Kirk Simoneau joins Sara to explore client experience design and accessibility. Sharing his journey from trauma survivor to lawyer, Kirk emphasizes the importance of understanding the client’s perspective and creating a personalized and empathetic client experience.
He advocates customizing spaces and communication to clients’ individual needs, but for taking on pro bono work and representing people with disabilities, as it can be both financially rewarding and make a positive impact. You’ll also learn the origins of his firm’s name, “Red Sneaker Law.”
Links from the episode:
Red Sneaker Law
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Welcome to The Lawyerist Podcast, a series of discussions with entrepreneurs and innovators about building a successful law practice in today’s challenging and constantly changing legal market. Lawyerist supports attorneys, building client-centered, and future-oriented small law firms through community, content, and coaching both online and through the Lawyerist Lab. And now from the team that brought you The Small Firm Roadmap and your podcast hosts
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Sara Muender (00:35):
Hi, I’m Sara Muender
Zack Glaser (00:36):
And I’m Zack. And this is episode 462 of the Lawyerist Podcast, part of the Legal Talk Network. Today, Sara talks with Kirk Simoneau about designing a client experience and accessibility issues.
Sara Muender (00:49):
Today’s podcast is of course, brought to you by Postali, Posh virtual receptionist and LawPay. We would not be able to do this show without their support, so stay tuned and we’re going to tell you more about them later on.
Zack Glaser (01:05):
Before we tell you about them though, I’d like to tell you about our two new coaches.
Sara Muender (01:09):
Tell me about our two new coaches.
Zack Glaser (01:12):
Leticia and Supriya have joined us and just got done with LabCon. We had a great time. They are amazing coaches, but frankly I don’t get to work with them too much. Sara, so how do you feel? What’s up? We’ve got two awesome coaches here.
Sara Muender (01:28):
Well, personally I am incredibly excited for one, selfishly because our Lab coaching program has been growing and this year we’ve had a lot of new people come into lab and my calendar has gotten so full of coaching calls and there’s so much that we coaches put into those coaching calls and kind of give away of ourselves. And so it’s exhausting. It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting sometimes. So for one, I’m really excited to have these coaches come in, not just take maybe some of the calls that would’ve been on my calendar, but to inject a new sense of just energy and motivation and their experience. Supriya and Leticia are bringing a lot of incredible experience into lab, and they’re going to be doing some amazing things with our Labster. They’re two incredible women, very impactful, just incredibly intelligent, and they understand how the mind works, and that’s where it all starts when we’re trying to create positive change. So it’s amazing. I’m really excited to see what they do.
Zack Glaser (02:42):
Well, fantastic. I mean, I have really enjoyed working with them, and recently we just got done with Con our annual conference or unconference for all of our Labster, and we got a lot done there.
Sara Muender (02:56):
LabCon is a life-changing, well, business changing and life-changing experience, and it’s the most exciting part of my year and my career. And interestingly, so we had a lot of amazing attendees. Kirk, who I talked to on the podcast today was there and participated and brought a lot of value to the people at LabCon the attendees and helped them with their client experience. And that’s if you missed out and you weren’t there at LabCon and you didn’t get to meet Kirk in person, then tune in very closely today because he tells a lot of really impactful stories and that is going to open up the minds of the listeners to think of what they can do in their processes to create more connection in a more impactful client experience. And just to kind of tease this out, so Kirk’s firm Red Sneaker Law has a story behind it and it’s really interesting and it’s a powerful story. It’s kind of heart wrenching and you’ll hear it. So make sure you stay and listen all the way to the end where Kirk is going to explain where the red sneaker name came from and from why he wears Red Sneakers every day.
Zack Glaser (04:16):
Okay, well we’ll definitely have to do that. And now here is Sara’s conversation with Kirk.
Kirk Simoneau (04:26):
So my name is Kirk Simoneau and I’m a lawyer practicing in New Hampshire. And I describe my practice like this. I punch bullies in the nose. So if you find that you are being sexually harassed at work, if your car has been crashed into, if some horrible calamity has befallen you and you can point a finger at a bully who’s responsible, I’m the guy who helps put the bully back in their place.
Sara Muender (04:50):
I love it. Well, welcome to the Lawyerist podcast. It’s so nice to have you on. We’ve had the experience of you in lots of different ways in lab and now you get to be on the podcast. So I’m so excited because you have quite a story to tell and you have made a big, big impact in a lot of people’s lives. And today we want to talk about client experience. And so I want to put it back on you and ask you what is client experience from your perspective, and we’ll go from there.
Kirk Simoneau (05:24):
So I think if you think about what client experience is sort of the overall overarching beginning to end, what happens for a client from not even the minute they reach out to your firm or to you as a lawyer, but the minute that they start having the problem, and that’s where I think a lot of lawyers fall short, is they think about when they start looking and they see my website. No, the client experience starts with the drunk driver who runs the red light. It starts with the boss who makes the inappropriate comment. And that’s one of the key things that I think so many lawyers forget, so many lawyers focus on. And so many lawyers ask themselves about what’s the state? The folks that are coming to me are in when they get in. And then the last thing I’ll say before I breathe and let you say something is I really think I come from this from the perspective of having been a client first. And I think more lawyers really need to understand what that experience is like. It ain’t fun.
Sara Muender (06:36):
You have quite the story of what you went through that landed you in this profession of helping people. Would you be comfortable opening up and sharing about that?
Kirk Simoneau (06:49):
Yeah, happy to, Sara. I think it’s easier to help educate people or explain, here’s why I think you should do it this way. Not because I’m a successful lawyer because I made a lot of money or ran a big firm or something, but because I was a client and I know what it feels like to be a client. So 20 years ago now, my parents are snowbirds. Now we’re from New Hampshire. Snowbirds are people who go down to Florida every winter or some other nice warm place. They don’t want to be up here. This before global warming was really a big thing and it meant something to go to Florida. Now it’s hot everywhere, but my folks were snowbirds and they insisted that my wife and I go down and visit them. I don’t like to visit people, I don’t like to stay on people’s couches or pullouts or guest rooms or anything.
But anyway, they’re my parents. They bought us plane tickets, we flew down. My parents are deaf. It’s really important to understand that 20 years ago, being deaf meant no cell phones to text, wasn’t easy to make phone calls. So when we got to the airport, we couldn’t just pick up the phone and say, Hey, we’ve landed. We’ve got the rental car. We’ll be there in half an hour or something. So my dad was actually waiting for us because we’d never been to their condo before. He was waiting for us under a tree actually. Anyway, as we drive down the road, we see my dad, he waves at us to make sure we don’t miss the turn. We stopped for a moment to say hi and for him to tell us where to park. And we had our daughter with us at the time who wasn’t quite two years old.
My wife was pregnant, and we had all the stuff you need in the car for the almost two year old and no room for dad to get in the car with us. So we went and we parked, and as I got out of the car and reached to shake my dad’s hand, what we found out later was a drunk driver came along and hit him and carried him some 60 yards until, so he was killed. And I became introduced to the legal system, both the criminal and the civil side through that incident. And in dealing with it, again, my mom is deaf, so there are a whole host of challenges associated with her disability that both the criminal prosecutors who were very nice people hadn’t the slightest clue how to deal with the civil attorneys who were very nice people. Some of them didn’t have the slightest clue how to deal with. So I was having to get involved in all those sorts of things and decided, gee, I wonder if there’s another way to do it. So that’s how I became involved in becoming a lawyer myself. After sort of the smoke cleared, I decided to go to law school. I was a little bit older at the time than your typical law student and have been in practice now ever since.
Sara Muender (09:35):
That is a heavy story for a lot of people to hear. And I just want to thank you for being willing to open up because it’s impactful. And I know that you’ve probably told this story a million times, but I’ll kind of connect the story with what you said initially, which is when you were going through that legal process, what do you wish those attorneys would’ve considered or taken into account or how do you wish they would’ve handled, handled things?
Kirk Simoneau (10:08):
It’s a great question really, because so much of what lawyers are trying to do now and have been trying to do is create systems and checklists and automations and things like that, right? Well, when you’ve got a woman who’s just lost her husband who because she was born in 1943, deaf can neither read nor write and your checklist says, send her the letter telling her when the next hearing is or the this is or the that is, and she has no ability to read it. And worse, she’s really got no ability to tell you that she can’t read it. So I think the first thing that I wish would’ve been done differently is that someone had said, Hey, Mrs. Simoneau, how do we communicate with you? If they’d asked her, how do we work with you so that she wouldn’t have to struggle through everything.
And you got to remember, this is a time only, just a little bit after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. There weren’t interpreters everywhere. It was even now, it’s a challenge. I mean, I’ve got lawsuits filed all over the place dealing with the same thing. So step one is that I wish the way I described to people sometimes as this us, we’ve done this before. Okay, I met new motor vehicle accident case clients yesterday. Okay? I couldn’t even tell you how many cases I’ve done motor vehicle cases, right? I’ve done thousands of them. This is their first one and their only one. And I think what happens is we create sort of a, this is just the next one and it’s the same as the last one, and it’s the same as the one before that, and it’s going to be the same as the one after that. It’s not. It’s unique, different, and I think if you recognize that it’s unique and different, if you’re a civil attorney, you’re going to get better financial results. And I think if you’re a prosecutor for example, you are going to at least reduce the re-victimization of the folks who have been harmed. So I wish they had asked, I wish they had just said, boy, this is new to us. How do we make this work?
Sara Muender (12:18):
Yeah, I can imagine that it would’ve been an entirely different experience for your mom, for you, for the rest of the family. And then of course, that all has a ripple effect in a positive or a negative way. And so I think that law firm owners sometimes forget the true impact that the client experience has, not just while they’re working with the client, but for generations and for years to come.
Kirk Simoneau (12:52):
I think it’s true. I mean, think about how many times a potential client calls and you’re talking to them. And so I’m a trial lawyer, I do plaintiff’s trial work. And so I’ll say, well, have you ever been involved in a lawsuit before? And they’ll say, oh yeah, I was in a crash like six or seven or eight years ago, or I was whatever. They had some other case. And I’ll ask, did you have a lawyer for that? And they’ll say, yes. And I’ll say, well, why didn’t you call that lawyer? Why are you talking to me? And a lot of times they’ll not remember who that lawyer was. They’ll say something negative about their experience with that lawyer or worse, I think for us as a profession, they’ll make it sound like the lawyer was just a fungible thing, that it was just a commodity, this person that worked with them on their case. And I think that’s because that client felt like they were just a commodity exchangeable for any other person. That I think is something that lawyers as a whole, we need to get past the impersonal and I think become more personal.
Sara Muender (13:51):
Wow. So powerful. And that kind of makes me think, I was just talking about the ripple effect and the impact that it has on the client side, but now you’re talking about the ripple effect that it has on the firm side because we’re talking about you’re missing out on reviews, referrals, people remembering your name, like basic stuff like that. So obviously having a good client experience is really important, and we’re trying to impart that and drill that in this episode. Let’s take a quick break from our sponsors because we have to do that, and when we come back, maybe we can talk about how to do it and what needs to happen. We’ll back.
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Sara Muender (16:57):
So Kirk, we have a listener who owns a law firm and they want to improve the client experience. They want to look at everything from when a client contacts them for the first time, all the way to close of case, asking for a view, whatever. But you said in the beginning of this episode that it starts actually when the incident happened or when they realized they had a problem. So talk me through how you, if you had to sit down and review the whole client journey, what would that look like and what would that involve?
Kirk Simoneau (17:32):
So part of it is challenging because you can’t create a experience for the lawyer that’s traumatic like their clients. You can’t artificially create a moment for the lawyer to say, here’s the horrible moment. But I think I would start with talking to the lawyer about what does their life experience look like? Where are their overlaps? It’s kind of a little bit like an acting exercise where you’re trying to tap into your emotions or your feelings so you better understand, and they actually do this at some trial academies where they train lawyers how to be empathetic and things. So I would start sort of there to see if we can find an emotional baseline to help the lawyer understand maybe where the client’s coming in. Obviously it’s different if you’re talking about a corporate client with a corporate situation or somebody. Every situation is different. So I would start with that because then that gives you the tone right now, the tone that you need to bring to a matter.
And then when the phone rings, how it’s to be answered, then more what the website looks like and all those kinds of things. But I’ll be very honest with you, the place I would start is this, if I was just sort of, let’s assume it’s a practice where you’re dealing with people who have real problems, okay? You’ve got somebody who’s been in a car crash, a person who’s not used to and not a sophisticated legal consumer. I would start with where do you meet with that client? Years ago when I first became a lawyer, I was fortunate enough to be hired by one of the most successful group of lawyers in the state of New Hampshire. They made me the managing partner one year in, they were great lawyers, horrible business people. They saw that I could run a business, they made me managing partner. One of the very first things I did was gut a conference room, took out the table, took out the chairs, and I went to the furniture store and I bought basically a living room, and I put a living room in the conference room.
And when clients would come in, they wouldn’t sit at a conference table across from a lawyer in a jacket and tie. They would sit in a living room and we would sit in the living room. And I can’t even tell you how many clients from day one commented about how, boy, this was nothing like what I was expecting. I was so afraid. So you’ve got to think about what your client’s experience is, right? You’ve got to think about where they’re coming from, not what’s convenient for you. Look, I don’t send a bunch of forms to a client electronically for them to fill out until I talked to them, right? Until I found out whether or not that’s a useful and effective thing for that particular client, whether or not it’s useful and effective for me, right? Because I’m trying to service this person’s problems. I’m trying to help them.
So I would start with something as simple as the physical. What does the space look like where you’re meeting with these folks? And is that space appropriate for those clients? And I will give you an example though, from the corporate world. So I have a friend of mine we’re both managing partners of successful firms. His happened to be a giant firm in this neck of the woods that worked with corporate clients, and they decided they were going to do a remodel of their offices, and they did a beautiful remodel. They bought expensive art, they bought all this fancy beautiful stuff, and clients started peeling off left and right. They kept losing corporate client after corporate client. So finally he started asking them, what did we do? Why are you so upset with us? Why are you leaving? We knew you were overbilling us was the general response, and now we have the proof because you bought all this fancy art and all this fancy this and all this, fancy that.
So part of it is that, right? Part of it, it’s that perception. And people don’t like lawyers to begin with. Look at every study out there. People do not like lawyers. So you got to ask yourself, how much like a lawyer are you coming across as? But I really think another way too, to understand better the client experience is whatever type of lawyer practice, go do some pro bono work, go represent some victims of domestic violence, help them get restraining orders. Call your local legal aid office and find out who’s in the lowest rung of the ladder and do that. And then do this drive to their house and meet with them there. I met with clients yesterday in their home. I do that for older clients. I do that for some clients who have disabilities. I do that when it’s just more convenient or whatever.
But you learn so much more about what your client’s life is when you’re in that environment. And it starts to help you understand better how to talk to them, what analogies to use. These folks I met with yesterday, we’ve met in their kitchen and there was a bookshelf in the kitchen, big bookcase filled, filled with Shakespeare and a bunch of, so now I knew not to use the wrestling analogy, I’m going to use the Romeo and Juliet analogy. You’re not going to get that if you just force them to come to your office at one o’clock because it’s convenient to you, or you even do a zoom. I dunno if I answered your question. I feel like I didn’t. Yes,
Sara Muender (22:46):
You did. You did. Absolutely. No, let’s start there because, and I feel like this episode could go on forever, but what I think is happening is as you’re talking about this and you’re talking about what that connection would look like, I mean, Kirk, you have a gift of connecting with people. You really have a gift of putting yourself in their situation because you’ve been through it, you’ve been through some hard times, and you wish someone would’ve connected with you and your family in that way. So what I think might be happening for the listeners is as you’re talking through this, they’re thinking about how this applies to their current situation, what improvements can be made. You mentioned it could be on Zoom. We’ve got a lot of listeners that do run remote practices and do run consults on Zoom. And I think that that connection can still be made, but it should still be thought through what it feels like on the other side. So beyond when you’re getting to know the clients, the experience of actually into the legal process, is there anything that you wanted to say on that front?
Kirk Simoneau (23:49):
Well, yeah, I think it’s important before you get into legal process is that you get through the human process first. So many of us are really good at making that initial client maybe small talk about the weather, about the this or about that. And we’re very guarded and not very real about talking about who we really are as people. Right before we started recording this, you said, how are you doing? And I said, you know what? To be honest with you, I’m kind of beat because I got two kids. I’m getting ready to pack up for school and I’m moving and I’m packing all this stuff and loading everything. And I don’t do that for any artificial reason. I just do that because if I’m open and real, then it allows whomever I’m talking to be open and real. And I think as lawyers, we have this idea of I’ve got to be this professional.
I’ve got to look like I know what I’m doing. I got to sound like I know what I’m doing. Well, you know what? If the person you’re talking to isn’t listening to you because they don’t like you, or they’re scared of you, or they can’t understand you because your vocabulary is way beyond what they understand or you’re just talking a different language, well then who caress how professional and smart you are, you’re never going to accomplish anything. So I think that taking that little bit of time to explore the human side of things is a really helpful way to sort of right from the beginning, get your client to understand, oh, Kirk’s not just a lawyer, he’s a person too. And if they like the person, then they’ll trust the lawyer. And then you can talk about your percentage of wins, and then you can talk about how you handle these cases and that kind of thing.
So yeah, I think figuring out how to make that connection isn’t that hard. It really is just a matter of you’ve got to be a little open. You’ve got to be a little willing to be yourself and a little less desirous of being what you think a lawyer is supposed to be like. I’ll tell you, so when I first became a trial lawyer, one of my former partners, David Slosky and I were trying a case, and at the time, Dave and I both drove really fancy expensive cars. I was super proud of this fancy expensive car I had. And our senior partner told us under no circumstances where we had to drive those cars to court for the trial because some jurors going to see us in those fancy cars and they’re going to hate us because we’re these fancy lawyers in these fancy cars.
And we noticed the defense lawyer in that case, he drove a beat up old piece of garbage car and we’re thinking, gee, maybe our senior partner is right. So after the trial was over and we won, 30 days later, you’re allowed to talk to jurors. So I talked to the jurors, and one of the questions I asked, the six or seven jurors who were willing to talk to us was, did they notice this in our fancy cars? And what did they think? Only two had noticed the fancy cars. And you know what the two thought about the fancy cars that we must’ve been really good lawyers, otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to afford the fancy cars. It was the exact opposite of what our senior partner had told us, and how did I know what they thought I asked them? And I think that’s one of the big key takeaways here is you got to ask your client, how do you need me to communicate with you?
Is it text? Is it email? Is it a phone call? How often do you need me to communicate with you? Hey, do you understand the language here? You’ve got to give your clients permission to know they’re not bothering you. We give the impression that we’re super busy, that we’re super overloaded, and we wear it like a badge of honor so that they feel like they’re interrupting us. And that’s what society’s expectation is. Anyway, I told these clients just yesterday, I said, look, you are going to think of a question. There is no question that’s stupid. There’s no question that’s inconsequential, and there’s no question that you can’t ask me just because you want to ask me. You’re not bothering me, you’re not interrupting me. I work for you. So you feel free to ask. I did say, look, if you think of 15 questions, just call me once to ask me 15 questions. Don’t call me 15 times. So I think really just being willing to ask what the folks need is a huge, huge, huge, big thing. And dropping the assumptions of what people think or are going to think is a huge way to enhance the client experience.
Sara Muender (28:01):
Wow. What I’m taking from this conversation and all that you just said is that there’s a world in which you can have a client experience that both involves getting information and connecting with that client and then taking that information and then guiding the client and teaching them how to communicate with you, how to get their questions answered, how to work with the firm. And that’s what they’re looking for. Ultimately, they’re looking for your guidance in you as a counselor and sort of coach them through the process. Ultimately, what they want is reassurance. I don’t think anyone goes into an experience working with a lawyer feeling like, ah, this is going to be great and easy, and there’s a lot of fear coming in. You mentioned that earlier. And so we can take that connection piece and then turn it back and give them reassurance all along the way.
And it’s just amazing to me to think about how powerful it is when you create an intentional client experience that is custom and is applicable to them and their needs as people. But then also at the same time, you can have systems and processes and automations for making sure that you’re running an efficient firm. Both can exist. And so it’s really important to take time to look at that, to map it out, to look at these are the different phases of working with a client and in these phases, what do they need from us in these different phases and what do we need from them? And then taking those pieces and maybe automating them. This has just been incredible. It’s been powerful. What’s next for you in your career? What are you doing? What are you excited about? What are you working on?
Kirk Simoneau (29:47):
Well, so I’ve got a few cases that I’m working on that are designed to help enhance communication access for deaf patients in medical settings. So just picture, if you will. For example, being a deaf father and your wife is also deaf and she’s lying in a hospital dying and a doctor comes in and the doctor’s trying to explain to you without the benefit of an interpreter that your wife is dying and he takes a paper towel because it’s the only thing you can find in the room. And he grabs a pen and he writes on the paper towel, no, can’t help wife kidney go down is bad, because of course the doctor in this situation is English, is also his second language. And you’ve got this on a paper towel and you’re confused and you don’t understand. So then this doctor turns to your 14 year old daughter and asks your 14 year old daughter to help explain to you what’s going on with her dying mother.
So I’ve got a few lawsuits that involve fact patterns like that right now that I’m working on to try to make some change. And then I’m working on a book and some other projects. But look, I don’t have anything to sell. I got no ax to grind. I’m really just here with the idea of this. I gave a C L E not too long ago entitled, make More Money, get Ethics Credit and Do Good. I talk to so many lawyers every day who avoid representing people with disabilities, disabled people, however you want to phrase it, whatever’s politically correct today, because it takes more time and it’s harder, but I do it. I do really well doing it. And the one thing I will say about something that you did say about creating the systems and customizing everything like that, I know a lot of people get worried about, well, the added costs and things like that.
There’s a tax credit available for representing folks with disabilities for these added costs, the interpreters and things like that. And the other thing is, because I know I take more time, I went to these folks the other day, I did a house call, right? It’s just a car crash case. I explained to them, I charge more money. My fee is a higher percentage than other lawyers will charge, but I’m here. I’m sitting in your home. You okay with that? And they’re okay with that. So you can create a business model that works doing that. But yeah, what I got next is just that and trying to get the kids down to school without crashing the U-Haul van that I’ll be driving and the kids aren’t sure I can handle the truck, but we’ll see how it goes.
Sara Muender (32:11):
Well, listen, I have one last question for you before we go. I read your bio Red Sneaker law and the bio said, be sure to ask about red sneakers. So what’s that about?
Kirk Simoneau (32:24):
Okay, so about 12 years ago, I developed a neurological, this is going to be a heavy story at the beginning, but it gets better towards the end. I developed a neurological problem mainly in my legs. So I, tremendous amounts of pain. Can’t wear grownup shoes, can’t wear lawyer shoes anymore. I was a relatively new lawyer, so I started wearing black nondescript sneakers because I couldn’t wear, I mean, the amount of pain I was in, I had a cane, a wheelchair the whole bit. I was in court one day with my black nondescript sneakers. It might’ve been a legislative. Ethics went. Anyway, I was in a hearing and opposing counsel and I were passing each other at council table, and he accidentally bumped into me, and I was in the men’s room after that for about 45 minutes in tears. I was in so much pain, I couldn’t function.
I had asked for recess. It was unbelievably embarrassing. Came home, having dinner with my family, telling them about my day. My daughter, who was nine at the time said, you know, daddy, if you wore bright red sneakers, everyone would notice and no one would ever bump into you. So we went that night. We bought my first pair of Bright Red sneakers. I have 40 or 50 pair now, and I wear them all the time. And I think it’s a story about two things. One, sort of taking a weakness and embracing it because then it’s not a weakness anymore. And two, whenever a nine-year-old tells you to do something, you should totally do it because it’s worked out really well. It really has. I was at an event one time with the Red Sneakers, and at the time I was on a cane. I’ve been fortunate the last a year or so not to need one. And Howard Nations, who’s a famous lawyer, sees me and he says, damn, I wish I’d thought of that gimmick. So at least I got that going for me.
Sara Muender (34:04):
What a gimmick, Kirk. Well, thank you for sharing that story. It’s a good one. You’re a really good storyteller. You make huge impact in the world, and I just want to say thank you for all you do for humanity. Thank you for coming on the Lawyerist podcast and helping our listeners. Thank you for being in lab and being committed to working on your business and improving your business, and I hope to have you back someday.
Kirk Simoneau (34:29):
Thank you very much. I really appreciate
Sara Muender (34:30):
It. I’m sending off the best vibes for you and your family and taking your kids to college.
Kirk Simoneau (34:36):
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