“The Equalizer” is a fictional character of television and film, who uses his unique and remarkable skills to tip the scale in favor of vulnerable people who are confronted by those with power, influence and well-honed experience. The lawyers at Morgan & Morgan see their role in much the same light, though in very real-world sense. Their clients, whether seeking resolution on a personal injury claim or one to cover the hurricane damage on their home, often find themselves facing off against insurance carriers with highly skilled attorneys, who clearly have the advantage in experience and the crucial factor of time.
“When I first met with John Morgan to discuss opening the Melbourne office, he asked me what I wanted to do in life,” Derrick Connell, the partner who oversees the offices in Brevard recalled. “I told him I wanted to help people. He really hooked me when he said, ‘Look how many folks you can help with our platform. You will be able to represent more people and change more lives than you ever have before.’”
For Connell and the five other lawyers and 30 support personnel that make up their Melbourne office, that has been the case.
“Since opening in 2015, I have represented thousands of clients and had countless life changing verdicts and settlements. I love knowing that every single day I have the opportunity to help people climb out of terrible situations, overcome great tragedy and put their lives back together.” -Derrick Connell
He then went on to explain that in most cases, they are more than just their client’s lawyer – they are friends, they are a shoulder to cry on and are practically therapists. “We assist people to recover from some of the worst times of their lives,” he said.
It is a deep connection that Connell shares because of his personal experience. He suffered an automobile crash in 2012 which left him with injuries that required surgery and still cause him significant issues today. “I know what it is like to undergo treatment and surgeries due to someone else’s negligence. I know what it is like to personally deal with insurance companies and others that don’t understand or believe in the scope of your injuries. I also know how injuries can affect your family and interactions with them. I have lived it. And each day I try to alleviate this burden the best I can from my client’s lives.”
Expanding in Multiple Ways
To accommodate their growth in Brevard, later this year, Morgan & Morgan will open a new office in Titusville. With this expansion, the firm will also be adding additional attorneys to serve the fast-growing north Brevard region.
For Edward C. Combs Jr., whose practice focuses on premises liability, the local office is just the tip of the legal resource’s iceberg. The practice is part of, what is now, the largest plaintiff law firm in the country, with over 500 attorneys nationwide.
“Working at Morgan and Morgan is like having a law library made up of the cumulative experience of 500 attorneys.” -Edward C. Combs Jr.
“These are legal professionals who have knowledge and experience in nearly every facet of the law and every kind of case I might be representing. Regardless of the type of case I am involved in, I can personally consult seasoned attorneys who understand the arena and have been there before.”
Many of Morgan & Morgan’s attorneys in Brevard worked for the insurance industry before moving to represent claimants. Like Robert Hoag, a Brevard native who graduated from Cocoa High School and shamelessly admits, “I couldn’t live anywhere else. When I was in law school in Ft. Lauderdale, I was counting the days until I could get back to this area.”
His experience representing the insurance industry created a crisis of conscious for him, which led him to shift his focus towards representing people. “I didn’t get any satisfaction defending insurance companies, compared to representing homeowners, especially after hurricanes,” Hoag explained. “It is so tangible, when it is someone’s home, their whole life is disrupted.” Hoag went on to share how many times he had heard statements like: “I’ve lived in my home for 40 years and I’ve never filed a claim. Now that I need help, I can’t get it.” He summed it up saying, “Fundamentally, it is just a matter of getting the insurance companies to do the right thing.”
Making it a Mission
Passion and empathy seem to be part of Morgan & Morgan’s culture. This is clearly expressed in the comments made from people the firm has represented.
“I was on vacation in Florida for my birthday when I was hit by an uninsured drunk-driver. My injuries were extensive and so were the medical bills. I thought I was going to have to pay it all out of pocket, but Derrick found me coverage and took care of everything,” a client named Kevin said. Adding, “He did a great job not only handling the insurance companies, but also managing the health care providers. He helped make the best out of a pretty disastrous situation.”
A woman, who wished to remain anonymous said, “Mr. Connell and his staff settled my car accident case in a timely manner, that made healing comfortable and worry-free. They contacted me through email and phone calls to eliminate unnecessary travel. My settlement covered all expenses, with some left over for future care if necessary.”
Another central member of the team, Grant Gillenwater, focuses his practice on representing clients who have been seriously injured as a result of the negligence of a property owner. He embodies that sense of passion and mission that permeates the practice.
He is a graduate of Stetson Law, which he attended because U.S. News and World Report rated it the top law school in the nation for advocacy. During his time there he competed, as did Connell, and was part of the Nation’s Top Trial Team. That experience he immediately utilized representing clients who were going up against corporate monoliths.
“Initially, I wanted to be a high school history teacher,” Gillenwater said. “But I took a law class in the second semester of my freshman year and that was it, I knew being a lawyer was all I wanted to do.” What he later realized was as a trial lawyer, he was still in front of a group of people educating and persuading them on behalf of a client and on behalf of the truth. It was the perfect combination of what he loved to do and what he felt compelled to do.
It was Gillenwater who used the phase, “Equalizer”, when describing the role their firm plays on behalf of their clients. “When people are injured, they are not only in physical and financial distress, they suddenly find themselves in totally unfamiliar waters, getting advice from sources that may not have their best interests at heart,” he said. Gillenwater’s effectiveness was recently highlighted when he and Connell obtained a top 100 verdict for all of Florida.
All the attorneys Connell has recruited form a team of specialists in areas where people feel vulnerable and often overwhelmed. The legal profession has long been symbolized by Themis, the female image of Justice, blind folded and holding a pair of scales. The lawyers at Morgan & Morgan in this market are managed by Connell and led by John Morgan’s vision. They have learned from experience that without skilled and dedicated representation, those scales usually tip in the favor of the insurance companies.