Sometimes the subject matter for my marketing column just hits me…like when I’m driving down I-95 in Philadelphia and see one law firm billboard after another, after another, after another. It’s the Morgan & Morgan Effect—and I write about it in the January/February 2024 issue of Law Practice, entitled, of course, The Morgan & Morgan Effect.
If you are blocked from reading the column behind the ABA paywall, it is provided below in its entirety.
- Learn how Morgan & Morgan is impacting law firm advertising and marketing nationwide.
- Understand how your firm and practice need to adjust to a changing competitive market.
- From Bates vs. Arizona to O.J. Simpson to changes in technology, trace the trajectory of law firm business development.
Law firms throughout the United States have felt it. Often, they don’t want to admit it. Other times, they try to fight it. But it is very real . . . and I refer to it as the Morgan & Morgan effect.
In the last 48 hours, I’ve counted seeing Morgan & Morgan flash before my eyes in at least a half dozen places spanning three cities—a fully wrapped bus, billboards, radio and TV commercials, class action ads in my Facebook feed and the logo flashing repeatedly during in-game replays while watching the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center.
John Morgan unabashedly tells the viewing consumer in a recent TV commercial that sometimes he’s living in Florida, other times at his house in Maui, some days in New Hampshire. “My headquarters? Wherever it is I’m sleeping that night.” I’ve never met John Morgan, but I appreciate him. From what I’ve read, he leans in my direction politically and philanthropically. He’s an entrepreneur—law is one of his many businesses. And he’s not afraid to take on a profession in a “marketing arena” that is often staid and risk averse.
Sure, there are law firms with powerful brands and reputation—whether it is a Sullivan & Cromwell, Cravath or Kirkland. But those are only known to a finite segment of the population. In most cities, there are a handful of personal injury firms that everyone knows. But those brands are typically limited to a city or perhaps a few states. I see Morgan & Morgan daily—at ballparks and arenas, online and in every type of advertising known to man. And conversely, I see advertising that either calls them out directly or subtly reminds you to “buy local.”
Where Did They Come From?
If you’ve never heard of Morgan & Morgan, well, I know you are lying. The firm was founded in 1988. It is headquartered in Orlando, Florida, with offices and licensed attorneys in all 50 states. While the focus has been on personal injury, medical malpractice and class action, the firm continues to expand its practice area footprint. They started advertising on TV and radio in 1989. John Morgan bought out his partners in 2005 and renamed the firm Morgan & Morgan. Today they have over 800 lawyers and 100-plus offices.
They’re not from around here.
Most of my own analysis of the firm stems from reviewing and advising on marketing campaigns in my ethics practice. Many of my clients complain incessantly about them. I can’t personally speak to their qualities and results as attorneys. My guess is that, like most large law firms, there are attorneys and offices that range in “quality.” But the thing about injury law is that advertising is typically geared toward a consumer who often does not know the difference—and they are what I call “one-offs”—meaning that you are bringing in a case, not necessarily forging a long-standing relationship. Most of my clients on the business development side of the ledger are corporate, defense-focused firms—where bringing in a client to build for the long-term is critical.
While Morgan Lewis might be the largest law firm in Philadelphia, they are probably the second most recognized “Morgan” among law firms in the city where I hang my hat. For a long time, you could divide up the consumer-facing marketing in Philly into three law firm segments—first, the small shop relying on Main Street business and referrals; second, the heavy advertisers that count on searing their brand into your memory; and third, the handful of heavy-hitting firms with the big-time reputation that “don’t need to advertise.”
With the influx of Morgan & Morgan visibility has come a smaller piece of the pie for the smaller shops. An increased price point driven by demand for the ad-focused firms, and like it or not, the need to play in the advertising sandbox for some that simply never did and didn’t feel to the need. Saltz Mongeluzzi may be one of the best-known personal injury firms in the city—one that probably did not need to advertise, perhaps, until now. In the accompanying picture you see of the Phillies scoreboard at Citizens Bank Park, I’ll note that it is not a coincidence that you see one injury firm at the top and Morgan & Morgan at the bottom. Saltz Mongeluzzi has also embarked on a full-fledged ad campaign, TV commercials and all. This is a scenario going on in cities throughout the country—it’s capitalism. And in the long term it is probably good for the consumer, the profession and the economy.
Remembering “The Dream Team”
The infamous O.J. Simpson trial in 1995 brought the “dream team” into America’s living rooms. A few of the attorneys certainly came in with their own “brands” crafted from high-profile matters and personas—namely F. Lee Bailey and Alan Dershowitz. Robert Shapiro went on to cause some disruption to the profession as co-founder of LegalZoom.com. And when it comes to branding, what bigger name is there than Kardashian? But that came later and has little bearing on the legal profession. But it was Johnnie Cochran, with the famed, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” who was launched, along with his firm, into stardom. In the years that followed the O.J. Simpson trial, Cochran created what you might consider a precursor to Morgan & Morgan with The Cochran Firm, using name recognition, star power and personality to create “franchises” in many cities throughout the country. The firm is still going strong but imagine if Cochran had not passed away (in 2005) less than a decade later? I’ve often suggested that The Cochran Firm was forging a path very similar to the model Morgan & Morgan employs.
Of course, there is no Morgan & Morgan—and no column for me to write—if not for the groundwork laid by John Bates and Van O’Steen in the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona (1977) that allowed for lawyer advertising. I had the privilege of serving on some CLE panels with Mr. O’Steen, who was always at the cusp of understanding the injury law market. For the most part, though, he limited his focus to Arizona. Today, much of our focus is on the ability to be as “multi-jurisdictional” as possible.
ABA TECHSHOW Programs
Morgan & Morgan features prominently in two programs that I’m co-presenting at the upcoming ABA TECHSHOW, February 14–17, 2024, in Chicago, Illinois. “One Bar License, Will Travel – Are Changes in Multi-Jurisdictional Rules on the Way?”, with Charity Anastasio, will discuss Model Rule 5.5 and the impact on marketing and solicitation when crossing state lines. With some small law firms and sole practitioners trying to compete with large, national firms that have full-fledged shops in their cities, the need for an “expanded” license might be critical. In a program with Dave Ries, “Ethics of Law Firm Advertising and Solicitation: Keeping Pace in Today’s Race for Clients,” we’ll talk about the Morgan & Morgan effect—and the ethical boundaries that can create difficulties, as well as the increased speed in which clients retain counsel.
What Happens Next?
In reviewing marketing, advertising and solicitation for ethics compliance, I suggest to you that few law firms are likely as careful as Morgan & Morgan. They can’t afford not to be. State and local bars, competing lawyers in the local market, and disciplinary counsel are looking for that misstep.
The Morgan & Morgan model is also not limited to the local, injury practice market. My guess is they’ll take the brand and expand it out—every type of consumer-facing area of law practice, but perhaps small and midsize businesses too. “Big Law”—which brand, but don’t necessarily “advertise,” continue to see the value of a national approach—with some now having offices and licensed attorneys in every state. That spreads the Morgan & Morgan effect to every practice and jurisdiction.