John Morgan, Insatiable
In his new book, Orlando’s most famous lawyer reveals how to succeed by really trying hard.
John Morgan built Morgan & Morgan into one of the largest law firms in the South—and made himself very wealthy in the process—by going on TV and radio to solicit business, namely personal injury lawsuits against insurance companies, nursing homes and doctors. Last year alone, according to Morgan, 55, his national firm signed up 46,000 cases. But Morgan himself hasn’t tried a case in some years; he’s been too busy running a business empire that also includes billboard advertising, a marketing firm, a few tourist attractions and hotels. Now add author to his bio: Morgan recently self-published You Can’t Teach Hungry: Creating the Multimillion Dollar Law Firm, a 172-page book that reveals how he made his practice so successful and how other law firms could do the same if they follow his methods. Morgan talked with Orlando magazine Editor Mike Boslet about the book and other topics, ranging from alcoholism to his recent big-time hire, former Gov. Charlie Crist.
OM: What does the title of the book mean?
JM: It just kind of describes a state of mind, and I think you’re either born with that state of mind or you’re not.
OM: Like the ‘it’ factor.
JM: It’s kind of like the ‘it’ factor. Either you are hungry or you’re not hungry. Look, I can’t give you the ‘it’ factor, but if you have the ‘it’ factor, I can help you expand upon it. The real reason I wrote the book is I have a business called Practice Made Perfect, an advertising agency in West Palm Beach, and it’s set up only for lawyers. In other words, if you’re in Seattle and you want me to come and replicate what I’ve done here, that’s what my agency does.
OM: So, you go around the country and try to replicate the Morgan & Morgan model with other law firms? It’s almost like franchising, isn’t it?
JM: It’s not a franchise, but I’m an ad agent. I can say, ‘Look, here’s 30 years’ mistakes, here’s the messages I think worked, here’s all the back-of-the-house stuff that we do, here’s the manual. Our ad agency has billings right now—not counting Morgan & Morgan—of about $40 million a year.
OM: How well do you think your book will be received by your brethren?
JM: Very well, because almost 90 percent of the stuff that I have in my firm I’ve learned from somebody else. And if you’ve read the book, there’s a lot of things that have worked for me, but I also talk about the things that didn’t work, the failures, the missteps along the way. . . . I think there will be a group who will read it who may be appreciative. But I think there will be a group, maybe local competitors, who go, you know, ‘Oh, my God, here he goes again.’
OM: What one piece of advice in your book would you point to as the secret to your success?
JM: Surround yourself with great people. Work hard. Set written goals. Do what you say you are going to do.
OM: I read your book. Who proofed it?
JM: There’s some typos in there, some grammatical errors. But remember, I’m from Kentucky, so I don’t give a…
OM: You write in your book that being scared—being paranoid—keeps you on your toes. But if you’re always so afraid to fail, how do you enjoy success?
JM: Because at the end of the day winning is the ultimate success. But there’s something about competitors, that no matter how good you are, you’re always worried somebody’s going to be better. You’ll have a misstep. The problem with success for me is I have 10 Morgan & Morgan offices all over the country, and there will be a point where nine offices are doing great but one office may do poorly and that one office makes [me] miserable. Americans are like this: The power of losing is so much more intense than the power of winning.
OM: From the sound of your book, you’re a businessman who just happens to be a lawyer.
JM: My focus has been building my business. I mean, you cannot do both. There’s 180 lawyers in this organization. There’s like 1,300 people on staff. You cannot be in the courtroom and doing what you have to do to [run a business] all the time. So I would say I’m more businessman than lawyer.
OM: How much does it cost to keep Morgan & Morgan running?
JM: About a hundred million dollars a year.
OM: You write that many successful lawyers like yourself had paper routes as kids. Why do you think that is?
JM: It’s early and it’s genetic. There’s a genetic seed that makes somebody say, ‘I’m going to be 10 years old but I’m going to be married to this paper route, and I’m going to get up even when it’s raining, I’m going to be in the rain. And if it’s going to be cold, I’m going to be in the cold.’ I can’t explain it.
OM: On page 75, you wrote, ‘If you don’t drink, I don’t trust you.’ Are you serious?
JM: No, I was trying to be funny.
OM: Some people who know your reputation for drinking might think that you are serious.
JM: Well, they might. I’m Irish. There is a genetic predisposition. We like liquor.
OM: Are you an alcoholic?
JM: Oh, yeah, I’m an alcoholic.
OM: If you drink, do you have a limousine at your disposal?
JM: I don’t have a single drink and get behind the wheel. If I’m going to go to your party and I know I’m going to have a drink, but I’m not with somebody who’s driving, I have a limousine.
OM: How much time do you think you spend in a week working?
JM: I feel like if I’m awake, I’m working, because there are so many different things to do.
OM: What does the former governor, Charlie Crist, do for you?
JM: I believe he’s going to be one of our great rainmakers inside the firm. There’s three types of lawyers inside a firm: finders, minders and grinders. Charlie is a finder, and I think he already has demonstrated that he’s going to be a lawyer inside the firm that’s going to attract a lot of business to our firm.
OM: Isn’t it because of you that people gripe about lawyers costing [consumers] more money because of all the judgments? That’s why we pay the rates we do for insurance.
JM: Total bullshit! I’ll tell you why: There’s been tort reform every year since I have been in business, and the promise has been that your insurance rates are going to go down. And guess what? They never have. Consumers’ rights have gone away. Let me tell you something, if it wasn’t for the trial lawyer, Ford Motor Company would still be selling Pintos that blow up. [Baby] pajamas would still be catching on fire. The drug manufacturers, the makers of unsafe products, would still be doing it. In corporate America . . . they put money ahead of anything else. And they’ve done it consciously and deliberately. I’d rather have one John Morgan than a thousand bureaucrats and the FDA.