Orlando attorney John Morgan talks with Opportunist’s Managing Editor Leslie Stone about giving to those who are less fortunate,why he’s fighting for Florida’s proposed Amendment 2 and what he considers his “best day.”
If you live in Florida and hear the catchphrase “For the People,” chances are, you can instantly name the man behind it: attorney John Morgan, founder of the Morgan & Morgan law firm. But for Morgan, those three words hold deeper meaning than simply being the slogan for his billboards and TV commercials. “I grew up very poor and know exactly what desperation tastes like, looks like and feels like,” he says. “As bad as that was for me as a little boy and throughout a lot of my life, it turned out to be a positive because I believe if you’ve had success you have an obligation to give back.”
After his brother Tim was injured in an accident that left him a quadriplegic, Morgan decided to practice law. “We didn’t have any money so we were the powerless that people talk about,” he says, referring to the workers’ compensation claim that his brother’s employer fought against. “I became enraged and I told everybody that day that’s what I was going to do. As bad as that accident was, it gave me my life’s purpose and I have never done anything but that.”
Founded in Orlando in 1988, with just three attorneys, two paralegals and a receptionist, Morgan & Morgan has grown to more than 250 attorneys, with offices throughout Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, New York, Kentucky and Tennessee. The firm has helped more than 75,000 clients with all types of consumer protection and personal injury cases, but Morgan and his wife, Ultima, are also known for their philanthropic work and commitment to the Orlando community. In 2013, they made a substantial donation that helped the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida open the Morgan & Morgan, P.A. Hunger Relief Center, a 100,000 square-foot facility equipped to handle and store the millions of pounds of food donations collected each year. He humbly downplays their generosity: “There’s a passage in the New Testament, in Matthew 6, where it says when you talk about what you do on Earth it’s undone in heaven. We were just going to write checks to Second Harvest but they wanted us to put our name on it. We’re not gala people—you’ll never see me at a Baron’s Ball with a 10-gallon hat and a yoked shirt [Laughs]—and we aren’t part of the silent auction, tuxedo crowd. We like charities that focus on water, food, clothing and shelter. That’s how I would describe our litmus test.”
Today, Morgan is nationally known and sought out for his professional advice and guidance. His first book, You Can’t Teach Hungry...Creating the Multimillion Dollar Law Firm, which offers insight into his business methods and philosophy for success, was released last year.
Morgan’s latest “case” is the fight for Amendment 2, the initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Florida. He chairs The United for Care Campaign, a nonprofit grassroots effort run by People United for Medical Marijuana, and is credited with helping to get the issue on the November ballot.
Opportunist: Why is this amendment so important to you?
John Morgan: I’ve seen medical marijuana work—twice. My dad had esophageal cancer and COPD. He was a real anti-drug guy, but when he was prescribed a concoction of pharmaceutical drugs that did him no good we suggested he try it for pain, for appetite and anxiety. Miraculously, almost like Lazarus rising from the dead, the very first time my dad used it he got up and had a meal. He used it for the rest of his life.
If my brother Tim took the concoction of prescription drugs doctors had given him—including seven Xanax a day—he would not be able to function. He is now able to take a piece of chocolate with marijuana in it each morning and a piece at night, and it’s nothing short of miraculous.
There are probably 300,000 to 400,000 people in Florida who could benefit from the passage of this amendment, including those with ALS, cancer, HIV and epilepsy. This is what I’m doing in my brother’s name, for my brother. It’s almost as if this passes, it’s Tim’s legacy.
Opportunist:Please tell us about United for Care.
John Morgan:It was set up as a political arm specifically to raise money and get medical marijuana added to the November ballot. Our goal is to get the amendment passed and, ultimately, help the thousands of people with chronic and debilitating conditions. People were trying to get it going before—it was called something else then—but nobody had any money or notoriety and some of the faces of it were questionable. I’m not a marijuana smoker and I look just the opposite of what you’d think a person would look like who is doing this.
Opportunist:Some fear legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes will cause a ‘pill mill effect’ with unscrupulous physicians writing prescriptions for those who aren’t sick, marijuana being resold on the streets or falling into the hands of children.
John Morgan:Every child in every high school in every city in Florida who wants marijuana can have it within 10 minutes—and who knows what’s on it? What’s inside medicine cabinets in homes throughout Florida is far more dangerous and lethal than marijuana. Nobody ever died from marijuana. People who worry about children should worry about what they can get their hands on inside their own home: cigarettes, booze and pharmaceuticals that kill. Tobacco kills nearly 500,000 people every year, and many people die and have problems from alcohol. Oxycontin kills about 16,000 a year and hooks thousands more. It’s similar to when gun control was an issue and people worried that our children would get their hands on guns and gun advocates said ‘Not if you lock them up.’
Opportunist: What is the ‘Vote No on 2’ side saying?
John Morgan:Their latest ad is going after caregivers! They’re saying they could be drug dealers. That would be like you’re dying of HIV and you hire a caregiver who, by the way, has to get a license from Florida, and that caregiver could get small amounts of marijuana for you that they would resell. Why would anyone living with breast cancer desire for their caregiver to be their drug dealer instead of their sister? Go to the hospice and you’ll see who the caregivers are: your spouses, your children, your brothers and sisters or your best friend. That’s the definition of the caregiver. It’s not the drug dealer. Talk about trying to prey on people’s fears. Amendment 2 is a drug dealer’s worst nightmare because we are cutting them out.
Opportunist:If the amendment passes, how will the growing and dispensing of medical marijuana be regulated?
John Morgan:That’s to be determined. If it passes it goes to Tallahassee and, of course, that’s where it gets mired in regulations and the long arms and fingers start reaching in for their piece. So, you know, we will see how that comes out.
Opportunist:How will the state identify those for whom marijuana is truly medically necessary?
John Morgan:What would happen is you’d go to your doctor, who would then make a recommendation and send it to Tallahassee. Then your name, along with your doctor’s name, would be put into a database and the state would issue you a card that you’d use to go to the dispensary.
Opportunist: Several political scientists have said voter confusion could inadvertently help pass Amendment 2 if some Floridians mistake it with the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution (right to bear arms). Is that really likely to make much difference at the polls?
John Morgan: I’ve read about that. If they make that mistake and vote for it, I will take it. [Laughs] I will take it any way I can get it.
Opportunist: What do you consider the crowning moment of your career?
John Morgan: When I realized advertising was here. I started my law career at a point where advertising was frowned on by the old guard, and I really was kind of a traditional guy—a frat boy from the University of Florida and president of Florida Blue Key—and the least likely person to advertise on TV. But I was getting cases from early advertisements, and one shining moment I thought this train is coming and I can either jump on it and drive it or get run over. I was able to get inside the belly of the beast, but I caught a lot of flak from a lot of people in the beginning. I never felt there was anything inconsistent with advertising as long as you have great lawyers. The National Law Journal just named Morgan & Morgan one of the Top 50 plaintiffs firms in America based on trial results—not just super lawyers—and we were able to become one of the top firms through production, results and advertising.
Opportunist: Can you tell us something about John Morgan that most people don’t know?
John Morgan: I was Pluto at Disney World, and I did magic at Disney World when I was young. I’m still probably the greatest magician in the state of Florida. [Laughs] And they might not know that my idea of the perfect day is a day with my children and my wife and my brothers and sisters if they can be over. When my family is with me on the back porch having a cookout that, to me is the best day.
Opportunist: What’s next for you after Amendment 2?
John Morgan: I plan to be involved politically one more time. I’ve told the Clintons I’m willing to do one more event for Hillary because I think she would make a tremendous president. I will be close to 60 by that time and my plan is to absolutely not be involved in politics after that and to also be less involved with my law firm. I have lots of capable partners and I plan to spend more time at my different homes with my wife and children and my grandchildren to come, and I will be more focused on philanthropy than politics.
I’ve been to countless funerals and I’ve never seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul behind it. We are brought here to protect our family and help others. I’ve got all I need. If I won Powerball this afternoon I do not think my tomorrow would be much different from today.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer, editor with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance, real estate and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides in Florida. Follow Leslie on Twitter: @lescstone.
MORGAN & MORGAN - http://www.forthepeople.com/
UNITED FOR CARE - http://www.unitedforcare.org/
JOHN MORGAN’S BOOK - http://www.amazon.com/Teach-Hungry-Creating-Multimillion-Dollar-ebook/dp/B004Q9U510/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1412350375&sr=8-1&keywords=%3A+You+Can’t+Teach+Hungry...Creating+the+Multimillion+Dollar+Law+Firm
[Editor’s note: The views expressed in this interview are those of the interview subject and do not necessarily represent those of Opportunist magazine.]