Legal



29 Apr 11

Some of you likely know that Summit Law Group is a little different. I get bug-eyes from people whenever I discuss our lack of a general policy manual, our lack of dress code, our Value Adjustment Line allowing the customer to set the end price, and that minor detail of EVERY person having an outside office with no corner office real estate. Yes, these are ALL very remarkable cultural marks of Summit Law Group.

Recently, I took advantage of one more remarkable cultural marking, our pet friendly office space!

I’m sure there are many smaller firms that offer pet friendly work space, likely due to a main partner in the firm setting that rule from the get-go because of their own dog. However, I’ve never met a 30ish attorney firm who had an open policy allowing employees to bring pets to work.

So, I know, this all sounds great and fun and all, but how does it really work out?

First off, my initial concern was that even though it’s SAID that Summit is pet friendly, what’s the reception going to be like when I first bring her to work? Will relationships change? Well, although there are a few folks who have always disagreed with Summit’s pet tolerance, I’m finding 90% of people here get great joy from taking a few minutes to visit with this little love monster. It’s really helped enhance many of my office relationships, giving different angles of personal engagement and conversations that would never have otherwise come about.

So, that’s the good part…

There are some draw backs.  First and foremost, even in a pet friendly office not EVERYONE is pet friendly.  And even though they smile and say, “Oh how cute!” know that they may be complaining to someone.  I’ve been fortunate enough that I believe all the concerns have been completely legitimate and no one has complained from a point of “joy stealing”.  With that said, here are my own rules I’ve applied to allow my experience as a pet owner to be as freeing and joyful as possible:

  1. Although you might think EVERYONE wants to meet your pet and play with him/her, you shouldn’t take her EVERYWHERE in the office with you.  I’ve learned that it’s quite a distraction for people when you walk in with a Lucy in tow and try to discuss complex (or even simple) business matters.  Leaving her in my office allows me to conduct “business as usual”.
  2. Pets aren’t meant for meetings… of any sort.  For the same reason parents rarely bring their children to work, it’s a good idea to not bring your pets to business meetings.  Imagine someone bringing their child into a business meeting.  It does change the conversation dynamic and likely even the focus of the meeting.
  3. Pee pee pads are necessary, even for the most well behaved dog.  You don’t want to be THAT employee who gets the “pet friendly” title taken away because you haven’t properly trained your pet.  This can go for bathroom habits just as well as chewing habits!  I would be mortified if Lucy caused damage in my office.  Granted she’s 4 lbs of cuteness, but she COULD still cause some damage.  The Pee Pee Pad reference is a general one. Doesn’t have to only insinuate bathroom habits.  Think about making sure your pet can remain entertained in your office without having to “engage” the local fixtures.
  4. Have a backup plan! Sometimes meetings pop up unexpectedly (and by sometimes, I mean all the time), so have arrangements with others in your firm who are willing to watch your pet if an unexpected meeting should make it necessary to leave him/her for an extended period of time.  I’m not saying a 15 minute meeting.  Most pets can handle that.  But for meetings that may run longer, your pet likely isn’t really interested in spending that much time alone.  If all else fails, have a kennel either in your office or in your nearby car.  Neither of these are ideal, but will certainly due in a pinch.
  5. Not every office can be pet friendly.  Some buildings don’t allow pets at all (unless under ADA rules for service animals).  Keep this in mind for YOUR office if you’re thinking about converting to a pet friendly office OR if you’re considering moving your office.  Think your culture could be enriched by adding pets? Make that deal with your landlord even if you THINK it MIGHT be a possibility!  You can always not allow it, but if you don’t have an arrangement with the landlord, you’re sunk!
  6. The office should not be an off-leash area at any time. There are a couple good reasons for this, first, because there may be other pets in the office.  Keeping yours on the leash will prevent any potential “run ins” between them. Another reason is that no matter how well behaved your pet may be it’s VERY difficult to train the humans in the office!  So, some people will LOVE bringing your pet to their office where they have treats and kibble!  Once this starts and you let your pet off the leash OFF they go down the hall making rounds to the treat-holders society.

Those are my pieces of feedback for now. Please drop questions in the comments.  I’d love to examine any ideas you have.

If you have more interest in Lucy than in my firm you can always follow her on Facebook!


Filed under: Cultural,Legal,Management

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1 Feb 11

One of my wonderful lawyers here at Summit Law Group, Ms. Sofia Mabee (Labor & Employment Lawyer Extraordinaire), found this article on the WSBA website recently and pointed it out to me after my grumbling about being asked to run my @SummitLaw tweets and Facebook posts by one of our lawyers.

Lawyers Tweeting, Blogging, and IMing — Oh My!

The first part of the article is pretty dry (for me) but what I found astounding was the section called “Status updates, comments, and blogs” about a third of the way down the page.  In particular:

Fourth, sometimes non-lawyer staff or a third-party service is called upon to manage the lawyer’s or law firm’s social network sites. In that case, RPC 5.3, the duty to supervise non-lawyer assistants, comes into play and the lawyer should review each and every status update or post before it is made public.

WOW!  I had no idea!  And I had never heard any of my other legal folks discussing this either.  Thought it might be nice to point this out.

Personally, I think RPC 5.3 is VERY vague to cover this, but alas, the WSBA has a tad more authority to judge that than I.

(NOTE: This is a Washington State rule, check your state bar for similar rules.)


Filed under: Blogging,Legal,Social Media,Twitter

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12 Sep 10

So, I’m going to do a series of blog posts in the coming weeks about making choices regarding your needs for a lawyer, legal services and powerful ways to avoid pitfalls during that process.

Buying legal services can be quite similar to buying any other product or service. You have choices. Choices about personality and relationships; choices about pricing; choices about extra charges; choices about payment plans; choices about billing arrangements; choices… just choices! Most of the time any of us (including me for the first time on the BUYING end of legal services recently) the process of choosing a lawyer solely depends on someone else recommending a lawyer “they’ve heard of”. And, because when we need legal services, we’re usually months late in finally making that choice, so we’re hurried to get legal representation. Go into the decision with tools to make the choice quick and easy.

I have so many friends who don’t work in legal who want advice about how to find the right lawyer and what to look for as qualities or pitfalls to avoid. And I do figure with my experience with having worked with firms who have a combine total of over 1500 lawyers in the past 10 years (large firms, mid-sized firms, and smaller firms). Working at some of THE top firms in the world and in Seattle. Beyond that experience, my connections through the Association of Legal Administrators (a 10,000+ member organization dedicated to educating, networking and enhancing the business managers inside law firms and legal departments), gives me access to thousands of professionals and friends in the industry all around the United States who I trust for advice and guidance in all areas of the legal industry and running law firms. With the relationships I’ve built within ALA, I certainly have great ways to dig up personal experience with individual lawyers or firms around the country.

So, what do you say? Who doesn’t want advice and guidance on making choices that could cost you big BUCK?. Many lawyers will get you similar results… others will get you amazing results and will leave you feeling like you have a friend in the biz OR you could get a lawyer who just made bank for your hardship.

My promises: I will mention all of my previous firms and my experiences in those environments and cultures. I will NOT name names of lawyers I didn’t get along with, but will share the stories openly with fictitious names. :) I WILL likely boast about my current firm, Summit Law Group, because they rock AND because they’ve given me an amazing insight as to why law firms should be different. And my final promise, no sugar coating, just honest, straight forward answers and guidance to choices in legal services.

How do you think I should handle this? Should this be my first stab at video blogging? OR should I stick with my written word? Maybe a little of both! Very excited about this topic.


Filed under: Legal,Management

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27 Jul 10

Just when I thought the Social Media “revolution” was actually revolutionizing the legal industry, we now have more and more people expressing their refusal to adopt due to the “permanence” of posts.

Two different occurrences recently reminded me that I needed to expand thought into this realm.  Occurrence 1: a legal administration group I’m involved in started “cautioning” its members (member to member forum, NOT the organization speaking) on the permanence of social media posts. Occurrence 2: a blog entry by the talented Nancy Myrland called “Should Law Firms Ban Use of Facebook at Work?”  Nancy shows a quick example of how to engage your entire firm in the marketing efforts of the firm by empowering the attorneys and staff to use social media with proper guidelines and examples.  I’ll talk about this idea (which I love) shortly.

For now, let’s focus back to the Permanence issue.  There’s no doubt that things posted online are now being indexed and saved in the archives for eternity, somewhere, by someone, not necessarily the original location you may have posted. For example, if you post “I had a great day at the ALA Conference in Boston” on Twitter, you should realize that Google reads and indexes everything on twitter.  So, what’s wrong with that tweet?  And what’s wrong with saying, “I just read a great blog entry by Nancy Myrland about law firms banning Facebook at work” with a link?  Who cares if it’s permanent?  Am I fearful that perhaps Nancy might someday be accused of something OUTLANDISH and by my “liking” her article therefore I’m associated with her?  That’s absurd.

Is this a control issue that we’re seeing?  I understand law firms, and corporations, feel the desire/need to control everything on the interwebs (cute/funny term for the internet), but what if you’re not saying things you’d be embarrassed to be permanent?  Personally, I think posting your complaints about the permanence of social media on a forum even more embarrassing, but that’s just me perhaps.

Here on my blog, there’s an option to automatically post one entry per week that is a compilation of all your tweets from the prior week.  I’m seriously considering turning on this feature!  It would make finding me and my likes/dislikes all that much easier simply by scrolling through my own blog. Granted, I am part of Gen X and usually find myself more similar to Gen Y (sometimes known as Millennials) in that I run my life completely transparently online and offline.  I WANT people to know and feel who I am, what my beliefs and ideas are.  I want to reach out to the world knowing that sometimes connecting to people online is just as powerful as connecting in person.  BE only one person.

I’ve heard of people creating separate Facebook or Twitter profiles for themselves so they have “one professional profile” and “one personal profile”.  If you can’t say something personal to your professional colleagues, then you likely shouldn’t be posting it online (or even saying it).  The old adage of “What goes around comes around” can certainly catch up with you.  Personally, I’d rather my actual written words catch up to me because I actually wrote them rather than the interpretation through four different people getting to someone from a spoken word.

Do I ever post things that I wish were not permanent?  Sort of.  What I mean by that is that some messages I post, if read SOLELY individually, could be taken as rude or disrespectful on my Twitter or Facebook.  However, I’m not ashamed of who I am.  I don’t post slurs about individuals or direct insults to people.  Sometimes I might call out a public figure or company to DO better in the world, but that’s who I am.  I try to live an example of customer service everyday, inside and outside my firm.  But by no means do I wish them to feel I’m just a “doing” robot.  I don’t just “do” whatever is asked of me, I also think.  I’m a human with emotions, thoughts, opinions, humor and frustration.  People connect to other humans, not to monotonous robots writing more blah emotionless words into opinions they feel they need to believe.

Free yourself from the shrinking world of political correctness and “lack of opinionness“.  Open your heart and mind to the world. Toughen your skin, allow people to judge you, don’t be embarrassed by who you are inside OR outside the office.  If you have something to be embarrassed about you should likely address why your embarrassed by that or why you continue to do it.


Filed under: Blogging,Legal,Social Media,Twitter

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18 May 10

I’ve had a few interactions with friends recently about the Arizona Immigration Laws and thought I’d publicly share my thoughts.

Three things of interest to me that I haven’t seen being said is:

  1. Employers have a significant responsibility in enforcing immigration status.  And if employers can’t do it, I’m not sure how local police forces can be expected to do any better.  I’ve heard of the fake birth certificates and work credentials that are being presented to employers by illegals, but we don’t have a resource to verify the validity of such documents.  We just have to ask for them.
  2. If this issue truly is about crime, then police already arrest criminals that they catch.  Criminals get a background check already to determine citizenship status, don’t they?  Passing laws like this only provokes a mass revolt by real citizens who are falsely detained because they aren’t carrying legitimate paperwork.  Again, what paperwork would be sufficient? A driver’s license? A fake birth certificate?  Have the police been trained on how to verify birth certificates?  What about green cards?  Personally, I’ve never even seen one, let alone could I verify if one is legit or not.  Or is blond hair enough?  Are we going back to a “paper bag test”?
  3. Isn’t it the Federal Government’s responsibility to enforce border controls and immigration?  I’m curious if the states even have a right to intervene.  That’s not to say the states aren’t affected by it “more than the federal government”.  But I’m curious where the separation of state/federal responsibilities and rights come in.  If the feds aren’t doing enough to patrol our boarders for the criminals, then that’s an entirely different problem to address.  The crime issue and border patrol are related by funding.  Want more?  Increase federal funding for it.

I don’t think running a “police state” or essentially a Martial Law State can correct the problems Arizona is facing.

Are any of these three issues being addressed already?  Am I completely misunderstanding issues?  I’m sure I’m missing lots of facts, but these are the issues rolling around in my head telling me these AZ laws are troubling.


Filed under: Cultural,Legal

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11 Feb 10

Thanks to my dear friend Evelyn for sharing this with me yesterday:

This internet business was featured in a television news story yesterday evening.  It is quite frightening for those of us who assume that resumes would actually reflect the true history and qualifications of the applicant:

http://careerexcuse.com/

Our employment verification process takes the frustration out of your job search and eliminates annoying blots on your resume. We realize the pressure you face trying to find a job or start a new career. Based on many years of HR experience, our job reference services can help you land that job by providing you with outstanding job references for you to add on your resume, and answer any inquiries with a positive response..  Read more on How-it-Works

Why Choose CareerExcuse.com?

  • You Choose Your Career History!
  • You Pick Your Start and End Date!
  • You Choose your Salary!
  • We Provide a Real Company Just for You!
  • We Provide a Real Address For That Company!
  • We  Provide a Real Website For That Company!
  • We  Provide a Real “800” Phone Number!
  • We Will Have our Operators Standing By!

Just one more thing to watch for when doing reference checks.  Evelyn

Here’s the ABC News Story: http://abcnews.go.com/Business/fake-job-references-real-jobs/story?id=8401993


Filed under: Legal,Management

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14 Sep 09

In the not so distant past we’ve all heard LOTS of controversy about the Lawyer Rating website called Avvo.

I had a wonderful and unique chance to sit and chat with Avvo Founder & CEO, Mark Britton, tonight at the Seattle Legal Bloggers & Twits Tweetup. Regardless of how your initial reaction is to Avvo, you really can’t help but like Mark. He’s a brilliant guy with a very impressive history of formulaic innovation.

I just want to spend a couple lines to tell you some of the highlights of what I learned about Avvo tonight. If you’re a lawyer please take this advice directly to www.avvo.com and update your profile!

1) “Avvo scores resumes” – In Mark’s words whenever any one of us is hirings someone we scan their resume and place higher or lower value to different sections. Through the use of outside consultants, test groups of hundreds of lawyers, thousands of consumer testers, and some complicated programmers they do they same thing, except instead of just a general idea of whether or not someone is a worthy candidate they place a score on the head of the player. That score can be aided, it’s constantly fluctuating based on the age and influential value of each entry.

2) “You generally get what you deserve” – MY words, not Marks. If Avvo scanned your website to create your preliminary score and you want to complain instead of claiming your profile and modifying and WORKING for a better, more accurate score them you get out of it exact what you’ve put in… Generally only complaints!

3) “Avvo helps lawyers understand what well-rounded marketing is” – Again, my words, but influenced by my conversation with Mr. Avvo. The more experienced a lawyer is, naturally the higher the score. But just like in life, “experience” and credibility for experience don’t just get marked on the calendar as you get older. There are important milestones that tell us, and others, when we’ve reached high points and low. And sometimes it’s the balance of LOTS of points that give you a synergistic score. Years (1 point) + AV Rating (2 points) + pos Client Review (1point) might individually total 4, but in a complex mathematical world that is Avvo that score might equal 6! Synergistic scoring (my term not Mark’s). All good things add up to more good things. If you think you have enough good things, just add a few more. Have something bad? Bad review? There are ways to counter it. Look at the options. If all else fails find more good to add!

4) Got questions about how Avvo works? JUST ask Mark! Mark@avvo.com. He says he’s always accessible. I don’t suggest only sending hate mail. I would suggest putting together real questions about how to increase your score… But please claim your profile and do a TAD bit of homework before simply complaining about what you heard about Joe Schmoe and his score. Mark and his Avvo team do TONS of educational events, webinars and meetings. Take a couple hours and learn this tool that is revolutionizing lawyer ratings.

Even before meeting Mr. Avvo tonight I’ve been an Avvo fan. I’m usually a fan of folks who want to do things a little differently. Way to go Mark!

That’s it for now. That’s my bus blog entry for this evening (yes, BlackBerry + New WordPress Blog App + Time to Kill = Good Times!!)


Filed under: Legal

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28 Aug 09

This lovely story was just circulated by one of Summit’s lawyers who recently joined the firm. Enjoy!

This morning, unable to print a document on the 10th floor color copier, I decided to follow the Summit Law model of “take care of it yourself” and fix the problem. The “System Monitor” told me to replace the waste toner cartridge (a/k/a “Bottle, Waste Toner”). I am proud to say I found the damn thing in the machine, found a box with a new bottle, and successfully extracted and replaced the old bottle (which turns out not to be rocket science). I noticed the box had a bag in it, which I quickly surmised must be where one puts the used bottle, and that’s where the trouble began. I unfurled the bag, picked up the used bottle (none too carefully, it turns out) and the next thing I knew my shirt, pants and a large swath of the supply/copy room floor were coated with a fine purplish powder. One role of paper towels and 10 minutes later, I think I finally got the stuff off the floor and me, but I found myself longing for the days at Heller Ehrman where we had phalanxes of folks to deal with these sorts of problems, so the lawyers could stay within their level of incompetence.


Filed under: Legal

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27 Aug 09

I love how much is being discussed in regard to “Alternative Billing” in the legal community right now. However, for most folks “Alternative Billing” just means Fixed Fee or Flat Fee Project billing. There ARE alternatives to these “alternatives”!

First off, I know there are very complex fixed fee arrangements that exist for litigation. Usually involving fixed fees for different stages of the litigation process. But for some lawyers, evaluating the fixed fee process for the first time it seems very simple: Project one = $5,000. Not so fast! Be careful when proposing fixed fee arrangements. Use this cautionary hypothetical tale to keep you in check!

So, you’re getting pressure from your client (or Customer as Summit Law Group refers to folks who buy legal services from us) and your colleagues to come up with Fixed Fees for a litigation matter. As is the case with 80% of litigation matters there are a MILLION possible directions the case could go! And a multitude of complications within each of those directions! When bidding on a fixed fee litigation project, remain calm, don’t let your mind and anxiety drive you too far. “So many things could go wrong!”

Your #1 objective for proposing alternative fee arrangement is: Risk Sharing with your client. Of course anything could go wrong! Imagine the fear of “anything could go wrong” from your client’s perspective! If they are contacting you for litigation assistance, it likely already has gone wrong!

So, the real point of this entry was going to be about “Cautions for Fixed Fee billing”.

Caution #1: Think about pricing from your client’s standpoint. Is this flat fee sufficient to get the work done efficiently and fairly while saving your client money and giving them confidence in a job well done?

Caution #2: Don’t under bid! If you’re well known for using alternative fee structures by other firms it’s likely they will try very hard to bust your flat fee structure into pieces by dragging out the case. If you end up under bidding on the flat fee you put yourself in a tough spot. If this DOES happen to you, remember this IS part of the “risk sharing”. Your part of the risk was estimating the efficiency. You’re not efficient? Your problem!

Caution #3: No padding! Don’t just take your hourly rate and count on your fingers how many hours this will take you, then add 30% “just in case”. The “just in case” part is your risk. Think about the scope of the case at hand and what would be a reasonable fee for your team. If you’re new to the litigation game, then you likely have NO clue how to judge reasonableness.

What are your thoughts?


Filed under: Legal

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16 Apr 09

Last night’s SMC Seattle’s event at the Elysian Brewery on Seattle’s Capital Hill was a huge success! Here’s the slide show! (Or go to this link for the Flickr photos)


Filed under: Legal

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8 Apr 09

As if I didn’t have plenty of obligations already in this world, I’ve recently added on Twitter to the list of “things to do on a VERY regular basis”. WHAT am I thinking?

This coming from someone who is already obsessed with email, Facebook, blogging, and… MY BLACKBERRY! Now, I’ve taken the very deep plunge into the Twit world.

.. continue reading ..


Filed under: Legal

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27 Feb 09

I love Twitter! I learn so much. One of my fellow legal colleagues, Matt Homann of the (non)billable hour, mentioned his proposal to one of his legal consulting clients (he’s a consultant to law firms, among other things). Here was the tag line that caught me by surprise, “Just had another great call with coaching client. Building him a brand new, timesheet-free practice niche in Omaha! Gonna be really cool.

Timesheet-free practice??? I have to admit, I was fascinated by how this was going to be possible! Upon inquiring, here was our exchange….

@LegalAdmin (me): “Timesheet-Free??? Tell us more!”

@MattHomann
: “Tell me more. Why must you measure time spent to measure success?”

@LegalAdmin (me):
Suggesting that we not keep track of productivity is like saying a business shouldn’t care how many widgets they produce.”

@MattHomann
: “
But timesheets don’t measure productivity, they measure time spent working. Big difference. Client happiness is better metric.”

@LegalAdmin (me): Don’t get me wrong, alternative fees are fantastic, but it can’t be treated as pulling a rabbit out of the hat.”

@LegalAdmin (me): Of course client happiness determines success! As a business we still have to track COGS. (Tough discussion in 140 characters)”

So, as I said in my last post, continuing this conversation 140 twitter characters at a time would never give either of us a chance to explain real points of expertise.

By all means, I know and feel exactly what Matt is talking about. Why shouldn’t we redefine how law firms and the practice of law operate? We’re certainly cut from that same cloth! Our variations of opinion are very complicated.

I hear him telling me that the only measure of success for any legal practice is the Client’s Happiness. I ceratinly agree that no lawyer or administrator should ever disagree with that thought.

Unfortunately, I think that theory lacks depth of thought from a business perspective. How invoices are billed to a customer (Summit calls them customers) doesn’t have to relate to the measurements of productivity inside the firm. However, in order for the firm to best evaluate how attorneys perform for their customers and how to evaluate how the attorney is paid, tracking time as the baseline for performance is the only way to measure services.

“Measure” is an internal evaluation. Using hours productivity is not to measure the success of a customer’s happiness. It’s a BASELINE

Let’s take an example from the manufacturing industry. They may have set a “flat fee” of $500 for XYZ Television. However, I would bet they can tell you exactly how much the pieces cost to go into that television. So, they know that the Cost of Goods Sold (or cost of the combine pieces and energy it took to build that television) is $380, leaving a profit margin of $120. So, how would they know that $500 is the right price if they didn’t also know how much the components were costing them?

Under Matt’s model in a manufacturing environment, we just sell TV’s. We don’t need to know how much each component costs or how many TV’s we produced today. As long as the customer buys the TV and loves the quality of the new TV, then that pays all the bills and the whole world is a better place.

Does that same manufacturer not create an Income Statement or other monthly financial statements? After all, these are also measurement tools for evaluating how we’re performing compared to past periods.

Customers can have the most amazing experiences and receive the best service and a lawyer can still go out of business when they don’t manage their business.

I don’t think recording hours has to affect fix fee arrangements at all! When a lawyer makes a fix fee arrangement with a customer, that is the fee, period. Even by setting a flat fee they still have to record their time to show themselves how accurate their fixed fee invoice was evaluated from a profitability standpoint. Fix fee arrangements aren’t so much to save a customer money, but to give the customer a tool for predicting and budgeting the investment in the legal project.

I hope this better explains why I’m concerned about completely abandoning the recording of hours. Elimating the “Billable Hour” as it exists on customer invoices is totally fine by me! But firms and lawyers still have to have a baseline and since the widget we sell is a service it’s still time regardless of how it’s packaged for sale.

(Matt I ceratinly hope you can educate me on your process.)


Filed under: Legal

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