This week on the show we have Michael Urbina, founder of The Urbina Law Firm, LLC in Marietta, GA.
During his early law school career, Michael worked for several in-house legal departments with international corporations such as The Coca-Cola Company, Invesco Limited, Crawford & Company, and Kemira Chemicals as he had the intention to become an in-house corporate lawyer.
However, after an opportunity to work with the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA) for the Department of Homeland Security, he developed a strong interest in immigration and saw the need for representation in the immigrant community.
Michael is adamant that he does things differently in the services his firm offers to the community.In today’s episode we’ll discuss the current hold on immigration, making decisions based on fear, and self-improvement.
Jim is currently reading “The Road Less Stupid” by Keith Cunningham, there are a lot of great questions to ask yourself in this book.
YouTube has a free audio library, you could use it in your podcasts or videos.
Chris Voss, the FBI negotiator, has a course called MasterClass that Michael found very useful for every aspect of life. Get stronger communication skills, game-changing insights into human nature, and more of what you want out of life.
If you enjoyed the show, we’d appreciate a 5-Star review!
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Transcript: “What Makes You Stand Out?” with Michael Urbina
Jim: Welcome back to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast. I’m Jim hacking.
Tyson: And I’m Tyson Mutrux.
What’s up, Jimmy?
Jim: Well, Tyson, it’s not often that the President of the United States declares your practice area to be illegal. Dan Kennedy has a saying where he talks, in the context of employees, that “sooner or later they all go lame” but when he says that he means that we all need to be ready for anything. Last night, the president sent out a tweet that he was temporarily stopping immigration to the United States. It’s a rude awakening in the morning. Of course, everyone’s been. I’ve already gotten 12 emails about it. I’m sure our guest has too. It’s probably good day to have Michael on the show. Let me go ahead and introduce him.
Michael Urbina. Immigration lawyer. Atlanta, Georgia. Thanks so much for joining us.
Michael: No, thank you. It’s an honor for me to be here.
Tyson: All right, Michael. Let’s hear about your journey. How did you get to where you are right now? Why did you choose the practice area you chose?
Michael: I’m from Puerto Rico. Spanish is my native language. The minute I always wanted to be a lawyer just because my grandfather in Puerto Rico was like, Mr. Law. He was a judge, a senator, a representative. There’s literally a fountain with his statue in our hometown. It’s kind of ingrained that that’s where I was going to go – to be a lawyer.
I never thought about immigration, honestly, until I did an externship with the Department of Homeland Security and I realized how underserved this particular area is, and I just fell in love with the field. That was back when the economy was also really bad, In 2009 – 2010. I figured this was a great area to get started. Honestly, I just fell in love with it. It’s complex.
Like what Jim said, you always got to be on the lookout for what’s new. I thought that the biggest news that we were going to get yesterday was the Governor of Georgia reopening the State starting this Friday, but then Trump tweets that he’s making immigration stop for the foreseeable future. It’s going to be an interesting day, for sure.
I just honestly fell in love with the area. I started working with another small law firm. To be perfectly honest, being my own boss was like my biggest fear but it just came to be to the point that I had to do that because I felt like I needed to grow for the sake of my family. My wife was working for Coca Cola. That was super stressful. We had a daughter at that point. I just kind of had to jump in headfirst and learn how to swim in the process.
To this day, I still say it’s my biggest fear but at the same time it’s my biggest joy, so it’s– well, aside from my family, of course. It’s been a good journey. I’m thrilled where we’re going. I’m thrilled we’ve been and I’m excited for the future.
Jim: Michael, talk to us about when you opened up your firm. Talk to us about those initial days about finding office space, starting to market yourself. What was going through your mind at that time?
Michael: Well, honestly, just keep costs as low as humanly possible. My biggest thing was trying to figure out location. I figured that there’s a lot of immigration lawyers in Georgia. It’s sort of a difficult area to practice just because the courts are so tough here and I focus mostly on removal defense.
Everybody would go to the east suburbs of the city. I decided I was going to open up in the west suburbs. One, because it’s cheaper, because it was closer to home but because there was maybe like a handful of lawyers on that side. I found the cheapest place possible. Unfortunately, it also included roaches. I kid you not. There were roaches crawling on my desk in the first week, in a couple of consults. It was embarrassing but a rude awakening the same time, but it’s a cool war story at this point. I just found, I think it was like $300 a month for like this super, tiny office with like three or four chairs in the reception and then it immediately goes into my area with my desk.
I just wanted to make sure I keep costs low with marketing. Honestly, that’s kind of been our biggest change. I never really did any marketing until really like 2017. From 2013 to 2017, it was all word of mouth. I started doing radio shows and a couple of TV appearances and I got zero leads out of it. It was complete waste of money. That’s when I started thinking about doing something outside the box. That’s when I started doing more social media and a lot more like community presentations and whatnot. I was doing community presentations before but not as intense as we are now. Honestly, that’s where pretty much all our marketing is.
I do TV now but it’s more like invitations because they want to talk about a particular topic, but I don’t pay a cent for that. It’s just strictly, they invite me. I go. I talk about whatever the topic is. It’s free marketing in that sense.
Yeah, for the first four years, it was straight word of mouth. No TV ads. No newspapers. No social media. Nothing. It was all word of mouth.
Tyson: Michael, I’ve noticed that you’ve had this – it looks like a live show. I haven’t had a chance to really watch it, but it looks like you’ve got this live show. How’s that working out for you? How did you get into it? And then, how is that working out for you?
Michael: I guess, about five months ago– well, two years ago, we started doing a lot of Facebook stuff like a lot, a lot, a lot because most of our clientele, they live and breathe Facebook. So, we decided to do something more engaging and where we would host people at our office to talk about different topics that we’re not necessarily super adept so accountants, doctors, chiropractors, things like that, just to talk about what they know. Obviously, vetting them as much as possible and make sure that we’re not getting some hack into our office. We started calling it de la mano with Urbina which is basically like “Holding You by the Hand with Michael Urbina.”
Literally, we got new office space and everything because we needed to expand. The idea was to have a big lobby to host these events. We got that office space in February. And then, March came. We kind of had to put a stop to it until I told my brother who does our video editing, “We’re going to have to do ‘em, digitally. I think that we still have to keep going.” We did one in February and people loved it. So, this is the time to keep going. Right now, we did two last week. We’re doing one today. And we’re likely going to do one later on this week.
Today, we have a nutritionist that’s going to talk about how not to eat yourself away while you’re in quarantine. Well, now in Georgia, going back to all your favorite restaurants because you haven’t had them in weeks.
I had my mom who actually runs a nonprofit for sort of like mental health. They have a lot of psychologists and psychiatrists talk about the effects of people and how to make sure you keep your children sane during the quarantine. I had an accountant talk about the stimulus and PPP with small businesses.
So far, it’s been great. The response has been actually better than our in‑person event that we had in February. I’m thrilled to keep it going. It’s hard to find new ideas or people that are actually sufficiently technologically savvy to want to join these things.
So far, response had been really good. People really like it. It’s a good way to do something good, keep people engaged but, at the same time, keep your face out there and your name out there so people remember you and call you for any needs that they have.
Jim: Michael, tell us a little bit about your firm setup, about your team, and who’s working with you, and how you’re sort of running your system.
Michael: My wife is my office manager. She actually has a Master’s in Biochemistry. No management experience, but she is a professional when it comes down to getting procedures and protocols because that’s what she did for Coca Cola. She worked in the lab doing like safety checks, and taste tests, and things like that. She’s actually been able to translate that into creating a good management system and a flow of how to handle everything.
I have two other lawyers that work with us. We actually intended to hire another one here in the next month and, knock on wood, we still intend to. We actually have two law clerks, one of which just took the bar. Hopefully, she’ll also pass and join our team as well. We have four paralegals. The rest are all administrative staff and legal assistants. We have a total team of 15 in‑person team and four virtual assistants that help us with different tasks around the office.
We try to do everything team oriented with regards to– everybody has their own specific task as to how they handle everything. Everybody’s sort of focused on one specific area of the process. We have a paralegal that focuses mostly on the removal defense aspect of it. And then, we have another one that focuses on U visas, and family petitions, and things like that. Then, we have another one that is just this consular process guru who’s been doing this for a long time, so she is my go‑to person for everything.
We’ve compartmentalized everything as much as possible. But, as a need basis, we kind of switch it around whenever. If one area particularly starts– we start getting more consular process cases, we’ll switch people around and make sure that that area gets handled as fast as possible. We’ve compartmentalized every aspect of running the firm and made sure that nothing falls through the cracks as much as possible but, at the same time, that we keep everything flowing as efficient as we can be. To be perfectly honest, that’s the one thing that I’ve been tweaking the most, since joining Maximal Lawyer, just learning how to be more systems oriented and just getting down this well‑oiled machine.
I’m happy, and sad, and everything you want to say, to say that it’s a work in progress. I think that it’s something you always got to be working on. But, definitely, it’s been the one thing, after going to the conference, that I told my wife, “We need to get better on our systems because we’re not bad but we’re not where I would like for us to be.”
Tyson: Michael, since starting your practice, what are some key takeaways that you’ve learned that people should always be doing? I know, running a practice, there’s a lot of things that go into that. There’s practicing law. Do your bookkeeping. You’re managing employees. What are some things that you’ve learned that other people should be doing in their practice?
Michael: Absolutely, not being afraid to think outside the box. If there’s one thing that every year or every month I would hear from colleagues that are in our field, here in Georgia or in the southeast, is that they think that we’re too different in the way we do things. Like, a lot of people want to go, like I said, to the east suburbs. We’re happy where we are. We’re not moving over there. We’re just going to stick to our location.
There’s also the ever‑ongoing debate about charging for consults. We don’t. I completely respect and I get why you would do it, but I cannot tell you the amount of people that walk in our office that are actually good cases that the sole and only reason they picked us in the beginning was because we were a free consult. I can see how we can transition from that, but I’ve stayed true to that. That’s also almost been like a good marketing call for us that, “Look, you lose absolutely nothing in giving us a call and trying to figure out what’s wrong with your case or what we can do to better improve your case.”
I think that’s something that, as new practitioners, a lot of times, everybody wants to see what everybody else is doing. I’ve seen that, especially in the last year, a lot of people here in Atlanta opened their practice and it’s almost like clones. The logos look the same. The fonts look the same. Their mission statement and their call to the people looks the same. That’s the one thing that I had clear in my head. I’m like, “Look, if I’m going to do this, if I’m going to jump in headfirst and do what scares me the most, then, I’m just going to do it as different as possible so it stands out.” In a good way, of course. You don’t want to really do anything super weird or anything, but you want to be able to stand out.
Literally, everything I do, I try to make sure that it’s different or it differentiates us from everybody else. I cannot tell you how many people I’ve seen, try and fail or start but kind of got stuck because they just have this inability to just be different or dare to be different because they think that they have to do it this certain way to be successful.
I think that you need to make yourself stand out in a positive way. Find ways to be different. I think that’s, honestly, the first step into being successful with a new practice, just “What’s going to make you different?” There’s a lot of people out there that are going to be your “competition.” So, what are you going to do to make sure that you stand out? Otherwise, you’re just going to be another person on the local newspaper, on Google ads, and whatnot. Everybody does that. So, what makes you stand out? I think that that’s one thing, I always tell people what to do. That’s one thing that, to this day, I still want to make sure that we focus on and make sure that everything we do, we do it in our own way or with our own flow, whatever you want to call it.
Jim: Michael, that’s such a great point you’ve made several times here during just this short call. Where do you think that comes from? Where do you think you got that idea to sort of be different and not be like everybody else?
Honestly, everything that I did with the firm, at first, was just fear. When I tell you that this terrified me, I mean, it was– and I would tell people. First of all, I was not wanting to do immigration. I wanted to be a corporate lawyer. All my externships and internships in law school were for in‑house counsel. I was not touching immigration until I did that externship with DHS. That’s when I really started getting accustomed to that idea.
But even then, I would see my ex‑boss, how he had to handle everything. I was just like, “Mm-mm, I’m never going to be a part of that.” When I knew that it was time but, at that point, it was no longer a possibility. It was more like, “You have to do this because your wife needs to take care of your kids. She can continue to drive an hour each way every day to go work for Coca Cola.” I figured, “All right, so if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this in a different way.” I cannot afford that this fails. I need to make sure that everything we do makes us stand out in a positive way and find ways to be different. Otherwise, we’re just going to blend in.
I’ve just kept that mentality. I’m always sort of a– in a weird way, I think that stresses me out more but, at the same time, I’m always like on DEFCON 4 or DEFCON 5 to make sure that I’m ready for a worst‑case scenario. It’s worked. I think it’s kept us afloat and it’s kept us growing every year, every month, but it’s stressful at the same time.
I think the fear of failure, from the beginning, was my driving factor to make sure that this worked. I think, at this point, I just kind of instilled it so much in my mind that I’ve just kind of never let it go. I won’t let myself get too high or anything.
Even when we’re doing really good and things are working out, I’m like, “Okay. Guys, we still have to have Plan B, and Plan C, and plan D, to make sure that nothing goes wrong or we avoid whatever we can.” You can’t plan for things like what happened last night with the president or, obviously, this whole coronavirus situation, but you can do your best when it happens and have multiple levels of– I guess, I don’t want to say this but it’s just the best way I can explain it, fear‑driven plans to make sure that you don’t fail. Honestly, that’s where I think everything just comes from, at least for me.
Tyson: Michael, corona virus aside– let’s set that aside for a second. What are your long‑term plans for the firm? Where are you headed with this thing?
Michael: Right now, honestly, we’re kind of at a crossroads where we–
I’ve always said we wanted to niche down but, at the same time, the amount of clients that want us to handle additional aspects of law is just growing constantly. It’s enticing to kind of think that we want to grow into being like an all‑service firm in certain areas that we keep like divorce, and custody, and family law, but I want to niche down to a certain degree.
I think, honestly, what I keep telling my associates in our firm is that I want to focus more on expanding beyond the southeast. We have clients throughout the United States because immigration is federal, but we’re so locally driven that, at the same time, it’s good that we have our area where we know the judges, and we know the officers, and we have a good relationship, to a certain degree, with most of these people.
But, beyond that, I think, where we really need to focus on is focusing on what we’re good at but doing it more on a national scale so we have more out of state clients. That’s where I see us going, but, at the same time, there’s that sort of enticing situation where we could technically– the law clerk I have right now is waiting for Bar results. All she did, before she worked with us, was family law, so she knows divorce law and child custody law.
It’s intriguing but, at the same time, I’m like, “I don’t think I want to take that step to expand beyond our reach, so we overexert ourselves.” We’re kind of trying to tweak that up and see where we go. To me, where I see us going to try to expand beyond just focusing on the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida.
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Jim: We’re back with Michael Urbina. He’s an immigration lawyer from the Atlanta, Georgia area. Originally, from Puerto Rico. We’re really happy to have him here.
Michael, I remember meeting you and your lovely wife at the conference last year. I know that you were one of the first people to join The Guild, if not the first person to join The Guild. Tell me about your mindset when it comes to bettering yourself, learning more, trying new things.
Michael: I am an absolute nerd when it comes to trying to improve myself just because I feel that if you’re not adopting, you’re dying. I love that phrase. I think it’s the best way to describe how one needs to go about doing their daily managerial tasks but your own individual self. I think, not to have necessarily like shiny object syndrome, but I love every time that people talk about a new book or a new mastermind or anything else out there, I’m like, “That sounds interesting.”
Not everything is for you but like my wife and I, we kind of push each other to make sure that we keep ourselves grounded but, at the same time, always keep learning.
Right now, she’s reading a book. I think it’s the Bob Iger book ex‑Disney/still current CEO of Disney. She’s loving that book. Every time she takes a break, instead of just going down, I’m saying hi to the kids, she’s trying to read the book as much as possible. She used to want to watch all his Discovery ID Channel shows. Now, she’s just reading left and right.
To me, honestly, I just try to soak up all the content, first of all, from The Guild, the actual Facebook group for Max Law, the John Fisher Mastermind. Don McClure actually started this idea to do an Atlanta mini‑mastermind that I was a part of last year. I’ve been trying to make sure that that group stays connected as much as possible.
I absolutely love the idea of bringing people together to try to learn about each other and trying to see what everybody else is doing. I love reading, trying to improve myself. I think I might have way too many books in the pipeline at this point, that I kind of– it’s sort of intimidating to look at it at this point so I’ve kind of– I’m attacking it but, at the same time, I just don’t have a current plan on how I’m going to finish all these things that I have in the pipeline.
Honestly, I think that you have to constantly be reading, constantly be looking at things, to improve yourself. Otherwise, like you said, adapt or die. Otherwise, you’re not going anywhere unless you’re learning something.
Tyson: All right, Michael, so I want you to assume that tomorrow– you’ve already kind of woken up to this, but assume tomorrow, immigration goes away. You can’t do it anymore. It’s against the law. Trump has issued the order where you cannot do it and it’s not coming back. What do you do?
Michael: Well, definitely, expand our current criminal practice. We do mostly immigration, but we do criminal work as well. We don’t do any heavy felonies or anything like that. Immigration interacts so much with criminal law that I realized– and even when I first started, it was immigration and we’ll do a little bit of criminal work here. I’ll do DUIs and I’ll do no‑license cases, family violence, misdemeanors, things like that. If somebody calls me for a murder, I’m not your guy. I think the one thing would be, we would have to inevitably grow that part of our practice a lot, which I think we can because we constantly get calls for heavy felony and things like that. We just refer them out or turn them away just because we’re not equipped, at this point, to go into that because it would definitely conflict with our immigration practice and that’s our bread and butter.
We can definitely expand our criminal practice. Like I said earlier, we were already kind of thinking about expanding a little bit into Family Law, so we would have to go into that area. Again, adapt or die. You have to find a way to survive and keep going no matter what. So, if this does happen to have some major impact on our practice and we can’t do anything for the foreseeable future, then we have to look into these other areas.
Honestly– I guess, we can ask Jim, but I saw that announcement. I haven’t found anybody that really knows what the heck that means. It could be the worst. It could be nothing. I don’t know. It’s an interesting question just because I think we have the tools in place, we just need to act quickly to deviate and just do something different. We have the tools there. We just have to immerse ourselves into that area furthermore.
Jim: Well, for me, if immigration gets shut down, I’m going to take a long break. I’m going to do a lot of thinking. Get some money in the bank. I’ll try to get my PPP, round two. I’ll be going to Vegas.
I don’t even want to think about that. I have spent a lot of time thinking about that though. I know, like Michael, that I like that idea of the fear‑based– and fear as a driver.
Let’s sort of assume a couple things. Number one, I think it’s going to be challenged in the courts. Number two, there is an election coming up. Number three, What he’s really talking about is visa immigration, overseas immigration. That’s been ground to a halt anyway because of the coronavirus, so I think it’s something that might play well to his base. Keep him in the news for a while. He can probably have one of his stupid 5:00 p.m. press conferences. We’re just going to keep doing what we do, like we always do.
Jim: Michael, what do you say to our members or our listeners who are struggling right now? You know, a lot of people find themselves – and maybe we are about to join them, with practice areas that have slowed down significantly, or dried up, or just sort of struggling. You have such a great mindset on so many of the things we’ve talked about today. I’d love to hear your message to the people who are struggling right now.
Michael: That I think, this is a great time to ground yourself and, if need be, reinvent yourself.
The question that Tyson just asked, I think the best summary can be, look, if you absolutely have a situation where you have to think long term that this is going to be something that’s going to affect you past May or June, whatever it may be, then you are in the absolutely best position to take some time to reinvent yourself, learn some new skill sets, and find a way to adapt to your new situation. I get it. I mean, since everything started. Again, I’m very fear driven. I was terrified as to what this would cause our firm, but we took it as an opportunity to learn a new skill set.
Constantly, I heard some of my paralegals and legal assistants say, “Hey. So, so and so. We could do this work remotely.” And I was like, “No way. We’re not going to do any of that.” We’ve been 100% remote since May 13 and we haven’t skipped a beat. I think it’s an opportunity for you to think about your current skill sets, see if you can use them in a different way and sort of, “reinvent yourself.”
Or, if you have to learn new skills, then you have the absolute perfect time to do that. Instead of necessarily trying to catch up on Ozarks or watch a new series on Netflix, or binge this, or binge that. I get that that you have to give your mind a break because I can’t think of a more stressful time. I saw this study that was talking about how sleep disorders are on the rise because of the stress of everything that’s happening, but you have this perfect opportunity, where things have slowed down, and you have the chance to sort of either reinvent yourself or learn a new trade where you can really expand your practice or improve yourself as an attorney.
We always talk about working on your practice. I think you have to do a mix of those at this point. Yeah, you have to focus on working on your practice, to make sure everything is flowing good.
But, if your practice is struggling at this point, then you need some you need to make sure that you’re working in it and, particularly on yourself, so that you can improve your skills, expand your skills. When all this is over, if your practice has taken a major hit on a more permanent basis, then you have a new set of skills to be able to deploy out there and show yourself as a different person. And the same clientele you have right now are going to notice. I’m going to say, “Look–“ “Oh, so you’re doing this kind of practice now?” Or you have this new set of skills, or you’re offering this type of service. Do something that makes you stand out differently from what you were doing before, to make sure that you don’t just blend into the background. Use the time wisely.
Tyson: Great advice, Michael.
All right. We do need to wrap things up. Before I do, I want to say hello to everyone in The Guild, they’re watching right now. Hey, everybody.
I want to remind everyone to please join the Facebook group. There are a lot of great people in there. That’s how we met all these people that are in The Guild. There’s a lot of great information being shared every single day.
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Jimmy, what is your hack of the week?
Jim: I’m reading a book. I told you the title of it and you laughed and thought that it was fake. The title of the book is The Road Less Stupid. It’s by a guy named Keith Cunningham who calls himself the Chairman of the Board. It’s a tad bit cheesy but there’s lots of good nuggets in there so–
Tyson: Shocker that it’s a cheesy book that you’re reading.
Jim: Well, my books aren’t usually cheesy. My books are usually woowoo. This is cheesy. There’s a difference between cheesy and woowoo–
Tyson: The fine line.
Jim: –cheesy book, not a woowoo book. It’s just slightly cheesy. Keith Cunningham calls himself the Chairman of the Board. A lot of good ideas in there. One of which, I really enjoyed, and I’m going to go throw it out to the group right now. It’s all about thinking time and asking questions. One of the questions was, “If you got fired today, as the chairman of your firm, and a replacement was hired, what would be the first decision that she would make?” I think it’s a great thought‑provoking idea. And so, the book has some of those–
For me, if I’m reading a book and I get three or four nuggets out of there, things that I can tweak or implement, I think those are good.
It’s a good book. It’s not as good as our friend John Fisher’s book, but it is a good book.
Tyson: It’s good. I like the question, too. It’s a cool question.
All right, Michael, what is your tip or hack of the week?
Michael: I think there was a thread on the group that was talking about masterclass. I haven’t seen this particular class mentioned, but I thought it was fantastic. The Chris Voss, the FBI negotiator does this class on negotiating which you would think that only applies to a specific group of us that are negotiating settlements or whatnot. I found it to be so cool and useful for pretty much every aspect of life. It starts out a little slow, I would say, but if you sit through the class, I think it gives you many different types of advice for things that you can implement in your practice. How you can convince people that you’re the right fit for their case, if you have to do so. Or, again, if you have to negotiate settlements or things in court, how to read people better. I just thought it was a fantastic class. It’s almost ironic because he starts out so slow and it feels a little boring at first but, as he gets into it, it’s super interesting.
If you’re looking for something to learn but at the same time entertain yourself, if you have the masterclass, I strongly suggest that you do the negotiating class with Chris Voss, the FBI negotiator.
Tyson: Chris Voss is awesome. His book is amazing. Actually, every time he comes up on the advertisement, that makes me want to actually buy masterclass so [crosstalk]–
Michael: Do it, man.
Tyson: All right, so my tip of the week actually has some theme music, ready? This music is inspired by Jim Hacking.
All right. That comes from YouTube’s free audio library. I just discovered this over the weekend because Amy found it. We can use it in a lot of different things – your podcasts. You can use it in videos. There’s a lot of different videos and sound effects, so check it out.
Michael, thank you so much for coming on, been a lot of fun. We look forward to getting to know you more over the coming months and years.
Michael: Honestly, thanks for having me. It’s been an honor.
Tyson: Thanks, Michael.
Jim: Thanks, Michael.
Tyson: See you, buddy.
Jim: See you, bud.
Michael: See you, guys.
Thanks for listening to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast.
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Have a great week and catch you next time.