Today on the podcast Jim and Tyson sat down with Nathan Harris. Nathan has been focused on helping people in the Hispanic community in Alabama for most of his life. His mother is from the tiny Spanish speaking country of Ecuador in South America and met his father while he was stationed in the peace corps in Ecuador in the 1970’s. After Mr. Harris’ parents were married in Ecuador, they moved to this country, the country of opportunity. Mr. Harris was born shortly thereafter and took advantage of this opportunity granted to him by going to law school at the University of Alabama.
Mr. Harris opened the firm in 2010, which eventually became Abogados Centro Legal, by building trust, fighting hard, and taking advantage of opportunity.
Today, Abogados Centro Legal is still helping Hispanic folks solve their legal problems in the following areas: serious injuries, car wrecks, accidents, overtime and minimum wage disputes, and immigration. Our Hispanic clients rarely feel comfortable with the U.S. legal system at first; but our firm, being fully bilingual and bicultural, is able to better relate to the Hispanic community and set our clients at ease during these stressful situations. All people, including undocumented immigrants, have rights and access to justice.
Everyone who has been injured, through no fault of their own, has the right to seek justice in the form of a jury trial in a court of law. We assist our clients in telling their stories and fighting for the justice they deserve. We also assist other attorneys to navigate the complex issues that arise in civil cases involving Hispanic clients.
3:20 learning from experience
3:53 buying a firm
5:44 marketing to a niche clientele
9:54 finding the right people
16:12 marketing in Spanish
17:28 getting rid of a practice area
18:53 direct referrals
20:20 helping clients 100% through the process
22:08 can’t be too serious with yourself
Nathan’s Tip: Listen to the Maximum Lawyer podcast!
Watch the interview here.
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Jim: Welcome back to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast. I’m Jim Hacking.
Tyson: And I’m Tyson Mutrux. What’s up, Jimmy?
Jim: Oh, Tyson, as I often do, I’m looking around my office trying to figure out what’s going to be my hack of the week when we get into the show.
Tyson: Now, that’s really funny because– as you were saying that, I was just thinking, “Shit, I didn’t come on with a tip.” So, the same thing.
Jim: That’s all right. We’ve got 30 minutes. I’m sure our wonderful guest today will help spark some ideas in our head of what to share.
Tyson: I’m sure. I am sure that is true. So, let’s jump right in and introduce our guest.
Jim: So, our guest today is a longtime friend of the show, a wonderful Guild member, a great lawyer down in Alabama. His name is Nathan Harris. His mom is from Ecuador. And his dad was in the Peace Corps in Ecuador. And they met and then Nathan came along. And he’s been a lawyer down in Alabama, focusing on the Hispanic community.
Nathan, welcome to the show.
Nathan: Thank you all for having me. I appreciate it.
Tyson: Nathan, so tell us and the listeners about your journey and how you got to where you are now.
Nathan: So, my journey started in the ‘70s, as Jim was alluding to with dad and the Peace Corps. It’s kind of cool. Dad’s sitting out on my– I’ve got a deck right off my office. He came to visit me this afternoon. He’s sitting out there, smoking his pipe, drinking tequila, just hanging out with me this afternoon.
But it started with him going to the Peace Corps in the ‘70s, to Ecuador, actually, in like an agricultural role. He was teaching– he was supposed to be teaching the folks down there how to raise chickens and how to raise cows. What he was doing was drinking beer, counting sunsets, and chasing pretty girls. So, I can’t blame him. I mean, if I was in his shoes, at that age, I would’ve done the same thing.
But he met mom at an embassy party because mom was of a class much higher than he was. Her family was in the ruling government at the time. It was a military dictatorship, so she grew up with, you know, all sorts of help, all sorts of drivers, and whatnot.
But they met, he tricked her into coming back to rural Alabama. And they had a bunch of kids. They were serial entrepreneurs that, at one point, they had five children and six businesses going at the same time, two locations of an insurance brokerage, two locations of a pizzeria, and two locations of a video store back in the ‘80s and ‘90s when that was like a lucrative thing – renting out videos.
But I always saw clients coming into the insurance office that needed help and they were getting screwed over by insurance companies. And my family, being Hispanic, I always saw immigrants getting screwed over not just by insurance companies but by everybody, especially here in Alabama. Everybody loves to hate on immigrants in Alabama.
And so, I decided to go to law school, graduated, passed the bar. It was the height of the recession in 2010. Nobody was hiring, I couldn’t work for free at that point, just nobody was hiring. When I started my own thing, did that for about 18 months, a local lawyer had pity on me and said, “Come work for me.” Learned how to do some civil cases. Learned a lot about criminal– I learned a lot about trials and how to help people through the courts and through those kinds of things.
And then, I moved to where I am now in Birmingham. Came to the firm, where I’m at now, Abogados Centro Legal. I had a partner for several years and then ended up buying the firm from him. We had a very good case. He ended up with a good leg and he decided that he wanted to get out of being a lawyer, so he took his money, my old law partner that is, and he started a medical funding company. So, when there’s clients thatdon’t have access to, you know, medical care, he put together a network of doctors around the country where they can get the medical care that they need. And it really helps the value of the case. And it really helps the client get the medical care that they need, after a car wreck, is kind of what they’re focused on. So that really helps. My clients is about 99% of undocumented immigrants are 100% uninsured in terms of health insurance. So, that really helps my clients as well.
But our firm, my firm, has always been focused on the undocumented, Spanish‑speaking immigrant for as long as I’ve been associated with it. And primarily in three areas personal injury, some labor law cases, and then immigration because every one of my clients– every one of our, you know, target market has an immigration problem.
Jim: So, I’ve got a question for you.
Jim: With such a heavy Spanish‑speaking clientele, are some people surprised when they find out your name is Nathan Harris? Like does that sort of throw people for a loop?
Nathan: You know, no one’s ever said that like, “Oh, you’ve got a really gringo‑sounding name” or anything like that. Not really. But what they really find funny is that my first name is Edward, not Eduardo. And so, you know, nobody’s really been thrown for a loop. But I get called all sorts of things too – Natan, Nissan. Nathan’s just not a very common name in Latin America.
Jim: So, following up on that, I mean, we had a hot seat a couple of months ago, in The Guild, and you talked about how you market your firm to the Latino immigrant community. Could you just tell our listeners a little bit about some of the cool things that you do to market to your clientele?
So, I kind of feel like I’m scratching back through my memories. Now, what did I say on that Guild hotseat? But we do a mixture of traditional– kind of some guerrilla marketing things in terms of magnets that we’ve passed out over the years, in tienda’s, Mexican stores. And then, we do a lot of digital.
But we really focus on not only being just in the community, but being a part of the community. You know, we’ve really been hitting, for the last couple years, saying, “We’re not just in the community, we’re not just your lawyer, but we’re also Hispanic. We have Hispanic hearts. We’re here for the community because that’s who we are.”
Tyson: So, Nathan, in your questionnaire for the podcast, you’d mentioned, one of the things you wanted help with was scaling up. And so– I guess, specifically, what are some of the struggles you’re having when it comes to scaling the firm?
Nathan: You know, it’s always difficult, I think, to try to find the right people to put into the right seats. And I’m so glad that Wendy’s here with us today, my marketing assistant, because we’ve looked for a long time to try to find that right person to put in that seat, especially someone that is truly bilingual, truly bicultural, and understands the plight of our clients in a very real and authentic way. So, finding people – finding people is hard, even before the great– not great recession but great, whatever, walkout that we’re in now happened, it’s always been very, very difficult to find the right people that would fit in those seats.
Tyson: So, let me follow up on that, Jim.
I guess, what is it about that specific role that you need to find someone for? Is that something that you find that’s just taking too much of your time? Do you think that’s what’s going to accelerate your growth the most? Like why specifically that position?
Nathan: The marketing assistant position?
I think it’ll absolutely accelerate the growth because I love marketing. I mean, I really like it. I dig it. It’s what I like to do. I think I’m a better marketer than I am a trial lawyer. I am a much better marketer than a manager of people but there’s just not enough of me to go around. You know, I’ve got three kids, a young wife. You know, XYZ, that all of us have pulling us in a million different– you know, different areas. But I’ve got all these ideas that I want to implement and all these marketing ideas that I want to do, but I can’t be at events every weekend, and be at seminars every weekend, and be with my family every weekend. And so, just getting pulled in too many different directions.
Jim: Do you have a leadership team, Nathan? Or is it everybody– or are you the center spoke that everybody comes to to ask stuff?
Nathan: Yeah. We do not have– I do not have a leadership team. And that’s something that we, you know, at the mastermind day, that I kind of see that I need to start focusing on. So, I’ve got the book Traction and EOS, looking at that, and how that can be implemented in the firm. But, no, I don’t have a leadership. I’m in the middle and everybody’s kind of going off of that.
Jim: You know, Tyson, that’s something we haven’t really spent a lot of time talking about. But one of the things that’s really made a huge change for us is, you know, our leadership team now is up to four people. So, you know, obviously, it’s Amany, my spouse and law partner, and then Adela, who’s been with me since day one, and then Laura Clark who’s just a flat out rock star. So, just having that. I mean, having people to talk to, having people to bounce ideas off of.
And when Nathan said, “I have lots of ideas that I want to implement,” one of the great things about the leadership board at our firm is that they tell me “no” for most of my ideas, right? Like, I have so many ideas, that one of the great gifts that they give me is telling me, you know, “Focus on this for the quarter, maybe do that next quarter, maybe never do that,” so.
And then, the other piece is that center spoke is a real trap. It’s a real trap that a lot of law firm owners get into. I was certainly in that place for a really long time.
And I think that, as far as your issue, Nathan, with finding the right people, I’ve really come to believe that our job, as law firm owners, is to find quality people, see what their unique ability is, their special sauce, the thing that they’re really, really good at– because most people are only really, really good at one or two things, and then moving them into that area as opposed to trying to fill positions, fill positions, fill positions, if you know what I mean?
Nathan: Yeah. I do know what you mean. And that’s why when I first looked at EOS, I was like, “Well, I need to get my wife involved.” My wife is a great manager. she’d be great at operations. The problem is we’ve got three young kids at home and she is doing that. We home school our kids.
Jim: She’s managing that.
Nathan: Yeah, exactly. She’s doing a great, awesome job at it. But she just doesn’t have the capacity to come in and do that with the firm, too. And we had a conversation, probably two weeks, about that and she’s like, “I can either do that or I can be at the house managing that.” And, you know, as much as I love my firm, I love my kids more. And so, we’re going to continue to invest in that, and keep doing that, and find somebody else to help take on that more management HR role here in the firm.
But, at the same time, I’ve got– you know, we’ve restructured our immigration practice where my immigration attorney is now the head of that practice. And it’s going to look like a triangle going down from there, where he’s the face, he’s the go‑to guy for that practice. And then, my PI associate, she’s going to be the same way. And it’s going to start with her and go down.
I’m still in the PI World because we handle some complex cases, some larger, you know, seven‑ and eight‑figure cases that I like to stay involved in when we refer those out for client purposes and for referral lawyer purposes. So, I do stay involved in the firm on that part, so.
Tyson: So, I know that you’re doing the EOS now, Nathan. I know that the majority of the people in The Guild do EOS. But I actually just so happened to have my scaling up – the people, the function‑accountability chart, the scaling up uses very similar systems. But what I like about– what I like about scaling up is it gives you the different functions for the vast majority of companies and you can change these a little bit. So, you’ve got head of company, marketing, R&D/innovation, sales – which we’ve changed to leads team, operations, treasury, controller, information technology, human resources, talent development/hiring, customer advocacy. And then, we added one, also called legal advocacy. And then, they also– which I think, you might find interesting, because you’ve got the immigration component plus the injury component, where you actually also will appoint heads of different business units because you have different business units.
Tyson: And, as we’re launching our estate planning practice, we’ll have a different business unit as well. So, It is something you might want to look at it, just to see if maybe that that might fit well for you.
But, as you begin– it looks– it sounds like you’re starting to put the people in place which I think it’s fantastic.
What, ultimately, is your goal for the firm? Like, what do you– and I don’t really want to get to the vision stuff. You know, we don’t need to get into that. But what is, ultimately, your goal for the firm? What do you want it to look like in five years?
Nathan: It’s funny. I was on Joey’s podcast earlier today. And I used a metaphor. And I think it might be a bad metaphor because of the connotations that it has with it. And Wendy, over here to my right, is laughing.
But, you know, it might end up looking kind of like a cartel. And that’s not because I’ve got, you know, associations with the cartel or anything like that. But, you know, that there’s a guy at the top. But before Pablo Escobar got, you know, brought in on the drunk driving charge or whatever and they got his mug shot, nobody really knew what Pablo looked like, okay? So that was kind of this amorphous head to this big organization. And maybe Xerox is a better company to go with instead of the Colombian cartels. But there’s a big organization that’s out there.
I want to be the organization in Alabama that’s fighting for immigrants, doing some great, great work, through immigration and through PI, with me at the very head of it kind of moving pieces in the background. But I don’t have any desire to have my face on a billboard in Times Square, you know, like John Morgan. I don’t have– you know, my ego doesn’t need that much stroking.
Jim: That’s so funny because I was in Times Square last Saturday and I said to Tyson that one day my face was going to be up on that billboard. So–
Nathan: Yeah. Yeah, I remember that.
Jim: –I must have that ego.
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Jim: You’re listening to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast. Our guest today is Nathan Harris, abogado Nathan. We’re really glad to have him.
And, you know, obviously we talk a lot in The Guild and in the big group about niching down. And I think it’s interesting that you have a niche, for sure. There’s no doubt about it. It’s just it’s not a vertical niche. It’s a cross‑population niche. So, how do you get the two to work together – the two practice areas?
Nathan: Yeah. So, it’s kind of like we have picked our people group that we’re going to work with and that avatar. And, for me, it’s a, you know, undocumented immigrant that’s here in Alabama, that’s between 16 and 65. They work in construction. They may live in a dangerous area of the city. They definitely have a dangerous job. And it’s just a high calamity group of people. And that’s who we want to help. And that’s who calls us. That’s who all of our marketing is 100% focused on. All of our marketing is in Spanish and laser focused on that people group.
So, we help them with the personal injury. We help them with the immigration. And we help them with overtime and minimum wage violations in‑house. But we also get a lot of other calls for criminal defense or in property issues. And, you know, somebody, you know, hasn’t paid me for two weeks and it’s not an overtime minimum wage issue. It’s just a contract issue. So, we’ve got a group of other lawyers that we trust, that we know would do a good job and take care of our immigrant group that we’ve got here in Alabama and kind of send that out.
So, that’s how we’ve niched down on that immigrant group, not necessarily our practice areas. But, at the same time, we don’t take any cases outside of our three practice areas. If they don’t fit in our pigeonholes, that’s not where we’re an expert at so that we’re not going to take that case. We’re going send ‘em out to other experts.
Tyson: So, Nathan, have you ever thought about taking and just getting rid of some of these practices, like one or two of ‘em, and just focusing on one thing? And why not, if you’ve not? And, by the way, I’ve changed my profile picture. Basically–
Nathan: Oh, I thought that was you. I’m sorry.
Tyson: So– yeah. But what is your– I guess, what are your thoughts on getting rid of a practice area?
Well, I’ve thought about that. And the one that we do– we actually don’t have any overtime and minimum wage cases right now because I have set the bar so high on what it will take to get us involved in one because they are just so difficult in terms of their time suck – the time suck on my time, time suck on my associates’ time. So, we still advertise that we do those because there’s still a lot of issues going on with those but, over the years, we’ve filed over 200 individual FLSA actions. And, through that, we’ve been able to effectuate change in mid‑ and North Alabama the way that the Mexican restaurants, the Chinese restaurants, the hotels, are paying these immigrants. And so, now, it’s not nearly as big of a problem as it was, say, six or seven years ago, when we were really blowing and going in that practice area. So, we’re not really doing anything in that group but we still advertise it. We still keep it on everything because people know us by that work we’ve done and by those results we’ve gotten.
In terms of immigration, I don’t really want to get rid of that. I know that we have a big group of immigrants and immigrant clients that we represent in that practice area. So, 5% to 10% of our PI cases are direct referrals from our immigration cases, so they have a case at each practice group. But, in addition, that doesn’t take in account to family members that they refer to us, the friends they refer to us.
Some of our biggest, you know, seven‑figure cases come from– we represented them in an immigration capacity five years ago. They remember that we were there for them, that we helped them, we fought for them, and they trust us. Even when there’s other lawyers here in Alabama that are running that case, knocking on their door, trying to get them to sign up with them, they call us, ask us to come out, ask us to help ‘em with that.
Jim: That’s awesome.
Nathan, I believe we’ve talked before about you have outsourced some of your team, that you don’t have your entire team in the United States. Can you talk to us a little bit about that?
So, we’ve got two team members that are in South America. One is through Sandy Van’s group. And we do a lot of PI, kind of some smaller PI cases where there’s a property damage component. And so, we’ve got her in charge of negotiating that property damage component. And that’s because all of our clients that are involved in a car wreck are always pissed off because their car’s messed up. And so, I didn’t want to be that lawyer and say, “Well, we can’t help you with your car. Go do that yourself.” I want to help our clients 100%. So, she’s with us. You know, she’s– I think she’s working 35 hours a week, maybe 40 hours a week at this point, almost handling just property damage stuff. But it makes our clients happy that they’ve got somebody there helping them move that process along. It’s not getting stuck. That they’ll send the documents to our office, that they’ll get signed, somebody’s negotiating on their behalf.
And there’s not a whole lot of negotiation being done, tyson probably knows this, on a property damage settlement, it’s really easy to see, “Hey, a 1996 Camry is worth $3,000. Here’s 10 of ‘em that they found for sale in this geographical location. And so, this is the price we will offer.”
And then, in addition to her– that– her name is Catherine, that does our property damage settlement, I have a guy in Bogota, Colombia. He used to be in‑house here for years and years, and he decided to move back, and get married, and start a family, be with his family in Colombia. So, he works directly for us but from Colombia. He has– for the last nine years, he’s worked virtually for us. So, a long, long time.
He does the National Visa Center stuff. He does a lot of the stuff where they need to go through embassies and consulates and the immigration stuff that we don’t have to have him in the office for. And he also helps with the marketing stuff as well. I sent him to some marketing– digital marketing courses there at the University of Bogota, in Colombia. And so, he was going to class at night, working for us during the day. I was paying for all of it. It’s a lot cheaper to go to university there in Colombia than it is here. And so, he knows how to do a lot of that social media marketing and is a lot better at it than I am.
Tyson: All right. At the risk of putting us over time, I’m still going to ask another question.
You are always really upbeat, like really upbeat, and you don’t seem to struggle with much so I’m going to ask this question.
Tyson: What is it that you do struggle with? Because not everything is as great as in every firm as you make it seem. Like you have a very positive attitude. Everything seems to be going great for you. Tell me. Like, what is it that you struggle with?
Nathan: I struggle with stress and I struggle with my weight? So, if we can figure out how to take those out of my life, that would be great.
No. I mean, there’s always daily struggles but, you know, you just can’t be too serious with yourself. You can’t be too serious with your firm.
Jim: All right. So, my last question is, I know, Nathan, that you spend a lot of time thinking about running your firm. I know you’re in the Guild and you’re in other groups, too. Why is it important for law firm owners to have that growth mindset and to, you know, work towards making their firm better?
Nathan: Well, we have an obligation, not just to ourselves, but we have an obligation to our employees. We have an obligation to our clients. We have an obligation to our communities as lawyers, I think.
And so, I think that I need to be able to run my firm as well and as efficiently as I can to be able to get the best results for my clients as we can, especially for our immigrant group here in Alabama, because there’s just not a lot of people trying to help immigrants in Alabama.
Tyson: All right, Nathan. I know that by the response to my question, how short it was, given how long your other responses have been, we need to dig back into that in the Guild, at some point.
So, I am going to wrap things up because we are going to be over time [inaudible 00:23:20]. I want to remind everyone to join us in the big group and on Facebook, if you’ve not done so already. We’ve got over 5000 members, a lot of great information being shared. If you want a more high‑level conversation, join people like Nathan in The Guild, go to maxlawguild.com. Make sure you get your tickets to the conference, MaxLawCon2022.com, before those prices go up.
Jimmy, what’s your hack of the week?
Jim: As I predicted, abogado Nathan did not let us down and I came up with my hack of the week. And that is there’s a great TED talk and a great chapter in Steven Levitt’s book about how drug dealers run their business like McDonald’s. If you haven’t read Freakonomics, it’ll blow your mind on things to think about. But Nathan is right that there are a lot of lessons to be learned in how to run your business, whether your name is Ray Kroc or Pablo Escobar. So, I highly recommend at least watching the TED talk if not reading the book.
Tyson: I love Steven Levitt. Steven Levitt is so good. His podcast is fantastic, too. So, good stuff.
All right, Nathan, what is your tip or hack of the week?
Nathan: I forgot I was supposed to come up with one. So, the tip or hack of the week, I’m going to just shoot off the cuff here, is to listen to the Max Law podcast, and get those golden nuggets out of there, and implement ‘em into your firm.
Tyson: Love it.
So, I got to cheat because our good friend, Jay Ruane, sent me a text with a– because he’s watching, with my tip of the week. So, it’s fantastic. He gave me one. By the way, fantastic product, finalized. Go to maxlawaccountability.com to get the finalized product. It’s a great accountability tool. So, check it out.
But that’s not the tip. The tip is lorman.com, L-O-R-M-A-N.com. And they’re having an all‑access pass sale this week for Thanksgiving. And you can buy the pass and give to your staff to learn things they can use. And Jay says things like how to use Adobe. Let your office manager take classes on how to effectively and legally fire someone, how to manage if you’re an introvert. So, a lot of great classes.
So, I’m going to check this out myself. So, thanks for that tip, Jay Ruane.
So, I’m going to try that out. I think my team are going to have a lot of fun with this. So, thank you very much. So, that’s my tip of the week.
Nathan, thank you so much. We’ve been wanting to get you on forever. So, we finally got you on and this is– it’s been great, so.
Nathan: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.
Jim: Thanks, buddy. Good seeing, you.
Nathan: Yeah. Good seeing y’all.