Some attorneys will go through the motions every day, hoping the clock moves faster so they can leave their office and get on with the rest of their day. Others choose to come to work with a different mindset—one where they’ll do everything possible to help the clients who depend on them find success in their legal challenges. James Young is one of those unique attorneys, as he’s devoted his career to helping everyday people expose instances of complex corruption and fraud schemes. Beginning as an in-house attorney at a publicly-traded company, Mr. Young has made great leaps and bounds over the course of his legal journey. James spent ten years as Special Counsel to Florida’s Attorney Generals' office before joining us at Morgan & Morgan. Since then, he’s worked diligently in various leadership roles within our Complex Litigation Group, using his prior experience to better serve the needs of potential whistleblowers and public clients across the nation.
Morgan & Morgan is lucky to have a talented litigator like Mr. Young on our team. We had the opportunity to speak with him about his career, and our conversation is transcribed below:
This interview was lightly edited for clarity.
How Did You Get Into the World of Law?
James: I originally planned on being a general contractor in the construction business, following in the footsteps of my father and grandfather who were both union carpenters. But, like many college students who had a major that wasn’t going anywhere, I ended up a political science major. When I was getting ready to graduate from the University of Florida, an advisor told me, “You have two options: you can teach high school civics, or you can go to law school.” Thankfully I chose the latter, though funny enough I have also volunteered as a civics teacher over the years.
In law school I was always drawn to healthcare, generally, and I guess I had visions of being an attorney for a hospital, a general counsel, or an in-house attorney for a hospital district. While I did touch on aspects of healthcare law throughout my legal career, I never went down the route where I was directly working for a healthcare facility or hospital, rather I spent most of my time suing them.
What Was It Like to Spend Ten Years as Special Counsel to Florida’s Attorney General?
James: Fantastic. Really, still to this day, it’s one of my career highlights. I started out at the AG’s office’s Civil Rights division here in Jacksonville and was investigating and litigating cases involving racial discrimination, fair housing claims, disability discrimination, denial of service, dogs at places of public accommodation, and other things like that. They were really interesting, important cases, but I only did that for about a year and a half.
After that, I transitioned into much more of a complex civil litigation role, working on consumer protection matters. Then, one day, there was a massive meeting in Tallahassee, and they asked if anyone had experience in pharmaceutical sales litigation or pharmaceutical branding and marketing cases. My wife had been a pharmaceutical rep for most of her professional career, so I raised my hand, and I was the only one. I ended up getting tapped to head up the multi-state enforcement group, which was a collection of lawyers that focused on litigation and investigation related to healthcare fraud and consumer protection violations by pharmaceutical and medical device companies.
So, that’s how I spent most of the time there. I got to work on some amazing cases with phenomenal people, both at the AG’s office and on opposite sides of the table. But, the highlight was the Vioxx litigation in Louisiana, where I was appointed to a leadership position. The Vioxx case was a very large MDL which settled for several billion dollars, and for me, getting to see the behind-the-scenes of how an MDL works and how leadership works were really eye-opening and life-changing for me. It’s what led me here to Morgan & Morgan.
How Did It Feel to Transition From That Role to Morgan & Morgan?
James: I had been at the AG’s office for about nine years and had two kids that were pretty young. If you’re not familiar, you don’t make a huge salary working for the state as an attorney. So, I started to think about when I would take that next step in my career and maybe leave government service in search of more opportunities for growth, both financially and professionally. I served on a Florida Bar Committee with John Yanchunis, who currently heads the class-action department here at the firm. I had a great relationship with John, and I approached him about ideas at different firms and whatnot because frankly I didn’t realize that Morgan & Morgan did these kinds of cases. From my perspective at the time, I thought they only did car accident cases.
It took maybe four to six months while we were talking and figuring it out, “Hey, there’s a spot at Morgan & Morgan that makes sense for you.” Ultimately, I interviewed and made the decision to make the leap, which was exactly nine years ago now.
What a phenomenal move it was. It was a leap of faith because I didn’t understand the plaintiff's side to litigation. I’d never worked for a plaintiff firm; I was an in-house attorney before I was at the state, and I worked at a defense firm before that. But, it worked out tremendously for me, because I got to still recover taxpayer money from fraudsters, but now I had skin in the game. Ultimately getting invited to partnership in Jacksonville, where I’m based, was even more of a blessing. I’m so lucky to work with these incredible lawyers who teach me something new almost every day. The cherry on top for me was when the firm allowed me to create a new practice area devoted to representing public clients like state and local governments or native tribes. So now I get to wear the white hat and go after fraudsters on their behalf as well. I can’t ask for a better place to do this important work.
The firm has such a depth and breadth of both lawyers and cases/controversies that we’re able to engage on, and most people outside of the firm don’t even begin to understand. Sometimes, it’s things that you don’t ever read about. Lobbying, for example. Last year, there was a bill that came up in Tallahassee that was going to significantly impact one of the areas that I practice in. With the firm’s support, I was able to go to Tallahassee with FJA to testify and lobby against the bill. We ultimately got it crushed, but you’d never read about that. It wasn’t a money-making thing, nor was it a case or anything, but it was something really important, and it helped save our practice area for years to come.
How Did Your Background Play Into What You Practice Today?
James: When I was at the AG’s office, a lot of the pharmaceutical cases began at the AG’s office as whistleblower or false claims cases. Some private attorney would represent a whistleblower, file a case under seal with the Attorney General, and we would investigate it. That could lead to two things: the resolution of that case or an entirely new but related case under consumer protection.
I had a defined skill set and expertise in that space, and when I came here, my goal was to represent whistleblowers in those types of cases. It’s really amazing work. It’s unlike anything else in the practice of law because, for the most part, the people you’re representing didn’t experience any kind of damage themselves. Sometimes, there’ll be retaliation cases, but these are really just brave people that want to report fraud and other terrible things that are going on to the government. They often suffer the consequences as a result of their courage in stepping forward, but in a traditional personal injury plaintiff firm like this, your client has been injured or impacted somehow personally, and that’s how they come to you.
With these cases, the impact often doesn’t happen until the end of the case when the defendant is aware that your client blew the whistle. It’s a very interesting aspect of the law, and very few people practice it. I think there are about 600 lawyers in the country that do this on the plaintiff's side, but we’ve been really successful here in doing this type of work.
How Has Morgan & Morgan Helped You Find Success Across Your Cases?
James: When we started out, we really focused on healthcare fraud because that’s where most of the successful cases are. We still focus a lot of our time on that area, but we’ve had successful cases involving NASA, federal construction projects, and other areas outside of the healthcare industry. We have an unbelievable team that we’ve built here, with two retired FBI agents that serve as investigators to help build these cases and a former successful whistleblower turned attorney to help with these cases. We will, as needed, bring in forensic accountants and other consultants to assist the cases. We also have two other lawyers besides myself that work on in-taking clients, screening, and litigating these cases.
Then we have, obviously, access to the firm’s full bench of resources, the e-discovery attorneys, litigation paralegals, trial attorneys, and legal briefing attorneys. It’s quite the army that John Morgan has built here, and when you’re using it to support these whistleblower cases, it’s incredibly powerful.
At the end of the day, it’s government money that we’re trying to help recover. It’s taxpayer money and we all have that in common.
What's the Worst Advice You Have Ever Received From a Career or Law Perspective?
James: Probably something along the lines of, “Don’t ruffle any feathers, don’t rock the boat.” So much has changed in the world of law, which is a very dynamic profession. It modernizes and evolves, and there are areas of practice today that didn’t exist 10, 15 years ago, like cyber security.
There are subspecialties within the law. You have lawyers that do one very niche type of case. For example, they might only work on premises liability cases, or they might specialize in divorce cases, where you used to have more general practice people. I think the advice I really didn’t want to listen to was not to incorporate new things or question the system. Obviously, you can’t completely revolt and rock the boat in a large organization. There are rules and restraints on what lawyers can do, like how you can conduct yourself in court, but I think that having a little rebel in you is probably a good thing for lawyers.
Who Do You Consider Your Hero, and Why?
James: I don’t know if I’ve really thought about this until you asked, but I have to say, after watching documentaries and biopics of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her career, her ascendancy as a woman at the time when women weren’t even going to college, I’d choose her. Her rise to become a Supreme Court Justice and her journey to become one of the most respected justices in modern history really resonates with me. Justice Ginsburg didn’t listen to those who said don’t rock the boat, don’t try to be a litigator, or jurist. She followed her heart, spoke her mind and changed history. After learning so much about her background, I’d say it’s something that you don’t think about in your day-to-day practice, but we’re constantly impacting lives as lawyers. On the criminal side, you can keep someone out of jail, and as a prosecutor, you can put someone in jail. You change people’s lives, and we see it here all the time. Every time there is a jury verdict in one of our cases you see it in the faces of the clients.