worried about him, that you can’t go to school because she’s in no condition. But it went fast. And like I said, I was still playing all my sports. And I had a paper out. And I have tons of friends. I still when I go back to Kentucky, my little league team gathers when I come back, and we all meet up and reminisce.

And it was challenging. But like I said, it is I’ve looked back on it, that bad luck might have been the best luck I ever had. One time I wrote one of my books. At one time I was went to the dentist, and I heard my dad talking to the dentist. And he said, “We can do two things. We can do a root canal or pull it.” And I was like nine or 10. I go, “Well, how much is a root canal?” “$50.” “How much is a pull it?” “$5.” And my dad said, “Well, I guess we’re going to go ahead and pull it.” And I’m sitting in a chair. And I said to myself well, “I’m fucked.” And I’m losing a permanent tooth, and I knew it. But that day was also a bad day for me. But it was also a good day, because I remember very vividly, and that was a day that I said, “I’m going to go out and make sure that I never met a situation where I’m relying on him to save my tooth.” And that’s what I bought my paper routes. And started… When I left Kentucky, I was making 300 bucks a month, which is a fortune, at that time.

So it was bad, but there’s good. And I still have the hole in my mouth, from the tooth being pulled out when I was 10. And while that’s bad, it’s also good because you never forget. And it’s always good never to forget adversity, and desperation, and hopelessness, because it makes you prepared.

Luke W Russell:
What do you think about alcoholism being called a disease?

John Morgan:
I think it is. I think it is. I think addiction is a disease. And some people can handle it, two or three drinks. But it all depends on the person. Addiction. You look at people you go, “Why are they gambling so much? How are these guys gambling or gambling? What goes on inside the mind? They know what they’re doing. They’re making a mistake.” But when you’re the one that has the addiction, it doesn’t seem crazy. I believe that addiction is a disease. Because some people can smoke and stop smoking, and some people die after being diagnosed with lung cancer they get smoked. How that can happen? There’s only one explanation, disease. And so I personally believe that there should be no criminal penalty for any illegal drug use. I believe we should be penalizing people for selling the illegal drugs. But nobody wants to be an addict or an alcoholic or whatever. So while I look at alcoholism as a disease. There’s a genetic predisposition. There’s no question about it.

Because my parents were both alcoholics, I studied it at the University of Florida. And what was funny that I learned is the people who are most predisposed to be an alcoholic are children of alcoholic parents, or teetotalers, the children of teetotalers, it’s like the minister’s daughter.

Luke W Russell:
Have you ever read the book, It Will Never Happen To Me?

John Morgan:
No.

Luke W Russell:
It was a book written to children of alcoholics to kind of share, talking about the what they lived through. Did you ever say that to yourself growing up when you watched your parents, that’ll never happen to me?

John Morgan:
I didn’t say that. What I said was, “How can you be so weak? What are you doing? You’re fucking all of our lives up because you can’t stop.” And I didn’t understand it, why they couldn’t stop. I didn’t say this can never happen to me. I said to myself, “This is never going to happen to me. Why are you so weak?”

Luke W Russell:
Yeah. Were you ever able to forgive your parents?

John Morgan:
Yeah, my mother left. So she was a different animal. But when she left, I still went and rescued her later in life, took care of her financially, apartments, furniture. But she was a Hellcat till the very end. She was never sorry. She was defiant. She was still angry, she still got drunk, and call me up and cuss me out. And the way I looked at her was, I tried to come down on the side that I believe that there’s more of a chance, and there’s a God and there’s not. I’m not 100% about it at all. But I would ask myself, what would God want me to do in this situation? And the answer was, that he would want me to take care of her, to put away my anger, to understand that she is diseased or mentally ill or both, and to do the right thing. And with my dad, I loved him dearly. He worked with me later in life. And I took care of him.

Luke W Russell:
Yeah. You have any fond memories with your mother?

John Morgan:
Yes, I do. I have fond memories. My mother loved me, and then she didn’t love me. My mother really never loved the baby me, because she really never was there enough to do. So what was best though, the question is, is it better that you were loved and then not loved, or just never had been loved, which one do you want? And both of them are bad. I don’t like mine because I was extremely close to her. Loved her dearly and she loved me dearly, but the friction came because I was the oldest. I was the one grabbing the liquor bottles and pouring the liquor out, and her chasing after me to grab the liquor bottle and I’m trying to pour the liquor out. And I became the defender of the children, and then her antagonist. I’m the one that was raising hell with her about drinking. So she went from really loving me, to not liking me at all, and maybe even hating me. I don’t know. She was never nice. Even at the end, she was never nice.

So you have to say what, when we went to visit her one time in Kentucky, she hadn’t seen my brother Tim. He was like in his 30s. And he got hurt when he was 17, and she’d never seen him in the wheelchair. And then she asked, “Who’s that other man with that?” And I would tell her, I’d say, “Mother, that’s your youngest son.” She’s like, “Who is that?” I say, “He’s a dentist now.” So really it does sound like Angela’s Ashes, a bunch of white trash from Kentucky. But on the other hand, I just wrote her off as mentally ill. And topped off by alcoholism, which was like a disaster.

Luke W Russell:
John, do you have a more merciful and understanding perspective of your parents now, that you couldn’t have had when you were younger?

John Morgan:
Of course. I ask people a lot of times when I’m interviewing them for a job, I say, what do you value more justice or mercy? And I always like the person who says mercy. Because we’re all so fragile. We all look alike, because we’re human beings. But the human mind, just because you look strong, doesn’t mean you are strong. I don’t know what caused my mother to crack up, to go from loving me to not love me, to hate me, maybe. But it couldn’t have been her fault. And if I was in the justice department, I’d be like, “Well, you got to pay for your sins.” But when you’re in the mercy department, you go, “She couldn’t have wanted to be this way. And then she deserves your mercy.” And when you provide mercy, I think you feel better than when you mete out justice. So I’m a person who values mercy way more than justice. And so no matter what my parents did, I don’t think they did it in a way that was so evil. I just think they were so sick.

But in America, we love justice. In America, we have more people in prison per capita by 18 times than the next closest country, which is China. And that’s an unmerciful country. We are the most intolerant mean country, when it comes to punishment of any country in the world. It’s unbelievable. And we see ourselves as this country, based on the belief in God.

Luke W Russell:
You’ve said of your law firm that it all began with Tim, your brother. In 1976, he was working as a lifeguard at Disney World when he heard a woman screaming that her daughter was missing. Tim dove into the nearby lake to help, and was severely injured. It turned out that the girl who jumped into save, was asleep in the family’s hotel room the whole time. Would you talk to us about what exactly happened with your brother that day, and how all of this led you to a career in the legal profession?

John Morgan:
He got up on a floating dock and he dove in, they had these little boats called Aqua larks that were tied down by a table. So when he dove in, he hit his head on the table, and he was paralyzed immediately. Quadriplegic T67. That day, is the worst day of my life so far. I’m sure I got some other days to come that may rival that. I hope not. But yeah, I was in my bedroom in Gainesville, Florida. My dad called. Said, “Tim’s been in an accident. He can’t move anything. Come home.” And my brother Mike and I went to the Catholic Church, we lit candles, and we cried all the way home. And then we got there and saw it, I’ll never forget where I was or where I was sitting or walking in to see him. Because he was part of my wolf pack, too. Don’t forget. We were unusually close, because what we had gone through together as children. So it was more than just brothers, it was much deeper than just brothers.

Luke W Russell:
You as the really the family protector, did you feel like control is slipping away from you?

John Morgan:
I felt like, is this too big for us? How are we ever going to handle this? Because part of it, we’ve already had to leave Kentucky. We’re already feel… The mother’s gone. My dad’s losing jobs. We’re poor to begin with. How are we going to handle this? The enormity of a young guy, quadriplegic. He’s not a paraplegic, quadriplegic. And so the enormity of it was… But again, you just do what you have to do. I mean, I changed my schedule at the University of Florida. So I would go back to Gainesville on Monday morning. And I had my classes Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. And then I’d come back on Wednesday night. And then I spent… Tim never had a hospital meal. My grandmother came down, and we just rallied around, and he always had a special lunch or dinner. And we were always there with him. And I was involved in the discussions with a doctor about his prognosis, almost like the father would be. And it was overwhelming.

And then we had the case against Disney. And that wasn’t going well. And it didn’t go well. And so now you get this lifetime injury with very little benefits. And I always felt like later down the road that we had hired the wrong law firm.

Luke W Russell:
What exactly did your family get out of the lawsuit?

John Morgan:
Family didn’t get anything. But what happened was, ultimately, they decided that it occurred on the job that Reedy Creek was owned by Disney so that there was still a worker’s comp exclusion. So it was not a third-party case. And because he was a weekend worker or a part time worker, his benefits were much smaller. So all he had was benefits for a part time weekend work. If they could placed you back to work making the same amount of money, they don’t have to pay you any benefits. And what Disney did, and what really ignited me was that Disney then was fighting tooth and nail. And they said, “Well, we got a job for you. We’re going to put you as a switchboard operator at 11:00 at night till 7:00 in the morning.” And that’s when I fucking blew internally.

And that’s when I first started saying to myself, I know what I’m going to do with my life. This system is not right. And I’m going to come back and make these motherfuckers pay.

Luke W Russell:
Were you all able to get the medical bills even covered?

John Morgan:
Medical bills were covered because it was a worker’s comp. With worker’s comp, it’s like a no fault. It’s like they pay the medical bills and they pay, they had to come in and make the bathroom better in the house. The house was kind of a little house to begin with. But they added a place where you could wheel in and do all that. But we did it together. We did it. When Tim got hurt, the family rallied around him and we still do to this day. They fought him so tenaciously. And I was thinking this guy was a cast member. He was out there, tried to save a little girl’s life. And you’re going to treat him like a stranger. And he’s 17 years old. But I just went nuclear internally. I don’t even… I can’t imagine fighting my own employee like that, who was doing something on my behalf, even if the law was on my side. Come in and you take care of your own. But they didn’t. And so as a result, there’s Morgan and Morgan.

Luke W Russell:
Before the incident, Tim described himself as always the funny one. Is he still like that today?

John Morgan:
Yes. Tim is the funny one. Tim was always voted the wittiest. Tim was always voted the funniest. If you go to a party, if you hear a bunch of laughing and you see somebody with a lampshade on his head, it’s Tell. You to go to a St. Patrick’s Day, Tim has an enormous resilience and a wit, and he has been able to handle this, I don’t know how, but with dignity and humor, and he doesn’t feel sorry for himself. And most importantly, he doesn’t allow us to feel sorry for him. He doesn’t want pity. He doesn’t want to be helped. Obviously, we’ve carried him thousands of times, upstairs, and down the hills, and into cars. But by and large, it’s only if he can’t do it.

Luke W Russell:
Does Disney pay their employees enough?

John Morgan:
Till now, no, they don’t. Most companies don’t. That’s why we have what we have in America today. All of this stuff that you’re seeing, the protests, and the anger, and everything, in my belief is it all comes from income inequality. 40% of Americans don’t have $400 in the bank. That’s one transmission. That’s one air conditioning going out there, one disaster away from total disaster. And it’s because we don’t pay people enough money, is one of the reasons that I took a lot of my money and passed a constitutional amendment to make the minimum wage at least $15 an hour, and it passed in Florida. But no, Disney doesn’t pay their people enough. And most companies don’t. Because they don’t have to. But grave mistake on behalf of the government, because at some point in time, people rise up and they just take it.

Luke W Russell:
Do you like Disney, Disney world?

John Morgan:
I worked out there. And it has tremendous memories for me. The reason I loved working at Disney was because I used to tell people, I like it because I’m working with people guests who are probably in the middle of having one of the best times they’re ever going to have in their entire life. Top two, top three, definitely top five. And I got to be part of it. I got to be part of their party, and their happiness, and their memory. And whether I was, I did magic out there, I was one of the characters out there. And I’m in the middle of the party, I was the party. And I loved it. So the great thing about Disney is I never felt like I was going to work. I mean, if they would come to me say, “Hey, you want to drive in the parade?” Like “Hell, yeah.” “You want to go do magic?” “Hell, yeah.” “You want to stay another eight hours?” Because work wasn’t work. Work was not work. Work was going to the party, and having the best time with people who had the best time in their life.

Luke W Russell:
Have you been back to Disney World since Tim’s incident?

John Morgan:
Yes. We went for my anniversary, and stayed at a hotel. And we went out and just walked through the park to see. I’m also in the attraction business myself. So I wanted to see, compare and see what Disney was up to. And so yeah, walked around it, saw it. I don’t have that kind of ill will about Disney, because there are a whole different group of people were in charge then, that are not in charge now. So yeah, I’ve been back to Disney.

Luke W Russell:
You’re a tough lawyer. And you’ve seen a lot of alarming situations. Does that prepare you as a dad for when you get a call about your own family being injured?

John Morgan:
No. I mean, I’ve had… My son, Matt, had an accident years ago, fell and shattered his jaw. And they were wanting to do the surgery on him in the hospital. And I was beside myself. I was crying. And I had to get him back up to floor Orlando. And I was… You’re not prepared because it’s those are the things I call thunder strikes where they come out of the blue, and you’re not prepared for it. When it comes to my family, I love at an intensity level that’s maybe even hotter than other people. And because that is my whole world, that is my whole purpose, is my family. And they were saying, “Hey, if the surgery goes bad, he could have a droop.” And Matt has a beautiful smile, and I was thinking about losing his smile.

But no, you’re not prepared. And that’s the thing we worry about. It’s a call in the middle of the night that all parents dread. And when that phone rings after 2:00, you just go, “Oh my God. Is this could be it?”

Luke W Russell:
Could you give us a short history of your life, by referring to the cars you drove early on up until you can afford the car you wanted?

John Morgan:
When I was 16, I bought a three-speed Camaro. And then when I went to college, I got a big clunker called a Dodge Polara, which was terrible. The Polara just stopped one day, just stopped running. So I had no car to finish college. And my grandmother was still in Kentucky. And she called me up and said she bought a used Nova, a yellow Nova, Chevrolet Nova, but she had not sold her Chevelle. So she called me and she said, “Why don’t you fly up here, and I’m going to give you my Chevelle?” Of course, I had to have a car. So I flew up, and I got to spend the weekend with her.

And the day I was leaving, she says to me, “I want you to take the Nova instead of Chevelle.” And I said, “I’m not going to do it. I know what you’re doing.” She went, “I don’t want the Nova.” I go, “Why.” It was a used car, but it was still a newer car than this Chevelle. And she said, “It’s got too much horsepower, I can’t control it.” And I was like, “You’re just saying, I’m not going to. I’m not going to take your car. I’m not going to take the good car.” And she says, “John, I’m not going to use it, take the car.” And she said, “It’s just too much of a young person’s car for me. If that too much, get up and go. I don’t like the yellow color. I want my Chevelle.” And then [inaudible 00:31:15], she basically says, “John, go now.” And she just pushed me out the door. “And then you get in the car, and you drive off.” And I just pulled over on the side of the road and cried.

Luke W Russell:
How glorious can a grandmother be?

John Morgan:
Well, for us, she saved our lives. She did everything for us. She was our safety net. She was her cheerleader. And I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have her. She never owned her own place either. She wasn’t rich. She had like a sixth grade education. But she was really smart. She could do the New York Times puzzle and the jumbo, and she worked at the AG department, but she also sewed for rich people at night. And she paid into Social Security. So she had her government pension and her social security. But she basically gave all that to us. And later in life. I was lucky enough when I got married both me and my wife had a job, and I bought her a condominium. Her rent was going to go up, and I bought her a condominium. I took her over there, sunken living room and baths and all this stuff, and she’d never owned anything before. And she wen, “What is this?” I said, “You’ve rented long enough. And you’re never going to have to worry about your rent going up again. And that’s done. That’s in your rearview mirror.” And she’s, “I don’t know how to thank you.” And I said, “Well, you already did. You gave me the Nova.”

Luke W Russell:
Curious when you think about your grandma giving you that car, and I know you’ve mentioned you cried since then when you think about that at times. What do you think those emotions are that are welling up?

John Morgan:
Of gratitude. Love and gratitude.

Luke W Russell:
So you head off to college at the University of Florida. And you ended up being roommates and friends with Mike Papantonio. Why do you think the two of you got along so well?

John Morgan:
We were kind of similar because we came from broken places. Mike’s really more broken than mine, because Mike was a foster child. And I used to think about that going, “Shit, mine’s bad, but I sure wouldn’t want to be a foster child.” But Mike was also very resilient. And we just clicked. We were both driven. And we both were entrepreneurial. And we both wanted to succeed. And so we were good. We were good for each other. He sold books in the summer. And I did magic in the summer, or did the care department, and then we’ve come back. And I remember one year he came, pulled back up and he had made… I mean I forget what he made. It was a crazy amount of money. But he was driving a brand new yellow Opel GT. Like how in the hell did you afford that? He goes, “I sold a lot of books, Morgan.” And he did.

Luke W Russell:
Did you have the sense when you knew him in undergrad, that you were both going somewhere?

John Morgan:
I knew that he was driven. And he knew that I was driven. And we both wanted a different life than what we’ve had that point. We wanted the American dream. And if I had had to bet on somebody to do well, I would have bet on Mike, and I think Mike would have bet on me.

Luke W Russell:
Now, you graduate from the University of Florida. And the first job you got was with the Yellow Pages. Do I have that right?

John Morgan:
Yeah, I finished University of Florida, got out of school a little bit early because I was racing to get out of school. And then by happened chance, I got the job selling… I didn’t even know. I looked up the newspaper, I go down there, and there’s a lot around the building to get in. And I stood in line, and I took the test. And then they called me back. And I had to go back for two or three days of role playing. And I got this job, which was highly coveted. Because I was making 65-$70000 as a 21 year-old person, back then.

Luke W Russell:
That’s in the 70s.

John Morgan:
That’s in the 70s. So I was rolling. My dad was out of work, so it was lucky also, because I had so much money, I was able to keep their house floating too. But it was great training. I mean, I went from being a kid to a man, as I’m in a job where people who I worked with had families and kids in school. And I’m out there in the real world, which was invaluable for me that time, that the Yellow Pages. Not only from the financial deal, but from this learning, about selling and interacting with businesses, and it was a great time for me.

Luke W Russell:
When we come back, John will tell us about leaving the first law firm he worked for, and the wild success that followed. Stay with us. I’m Luke W. Russell, and you’re listening to Lawful Good.

Luke W Russell:
Hey, everyone, Luke here. If you’re thinking, hey, these interviews are unique, and really highlight the humanity of the guests. That’s because this is what we do all day, every day. I own an agency, and we work with law firms who are marketing and advertising for mass torts and personal injury claims. We drive results by using the power of human stories. Our unique and thoughtful methods for crafting messages allow us to help lawyers get clients by connecting with the hearts and minds of potential claimants. If you’re looking to serve more individuals in need of legal help and you want to get away from generic marketing, shoot me an email at Luke@RussellMedia.us. That’s L-U-K-E @ R-U-S-S-E-L-L M-E-D-I-A .us. And we can set up a time to chat. Or if you just want to give me a ring, ping me on my cell. It’s 317-855-8597. And if you thinking, Wait, is that normal to leave a phone number in a podcast? Maybe not. But hey, look. I have been in this industry for a long time. I know a lot of great people in it. So you can reach out to me at 317-855-8597.

Luke W Russell:
When we left off, John had finished his undergrad at the University of Florida, and was supporting himself and his family selling Yellow Pages. John, when you eventually went to law school, do you feel like it prepared you for the real world?

John Morgan:
No, you don’t learn shit in law school. I mean, I’d have been better off sell an aluminum siding for a year than going to law school. Because you come out of law school and you’re like, there’s really not practical, they can make it a lot more practical. And they’re making you study things that you don’t want to study. I mean, like giving me the tax code is like given a chimpanzee the tax code, the two of us have about the same ability. So it didn’t prepare me. I don’t think it prepared me. I was not a very good law school student. Not many of the courses interested me.

Luke W Russell:
Yeah. When did you realize that you needed to be your own boss?

John Morgan:
Well, I think I’ve always known that. The firm that I first worked, went to work for, they reviewed me after two and a half years, and told me what my deal was going to be. And I was like, “That doesn’t sound good to me.” And three days later, I started my own firm. So I was only work for somebody for like two-and-a-half years. And they made a gigantic mistake. I remember talking to him, and he’s like… I said, “I say I’m worth this and you say I’m worth that. I don’t see how I can stay when I think so highly of myself, and you think so little of me.” And then they asked me what I was going to do. I said, “Don’t worry about it.” And then at the end, one guy was like really upset about it. And he said to me, “Well, why are you leaving?” I said, “What you don’t realize, but you will one day realize, is I’m a motherfucking superstar.” And I said, “And you just fucked up.” Because even then I was a guy bringing in all the cases. He didn’t like it. And I just left in started my own deal. And I’ve done my own boss since I was in my 20s.

Luke W Russell:
What year did you start Morgan and Morgan?

John Morgan:
’85.

Luke W Russell:
’85. How much money did you make that first year?

John Morgan:
I’m not sure. But I know the first year I made a lot of money because I keep the little thing in my desk, was 1988 I made $488,000. My wife was making… She made like 100 and something. And so we were making over a half a million dollars. And I couldn’t believe what had happened.

Luke W Russell:
If you don’t mind me asking, what was the firm offering you that you decided to leave?

John Morgan:
They weren’t even offer me partnership. They told me, “Well, John’s not a partner, and Charlie’s not a partner, and the other John’s not a partner. And David’s not a partner.” I’m like, “Those people are not me. I made like 16000 the first partial year, then I made 32000 my first full year. And the last year I worked there, I made 64000, which was by that time, I was starting to pass my contemporary. The guy that I was asking for the money from said to me, I was telling him what I wanted and he said, “Well, John, you’re never going to be satisfied. So why?” He goes, “There’s always suffering, just to different levels.” And I go, “Well, I want to suffer with you guys. I want to suffer with you guys.” So I don’t know what it was. I know this partnership. They weren’t even entertaining partnership.

And that was just my beginning. I was thinking, alright, maybe a partner and now let’s see what piece of the partnership pot I should take. They weren’t even considering me as a partner. And those guys they were dogshit then, they’re dog shit now. I don’t even think they exist.

Luke W Russell:
I was going to ask, have you ever talked to anyone from that firm since?

John Morgan:
The main guy, I liked. Jerry, I liked. He hired me. There was kind of a younger guy who I think was threatened by me. And he’s turned out to be one of the biggest [inaudible 00:42:32] in the history of plaintiffs law. I don’t think he’s ever had a verdict. I don’t think he’s… But I do talk to Jerry. Before COVID, I would take Jerry to lunch every year and thank him for hiring me out of law school. And this year, I had to call him because of COVID. But he was kind of, sort of in, sort of out. It was really other people making those decisions. So I’m very grateful to Jerry. When I go back home, I plan on calling Jerry and get my Thank You lunch set up. And I’ve been having those Thank You lunches with him since my 10-year anniversary as being a lawyer. We go to lunch every single year, and I thanked him. And we talked about everything. And it’s a beautiful thing.

Luke W Russell:
John, your firm is in markets all across the country. And if I believe correctly, you want to be in all 50 states, eventually. Is that right?

John Morgan:
We are in all 50 states.

Luke W Russell:
You are in all. Okay. You have brick and mortar in all 50 states now?

John Morgan:
Not brick and mortar, but have a lawyer in every. Some people are just doing mass towards writing. But I don’t know if I need brick and mortar, but maybe. Yeah.

Luke W Russell:
Yeah. I’ve heard lawyers point to a decline in their caseload that is timed with Morgan and Morgan moving into their market. Can we talk about that?

John Morgan:
We can. I don’t really believe it. Because I think what usually happens is that I bring the attention to these actions. And I think that the business goes up. So I hear people say that, I don’t believe that. I think that the more I’m talking about people’s rights and what the law is, they may say, “You know what? That’s good to know. But I’m going to call my other friend or call this friend.” So there’s a seminar out there, a three-hour seminar with CLE credits, is called What To Do When Morgan Morgan Enters Your City.

Luke W Russell:
Interesting.

John Morgan:
And I’m like, this the same way you should do before Morgan Morgan entered your city, which is work your fucking ass off every day. The greatest way to compete with me, is work your fucking ass off.

Luke W Russell:
Do you face competition?

John Morgan:
Every day. Everybody’s after the cases, we’re all after the case is. So every day, and all of my businesses, I get my reports in. And that shows me how I did for that day. Every day you get to win or lose, every single day. And so I do have a lot of competition everywhere I go. And it’s not just weak competition. It’s strong competition. It’s very, very, very smart and capable people. But the way I look at competition is, it makes me better, because I’m competing. If you’re running a race, by yourself, on 100 yard dash and on your mark, get set, go, run 100 yards. Now, if we run the same race, except we put a wolf behind me, and give me a 40 yard headstart, I will promise you I will run faster with the wolf chasing me. So I’m okay with wolves chasing me, because wolves make me go faster.

Luke W Russell:
What makes Morgan and Morgan different? What makes you all special?

John Morgan:
We are absolutely focused on what’s in the best interest of our client, rather than what’s in our financial best interest. The ultimate question for me is what’s best for the client. Because I also believe what’s ever best for the client, is also going to be best for me financially. And I’ll give you example. At one point in time, I decided to get into mesothelioma business. Now, I’m very good at getting cases. But I got the meso cases, and I had put a group of lawyers together who I ultimately determined were weak. But I knew there were other people doing meso that were very strong. And so one day I said, “You know what, I’m not doing our clients a favor by handling these cases.” So I made a decision to refer the cases all out, try to place a lot of my people with the firms that I was sending the cases to. And to this day, I refer my mesothelioma cases out to law firms who are really, really good at it. My clients win. And the truth is, I win, because I believe that my referral fees are greater than what regular legal fees would have been. Plus, I have no overhead. The client wins, the referring lawyers that I’ve referred to win, and I win. And when everybody wins, that’s a good deal.

Luke W Russell:
Your brother Thad said you like doing well for yourself, but not at the expense of others.

John Morgan:
I don’t like to see people hurt. When people get hurt, I have a visceral reaction. I remember one time I was in high school and somebody went over, they were trying to get this kid’s cookies from him. And he was already eating the cookies. And this bigger kid pushed him on the ground. And the kid was sitting there, and he was crying. And he opened his mouth. And I could see his cookies half-eaten in his mouth. And I was thinking, this guy, he was sitting there eating by himself, which was bad enough. And now this motherfucker is going to go over and try to take his cookies. And I just got up from my table and I just walked over, I just started fighting the guy who pushed the guy down to cookies. And I fought him and fought him and fought. Ended up getting paddling. But when I see that, when I saw that kid cry with the cookies in his mouth, it destroyed me. It just destroyed me. So the only people I bully are bullies. I will bully a bully.

Luke W Russell:
What is the 21st century law firm?

John Morgan:
At the end of the day, it’s personal injury law firm without automobile accident cases. For anybody watching this podcast, I would ask them this question. What would your business look like with no auto current cases? And then I would say to them, that’s got to be the case in the 21st century. And if you don’t prepare for that now, then you’re not going to have a business. So the 21st century law firm is a contingency fee based law firm for everything but auto crashes. What I believe by the end of the century is, nobody owns a car. That you call Uber, something shows up in front of your door, quickly, you get in it. There’s nobody driving it. It takes you to where you want to go.

Luke W Russell:
How much sleeplessness has accompanied your success?

John Morgan:
Well, I read a book one time that I swear by, by Andy Grove called Only The Paranoid Survive. And so when you are paranoid and worried, there’s a lot of tossing and turning. And when you have that, when you’re built the way I’m built, fear of failure is never, never ever out of your mindset. And so, with that comes a lot of sleepless nights.

Luke W Russell:
You’ve mentioned the book, Only The Paranoid Survive. Could you tell us a little bit about your paranoia?

John Morgan:
What makes me paranoid is I’m not ready, I’m not prepared. The way you fight paranoia, is by being prepared. You got to surround yourself with a lot of people that are smart, that are going to do the job, that you can ruthlessly delegate to, and that are prepared.

Luke W Russell:
How do you balance paranoia with hope?

John Morgan:
Well, paranoia is actually healthy because it keeps you on edge. Just because you think everything’s going to be okay, it’s not going to be okay. There’s a tremendous book that everybody should read is called Black Swan. And what Black Swan stands for, is this proposition, that once upon a time, there was only white swans. One day they walked out in the backyard, there was a black swan. Well, how is that possible, because there’s no such thing as black swans. But there he was. The more we become certain that things are a certain way, the more we behave in a way that takes away our paranoia. Because once upon a time, if you invest in the stock market, you return 8% every year. And then if you buy a new house, your house will go up 6%. And so you had people making all these decisions for their future going, “Okay, I’m going to borrow against my house, I’m going to take the money, I will put it in the stock market. And when I retire, I’m going to have $3 million more than I would have had.” And why are you doing this? Because this is the way it is. There’s only white swan. When a black swan flies in, and then you have the financial meltdown of 2008. And then the black swan flies in and you have the pandemic.

And the people who are the most at risk are the people who start seeing everything with certainty. Instead of seeing things with a lot of peripheral vision, a lot of trepidation, a lot of paranoia. At the end of the Black Swan book they say what’s the solution? What do you do about a black swan? You know what you do? You prepare. So my whole life, I’ve been preparing, putting money over on one side, that if God forbid, the world ends, I’m okay. That’s pretty prepared. Black swan can fly in and destroy my personal injury business. But my family and I, we’re still alive.

Luke W Russell:
How can lawyers deal with stress? Is that maybe bourbon, cigars, marijuana, vacations, time with family, friendships?

John Morgan:
Well, gummies always help. Marijuana gummies will always help you with stress. I don’t think alcohol helps, like people think. It might help in the beginning, but it doesn’t help overnight. If I could have a magic formula to make stress go away, but it’s not going to happen. We all worry about so many different things. I probably had more stress over my children getting into college and getting into law school, than I had for my own personal stress.

Luke W Russell:
What was behind the stress of your kids getting into law school? Because you probably look to your kids and thought, “Yeah, I’ve got good kids here.”

John Morgan:
I’ve got good kids, but I knew that I was their father and I knew that I was not the best test taker in the history of the SAT and LSAT. So I worried about that. And I just worried would they get out? Would they be motivated? Sometimes people who grow up and don’t have the same worries, they don’t have the same work ethic. I worried about them finishing, but I worry as much about them getting out and being productive and not being lazy. I got lucky, all of my kids are very hard workers and are productive.

Luke W Russell:
Do you think people can give themselves honestly not expecting anything in return? And have you ever been able to do that?

John Morgan:
I believe that is exactly how I live my life. I believe that one of the things that I’ve been lucky about is, I don’t look for anything in return. I’m built that way. There’s a book called Give And Take. It’s a fascinating book. It basically stands for the proposition that there’s two types of people, there’s a person who gives the once a quid pro quo. I’ll do this for you, what are you going to do for me. And there’s the other person who gives expecting nothing in return. But when you get back to the end of the book, and when it’s synthesized, the book concludes that the people who get the most in return, are the people who are never looked at for anything. And the people who don’t get shit, are the people who are looking for something.

And so I’ve lived my life under this motto. It may be even what I would put on my tombstone, which goes like this. Nothing is about today. Everything is about tomorrow. I don’t believe you should ever be looking for anything in return. And I believe when you do that, you get everything. That when you’re looking for something, if you’re going to buy a round of drinks, just buy the fucking round of drinks. Don’t be looking for something lighter. But the truth is, it always comes. It always comes. But when you’re expecting it, it never comes. It’s like, you know what people are looking to find that perfect girl and perfect God. It never comes when you’re looking for him. It hits you when you’re just walking down the street.

I’m lucky that I’m built in a way that, number one, I’m extremely happy when my friends do well. And I get a whole lot more out of giving than receiving. I mean, I would say something I could work on is being better at receiving. I feel awkward when people buy me stuff. I feel awkward. I don’t ever… Like I will never let somebody have a birthday party for me. I don’t ever want to be the one standing there, surprise. I don’t like that. And then that’s not good, because I’m depriving those people of giving me something. And so I’ve tried to work on it, but I just have failed.

Luke W Russell:
Yeah. Why do you think you feel awkward?

John Morgan:
I just don’t like people giving me shit. Especially like birthdays and that kind of thing?

Luke W Russell:
Yeah. Are you that guy who people are like, “Oh, I want to get John a gift.” And it’s just like you just like, have no response for them.

John Morgan:
There really is nothing for me.

Luke W Russell:
Now, is that because of your wealth? Or is that because you’re content, and gifts just aren’t your thing?

John Morgan:
Well, I think well at this point, I mean, I got all the… When I go into my closet, I look around, I go, I could probably die and never order another shirt. Or I mean, there’s things I will never wear again. I try to go through and take it to the poor once a year, a bunch of clothing. And I do not have a big need for things. I don’t have any jewelry. I mean, I drive my cars into the ground. I have like a 17-year-old Mercedes convertible that works fine. And I guess I spend my money on these houses that I have around the country.

Luke W Russell:
Are Cuban cigars all they’re cracked up to be?

John Morgan:
It’s a marketing ploy. It’s like vodka. People buy the bottle, and they’re “Oh my God, this is a Cuban cigar.” But no, I don’t think Cuban cigars are what they’re cracked up to be. Because they’re hard to get, they seem like, it’s like the forbidden fruit. When I was a kid, not a kid, but when I was 16, first started drinking beer, I had a friend who’s father was a trucker. And when he’d go out west, he’d come back with a case of Coors. Well, when we get these Coors, we thought, “Boy, this stuff tastes so good,” because it’s Coors. And west of the Rockies, and this Coors and it’s hard to get. And we’re like, “Boy, this tastes so good.” But as soon as Coors was sold here in Florida, or wherever I was, it didn’t taste so good anymore because it wasn’t hard to get. As people, it goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, we want the forbidden fruit. Don’t eat the apple. I’m eating the apple.

Luke W Russell:
Yeah. What’s your forbidden fruit?

John Morgan:
I don’t know, because I’ve eaten almost all the forbidden fruit that I’ve been told not to eat. Forbidden fruit’s fun.

Luke W Russell:
You have said we shouldn’t project bad expectations on to a situation. You refer to the difference between wolves in the woods and wolves at your doorstep. Can you explain that with your personal experience?

John Morgan:
Well, it happens to people all the time. It’s you get a situation where you think, “Oh my god, the end is here.” But really what you did is you just looked out in the woods, and you saw some wolves out there. And you look and you saw the wolves and you go, “Those motherfuckers are coming here, they’re going to get on my doorstep. And they’re going to come through the door, and they’re going to eat me and my family.” And then you say to yourself, “What should I do? Well, I got to go out in the woods, to kill the wolves.” When you go out in the woods to kill the wolves, they’re going to kill you.

So what happens is people get into situations where they have like a financial matter or a legal matter, and they start projecting all the way to this disaster. It might have just been a rumor or a whisper, but yet they took action, they left the safety of their house, they went out into the woods. Before you need to take really drastic action, wait for the wolf to come to your door. Get a good bead on the wolf. Then get the gun, put it right up on his forehead, and pull the trigger. That’s the only time you will be able to kill the wolf. You won’t be able to kill the wolf walking around with a pistol in the woods in the dark.

Luke W Russell:
Your life has been full of out of the ordinary events. Do you attract out of the ordinary events? Or do you repel the ordinary?

John Morgan:
The thing that I thank God the most for, is that I genuinely love people. I love being with people. And that really is what charges my batteries. People. So I have to be with people. When you’re with people, you’re going to have a lot of opportunity to have tremendous events in your life. There’s a book I tell people to read all the time, it’s called Never Eat Alone. If you eat alone, you’re not going to meet anybody. But if you go out and meet people, opportunities’ going to happen. And so I think what happens in my life is because I don’t eat alone, because I’m always out there, that I start meeting these different people who introduce me to that person, who introduces me to this person. And before you know it, I’ve led an extraordinary life.

Luke W Russell:
And one of your podcast episodes, you talked about walking through a graveyard to remind oneself that it’s filled with irreplaceable people. Please explain that.

John Morgan:
The more successful you are, the more irreplaceable you feel you are. But the truth is, people die every day. And life goes on, sometimes better. We want to think that it’s only us that can do it. And the truth is, it’s not. And the really way that you become really successful, is when you realize that you’re not irreplaceable, and that you need to have a team of people who you can delegate to, who are as competent or more competent than you are. And the day that you realize that you’re not irreplaceable, is the day that you can start scaling and building, and getting richer. But when you try to just do that, build the house by yourself, brick by brick, how many houses can you build that way? Not many. And guess what? Home builders die every day. And guess what? Homes keep getting built faster and faster. So that’s what I mean by that.

Luke W Russell:
Yeah. When you walk through a cemetery nowadays, are you less invincible than you thought you were when you, say, graduated law school.

John Morgan:
When you get into your 60s like I am, and you walk past a graveyard, and it looks a lot different than it did at 30. Because you’re a lot closer to being in it. But the graveyards don’t scare me. They don’t really worry me. In my life, I have conducted myself as if there is a God. And that what not that I believe 100%, my basic prayer on that regard is I’m always asking for more faith, to make me believe more. And even if I don’t believe, to conduct myself exactly as if there is a God. Because it’d be a terrible mistake to have been an atheists and to have had God laid out here in many ways to me, and I rejected it. But that’s how I look at a graveyard.

Luke W Russell:
Your signature on your email reads Faith Without Works Is Dead.

John Morgan:
I put that there because I want to always remind myself about that. That words are one thing, but action is another. And there are so many phony baloney Christians that talk about all this stuff, but they don’t do shit. If you want to know what someone’s heart and soul looks like, there’s two ways to do; look at their calendar, and look at their checkbook. There, you’re going to be looking dead into your heart and into your soul and into your salvation. So that’s my signature because I want to make sure that I never forget, that I always do enough. And then even when I’ve done enough, there’s still more to be done. Life is not words, life is action.

Luke W Russell:
Yeah. Are you self-made?

John Morgan:
Yeah. But when you say self-made, it’s almost a congratulatory type thing. Look at me, I’m self-made. But most everything that has happened in my life has nothing to do with me. And here’s why. At the end of the day, life is luck. It starts with luck, number one. I was born in America. Just being born in America, just has nothing to being self-made, just being born in America. For a long time, especially people my age being born a man instead of a woman, was and still remains an advantage in many parts of America. That has nothing to do with being self made. And then inside of me, I was given a certain type of mind, an entrepreneurial mind. I’m a driven person. And so when I think of my advice, self-made, in a sense, but it has nothing to do with me.

Shaquille O’Neal cannot be Shaquille O’Neal if he was my size, impossible. People have math brains, people have other abilities. And people can sing and write songs. And I think when we start trying to congratulate ourselves on how smart we are, or how much we’ve done, we’d really need to look at how much of life has to do with luck. In my own business, I got into this when nobody advertised, there was for blogging. But I did it when the people who could wouldn’t. So I just advertised when nobody was advertising. And all of a sudden, I got this advantage. Not because I did anything special, just because I was willing to do it. I was willing to take the shit to advertise. Back in the ’80s, if you advertised you were just, oh my god. But that gave me an advantage, because I did it when people wouldn’t.

Luke W Russell:
What I often don’t hear people talk about when they’ve been successful is how there’s also this personality that’s part of it, this willingness to believe that you’re worth a lot, the willingness to and the capacity to go out and drive the way you’ve driven.

John Morgan:
But just because you were successful once, doesn’t mean you’re successful again. And what happens is people take their success and believe they’re a genius. I’ve had an Oregon office, in this city. And it’s wildly successful. And I’ve gone to another city, and it’s not been successful at all. Am I a genius or dumb ass, or just lucky? And you cannot take luck out of the equation. And so I don’t ever… When people say I’m self-made, I always kind of look at them going, “No, you’re not. You’re just lucky.”

Luke W Russell:
Yeah. When will you know your work is done?

John Morgan:
I think my work is done. I think that now, in my mind, I have these things that I’ve had my whole life. And I had these things I wanted to do, and it’s like a file cabinet up there, and it stays up in my head. I’m really at a point where there’s only a few little things left there in my file cabinet, appear like two, three maybe things. My big hairy audacious goal is what I call the Google law firm, and that’s what I’m building now, and I will continue to build till I go. So I don’t really have that much. What I really worry about now in my goals is moving from success to significance, the final chapters. And I spent a lot of time thinking about that, looking at the human suffering, that’s why I did the minimum wage. When I raised that minimum wage in Florida, 1.3 million people came out of poverty that day. And it was a risk because I could have lost the initiative, the ballot initiative. But those are the things that I think I’ll see myself more focused on. I’m much more interested now and going to see my grandchildren play ball than getting on a plane and trying a case in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Luke W Russell:
Yeah. I want to look to the future now, and think maybe we’re at your 80th birthday party, maybe your 90th still going strong, and people from all throughout your life are present. And we hear a gentle clinking on glass and a hush washes over the room. People begin to raise their glasses to toast you. What are three things you would want them to say about you?

John Morgan:
I would want them to say, he was loyal, he was generous, and he loved his family to destruction.

Luke W Russell:
To learn more about John’s law firm, visit ForThePeople.com. I hope you enjoyed this episode. Please, if you have a moment, leave us a review on Apple podcasts, or head over to our website to leave a comment at LawfulGoodPodcast.com/review. Thanks so much for listening to us this week. This podcast is produced by Kirsten Stock, developed in collaboration with Max T. Russell, edited by Kendall Perkinson, and mastered by Guido Bellini. A special thanks to the companies that make this project possible; X Social Media, Russell Media, and the SEO Police. You can learn more about these groups by visiting our website LawfulGoodPodcast.com. I’m your host, Luke W. Russell, and you’ve been listening to Lawful Good.