Former NALA president Kelly LaGrave joins host Carl Morrison to discuss the benefits of paralegal certification. Kelly shares her background and her personal journey in the paralegal profession. Later, they examine the advantages of becoming a certified paralegal and suggest many study strategies and resources for those who wish to take the exam.
Visit NALA’s site to learn more about the Certified Paralegal Exam.
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The Paralegal Voice
NALA Annual 2019: Benefits of Paralegal Certification
Carl Morrison: Hello and welcome to The Paralegal Voice, recorded on location live before — well, I don’t have studio audience, everybody has kind of gone into another session. So, just me and my guest today, and we are reporting from the 2019 NALA Conference & Expo in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Of course today’s show is being sponsored by our wonderful organization NALA, CourtFiling.net, Legalinc and ServeNow, and surely we thank our generous support from our sponsors. They do fantastic work for us and in return we do all things for them as well. So thank you sponsors.
So my guest right now joining me, I have Kelly LaGrave, ACP. She is past President of NALA. Kelly, what year were you — I can’t keep everybody’s track.
Kelly LaGrave: I have a hard time with, it’s 2014 through 2016.
Carl Morrison: Okay. I knew it was recent.
Kelly LaGrave: Recent.
Carl Morrison: Recent yeah.
Kelly LaGrave: But not really, three years ago.
Carl Morrison: I know. I mean —
Kelly LaGrave: Yeah.
Carl Morrison: Anyway.
Kelly LaGrave: Time flies.
Carl Morrison: Right. So thank you, Kelly, so much for joining us today.
Kelly LaGrave: You are welcome.
Carl Morrison: And Kelly is an amazing presenter. She is going to be doing multiple sessions. Sorry about the wind guys, somebody has opened the door and it’s been warm.
Kelly LaGrave: And there it goes, it’s closing, so it will be good.
Carl Morrison: It’s a little warm here in Phoenix. I think we’re at — really it’s hot, I’m being told that it’s hot. No, it’s not hot. I’m a desert — desert dweller now, I call myself a desert rat, and so I’ve gotten used to the heat, it’s still hot though. I don’t care — it’s —
Kelly LaGrave: It’s hot. I know it’s a dry heat.
Carl Morrison: Dry.
Kelly LaGrave: Dry heat, right, yeah, it’s hot.
Carl Morrison: But Kelly is, like I said, she’s an amazing presenter. I’ve actually attended a couple of her sessions before.
Kelly LaGrave: Oh thank you.
Carl Morrison: She is going to be doing over the course of the next couple of days, multiple sessions about the CP, the Certified Paralegal Exam review.
Kelly LaGrave: Correct.
Carl Morrison: She is hitting a couple of topics. One of which is my absolute favorite and it’s ethics, I love ethics.
Kelly LaGrave: Oh, I was afraid you were going to say contracts.
Carl Morrison: Oh Kelly, no contracts is not my favorite. So any contracts paralegals listening, I’m sorry.
Kelly LaGrave: That’s okay.
Carl Morrison: But, thank you Kelly for coming on and being a guest on today’s show. Thank you.
Kelly LaGrave: Well, you’re welcome and thanks for asking.
Carl Morrison: Yeah, definitely.
So before we get into what I call the meat and potato questions, why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself? Where do you work, what do you do?
Kelly LaGrave: I’m a senior paralegal at an in-house health system organization. It’s a group of hospitals.
Carl Morrison: Okay.
Kelly LaGrave: I went in-house three years ago after being with a large law firm in Lansing, Michigan for 23 years. I went in-house with a client. I don’t think like the firm was real excited about that, but it was a wonderful opportunity for me to expand what I was doing and not bill anymore.
Carl Morrison: So, Kelly, and I both transitioned from the large litigation law firm world about the same time, three years ago and both went in-house. Of course, I’m in different part of the country, we don’t work in the same place, but I want to high-five you because it’s like so refreshing when you say no more billable hour.
Kelly LaGrave: Oh, best thing ever. I was good at it, but I — and it was really, it took some time to get used to the fact that you wouldn’t go into a meeting and then go, okay, how long was I in that meeting or how long did I talk to that person and I got to write it down.
Carl Morrison: Okay, I have to ask you this. Before we get into this, I got to ask you this question.
Kelly LaGrave: Yeah.
Carl Morrison: So when you transitioned into in-house and your very first meeting you went to, did you or did you not when you’re writing and taking notes, write on your piece of paper what time you started the meeting?
Kelly LaGrave: I sure did, and it took me about a year before I quit doing that.
Carl Morrison: Okay. So it took me about eight months before I did the same thing, so I just wanted to see if I was an anomaly?
Kelly LaGrave: Nope, no.
Carl Morrison: But it sounds like —
Kelly LaGrave: No, and once you forget — once you quit watching the clock, I mean my husband used to laugh at me because we would be out on the weekends and I always knew exactly what time I was, even if I wasn’t looking at a clock. He goes, what time is it? And I would tell him, he goes, how do you know that? And I said, it’s because you live every six minutes of every workday.
Carl Morrison: Right, exactly right.
Kelly LaGrave: I don’t do that now.
Carl Morrison: It’s refreshing. We can have another session, another show about transitioning, but today we’re going to talk about the CPA Exam Review and a little bit about what you’re doing here at the NALA Conference with that. So let’s jump right into it.
So when did you obtain your certification for NALA?
Kelly LaGrave: Well, I have to think about that, 1994.
Carl Morrison: Okay. So, for those that may not be familiar with NALA Certification, the exam itself, it’s changed since when you first took it to what it is today.
Kelly LaGrave: Drastically it has changed. I took it, it was seven sections, three essays, and you took it over a two-day time period and the two-day time period was set in stone. One, you were lucky if it was in your location so a lot of people had to travel, spend the night somewhere and it was offered four times a year on that one Friday and Saturday, so it wasn’t really receptive to people’s schedules.
Carl Morrison: I remember when my mom, my late mother was a paralegal before she went on and went to law school later in life and she took the certification exam back in ‘86, so I remember her studying for that and being referring to it as a mini bar exam.
Kelly LaGrave: Yeah, that’s a lot of people refer to. When I took the — the reason I decided to take it as at the time we were — we had moved across country multiple times and I have a degree from Michigan State. Go green, and — but I don’t have a Paralegal degree. At the time I went to school there really weren’t a lot of paralegal schools out there and I had contemplated law school and then when I found out about paralegals, I was like, no, I want, this is what I want to do.
So for me, the CPA Exam is portable and it’s nationally recognized. So it made more sense for me to do the certification and to go back and get a Paralegal degree.
Carl Morrison: Wow.
Kelly LaGrave: So that’s why I took it. The year I decided to start studying was the year the first review book came out that Virginia Koerselman wrote and before that time there really wasn’t a lot of study material out there. There was a group in Florida that had a course that you could take I think, not online, there wasn’t such a thing.
So that’s kind of what started it was when the book came out, I thought, okay, this is the time I can — I’ll sit for this exam and I talked two other friends and they are doing it with me.
Carl Morrison: So — and that’s I will say for those that are listening, whether you be a paralegal that’s been doing it for many years or newly minted, coming out of the program it’s always best to find your study buddies when you study for a certification exam. I’m studying right now for the CPA Exam and I’ve got a study buddy that she and I are studying.
Kelly LaGrave: Highly recommend finding somebody to study with because it keeps you focused and it keeps you moving along and it’s so easy when you’re doing it by yourself and you’re not accountable to anybody else, just to say, oh, I’ll do it later. I will finish it another time. Oh, this came up and life happens and you just have to try to make it a priority but —
Carl Morrison: Right, exactly right.
Kelly LaGrave: It’s definitely a worthwhile priority.
Carl Morrison: It is, it is definitely. I agree. So, how did you get involved in teaching the CP review — some of the CP review topics at a conference? When I went in one of your sessions that was two years ago in Orlando and I went specifically for the Judgment Analytical because that was the session that stress that I will tell and I’ll be blatantly honest to the listeners into you kind of like that stresses me out is the research writing portion of it and it’s just — I don’t know why, I need to get out of my head but —
Kelly LaGrave: Well, and that is the section that most people have. If they are going to fail a section of the exam that’s the one that they have — they have the highest fail rate, and I hate to use the word “fail”, it’s just it’s pity. So I started and I was trying to remember the day, I cannot remember, NALA used to have a program called Membership Exchange and they would invite members to submit proposals to speak at conference. It was kind of like an honor to be chosen and they don’t — they’ve changed formats where they don’t do that anymore. But I submitted a proposal to do a membership exchange on business and corporate and I got chosen. This was I don’t even know if I was on the board, yeah, this is quite a while ago.
So I did a business course and came in and did my presentation, well the board was just working on doing — getting the first webinar up. This was a new thing. No one had heard of it and they said, you’ve got this business program, can you do it for as a webinar? I said, sure. So I did the very first NALA live webinar and liked it. I was surprised I liked it. Over the years I’ve done several others, I’ve done some on UCC and I’ve done the business one multiple times, and once I was done as president they asked me they said, well, would you be willing to do some of the CPA Review courses at conference, and I jumped on the chance, because I like speaking, I am really passionate about the exam and I’m passionate about education.
Carl Morrison: And it shows, it definitely shows.
Kelly LaGrave: Yeah, well, thank you. You try —
Carl Morrison: Right. But you do phenomenal jobs.
Kelly LaGrave: Oh, thank you.
Carl Morrison: So thank you so much for doing that. Okay, I’m not going to get into the meat and potatoes about the certification, the NALA Certification for those that want to maybe do more research, nala.org has all the information about the exam.
So what we’re going to talk about is briefly about the exam, the certification, the Certified Paralegal Exam. If someone was considering whether or not to actually take the CP Exam, what would you say to them? What’s the benefit of taking the exam?
Kelly LaGrave: Well as I mentioned, for me, we initially, the reason I took it was because I just never knew where we were going to end up next. At the time I took it I had lived in Texas, we had lived in Arizona, I moved back to Michigan, all within about a six year timeframe, and I wasn’t sure where we were going to go next with my husband’s job.
So I thought I needed that extra marketing piece for myself, just that extra thing on your resume that people will look at. And we had initially talked about moving to Florida and in Florida, in order to get a decent paralegal job, you almost have to be certified. It can – California, some of the other states it’s more recognized than in other jurisdictions.
But certification to me was important enough to get. So I can tell you when I took the exam and passed, I got a salary increase with my employer and we do find surveys show that certified paralegals tend to make more, because we can — they bumped my billing rate where I was working, because I was now certified. And I think it brought a lot of professional respect to what we were doing especially once the attorneys I worked with found out what how the exam was — what was on the exam and what it took to pass the exam.
And just a huge sense of accomplishment, professional accomplishments like I can do this. I did not take it right out of college, I graduated from college a long time ago, I had probably been out 10 — oh gosh no, yeah about 15 years, I’ve been out of college. So it was stressful to say the least, but like I said, misery loved company and I got two of my friends to take it with me and I will say we kept each other on task.
And I learned a lot, I learned a lot more than I think I would have if I hadn’t taken the exam. It also gave me a lot more self-confidence to go out and try new areas of the law, because I was studying things that I hadn’t really been working in. So I think there’s just a wealth of reasons to sit for the certification exam.
Carl Morrison: Well, one of the things that you hit on was marketing yourself and being able to market yourself, having those initials after your name on a resume. One of the things that I always teach paralegal students is that while certification is voluntary, it’s not mandatory to have a certification to work as a paralegal; however, as a paralegal manager, I have done countless of interviews of paralegals.
And if I’m looking at equal resumes, two individuals and they are equal in all aspects and I interviewed them and see that they are neck and neck, and I’m trying to decide that CP, that additional, extra initials after the name may be the way for me to count –
Kelly LaGrave: The deciding factor.
Carl Morrison: The deciding factor to hire them and that’s what I always tell students that do it for yourself, do it for what you said just a second ago, the self-gratification of knowing that you know what, I did above and beyond if what is required of me to be a minimum paralegal in the industry.
So if I go and take this certification exam I know that with like the NALA Certification Exam, I’m competent, I’m qualified, I know respective major areas of law, I’m ethical and I tell students and beat them in their heads, ethics.
Kelly LaGrave: Oh glad to hear that.
Carl Morrison: And that’s a huge part of having that certification, you can take pride in that. I know what the ethical rules are required and not only me, but my employer, the attorney for whom I work for.
Kelly LaGrave: Right, and sometimes it’s good to know though so you can remind them.
Carl Morrison: Correct. Many a time have I gone, the rules say, the ethical rules say X and to me we’re kind of skating close to, it should be — so yeah, because I know the rules and even to this day working in-house. There have been situations where my attorney has come to me and gone in that ethical rule hasn’t plaintiff’s counsel done violated an ethical rule.
And I go you know what, this is what the Nevada rules say and yeah, it’s up for to interpretation, but I would say absolutely. I can’t give legal advice, so I’m not an attorney, but my attorney is coming to me because he knows that having a certification demonstrates that I know the ethical rules because I have to know them in order to pass certification exam.
Kelly LaGrave: Yes that’s absolutely correct.
Carl Morrison: So about the exam itself and about studying we’ve talked about finding your study buddy.
Kelly LaGrave: Yeah that would be one of my biggest tips for you.
Carl Morrison: Exactly right. So studying, what are your tips and tricks you said that would be one of your tips?
Kelly LaGrave: That would be one of my trips, join the – NALA has a Facebook, a CP Study Group.
Carl Morrison: Which is fantastic by the way.
Kelly LaGrave: Right, anybody can join it. I’m amazed at the great questions and the communications people are having. I say have a study partner. You may be somewhere where you can’t physically have somebody, personally with you to study, but you could find somebody in this electronic day and age where you could work online with each other. I suggest that.
NALA now has the review manual that just came out, we’ve been talking about that too here at conference, highly recommend the book. They spent a good deal of time getting qualified people to write the chapters within the book. I think it’s an excellent book. I would get the review manual. I think it’s a good place to start.
NALA has a Mock Exam Book, I know there’s a lot of people get concerned about taking tests and how it works. So the Mock Exam Book is good. NALA also has a bank of questions that you can get, do online and it’s on the same platform as the exam.
So when you’re studying, if you’re trying to figure out am I studying the right things, do I understand what I’m doing, you can go online and use NALA’s coursework, the study program that they have with the questions, like I’m trying to think what the name is, I apologize.
Carl Morrison: Not Mock but –
Kelly LaGrave: Not Mock, it’s Practice Exam Questions. But NALA has got some great stuff conference here, but there’s a lot of other things out there that you can look at too. I was online the other day looking at Quizlet, I think.
Carl Morrison: Quizlet, yes.
Kelly LaGrave: It’s Quizlet, Also there’s a lot of online programs for grammar and punctuation, the English part, and you are graded on that on the skills part of the exam. So that’s — those are great sources to go to. YouTube, I’m amazed at how much stuff’s on YouTube.
Carl Morrison: Right.
Kelly LaGrave: So it’s just kind of amazing how much stuff is out there now. Especially when I look at what we had when I sat for the exam to what people have now when they’re sitting for the exam, but like I said, use the Facebook group on NALA’s website, NALA’s Facebook website, because I think it really connects people and gives people a platform to talk to each other, especially for those that don’t have anybody else they’re studying with.
Carl Morrison: Right and I will say piggybacking on that very issue about, if you don’t have a study buddy, if you’re living out in the middle of Montana and you don’t have a local affiliate, NALA affiliate, you don’t have other resources, you got your degree from another state and you’re out there by yourself, reach out to the Facebook Group, ask to maybe do a Zoom or a Google hangout and get someone else to be your study buddy that maybe live in another state that you can virtually study together.
I mean you don’t have to be alone, that’s what I want the listeners to understand.
Kelly LaGrave: Yeah I do — there’s a lot of apps. The other one that I suggest people use is a lot of the law schools for studying for the bar, there’s a lot of apps out there, it’s like trivia questions that you can answer like when you’re sitting somewhere and waiting. I don’t know if your kids get down with their soccer games or something, you go on these apps and I had a friend who was studying for the exam and she found a law school app and used it a lot and it got to be fun because it was kind of like a trivial thing.
We’d see how many questions she could get right and I could get right and how are we doing. Reach out to, you mentioned affiliates, NALA affiliates, a lot of them have review courses, so that’s a good place to reach out to, you have got one in –
Carl Morrison: I’m holding up my iPhone to Kelly and I’ve got three different apps of exactly what she’s talking at, one of which of course is the Legal Talk Network, but that’s not an app to study with, but it’s a good information. But another one is a Paralegal Exam Review, it’s just a general app on knowledge that a paralegal needs to know in the respective areas.
And another one that’s my favorite is more of a gamification app and it’s called Law Mojo, or Dojo, Law Dojo and it covers everything from know your rights, criminal law, evidence law, constitutional contracts towards all the major areas, but you play in this little character, this little avatar, looks like a ninja and you have to — if you answer a question wrong your ninja dies.
And I love it because it makes it fun to study.
Kelly LaGrave: Well and gamification is the new buzzword and it’s a way to learn and they’re finding that if you can make it a game, people remember.
Carl Morrison: Right, exactly right.
Kelly LaGrave: And their memory works better. So I think those are great ways. When I studied and this is very old school, I had index cards.
Kelly LaGrave: And I know some people still use them. I wrote well, when I took the exam you had to — there was a whole section on legal terminology.
Carl Morrison: Right
Kelly LaGrave: Latin — so I had Latin words and their definitions on cards and when I would be waiting someplace at the doctor’s office, I might pull my cards out and work through them, we had a communication section and your definitions for things. You had to — so I used index cards.
Now I don’t know if anybody even knows this day and age what an index card is, but those are — whatever works for you and you don’t have to study two hours at a time, sometimes it’s just those — you got ten minutes here and ten minutes there.
Carl Morrison: Always I tell a student when you approach a problem or studying for an exam and it’s seems gargantuan in size and it’s like how I am going to study this. There’s an old Indian proverb that says, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! And it’s true. If you pick it off in these sections from the certification exam, just study little bits. At a time you don’t have to sit down and try to cram in two hours, everything in your head, review snippets like you said.
I tell students, I use technology, but honestly I’m old school. I’m bridging the gap here on the different technology and how you study, but index cards, you’re doing them, you’re getting ready for in the morning or brushing your teeth at night, stand a stack of the index cards in front of your mirror and just go through the cards while you’re brushing your teeth and fixing your hair and that’s you just find those times.
Kelly LaGrave: Get off your phone, right.
Carl Morrison: Get off your phone.
Kelly LaGrave: And we talked about earlier today, the Keynote speaker, get off that phone, because what he say the average American spends eight hours a day on your cell phone, that’s kind of scary.
Carl Morrison: It is scary and it can be the death of you.
Kelly LaGrave: But it is that library that’s in your hand, right?
Carl Morrison: Right, exactly right, exactly right. So okay, so talk a little bit about ticks, ticks — well, tips and tricks and ticks, well, we don’t live out in Michigan where you have ticks, right?
Kelly LaGrave: Yeah well, yeah some parts, yeah.
Carl Morrison: So what, we talked a little bit about the resources to offer them test takers to study. This is going to be my last question so the restaurant that we’re staying at and this is my fun question.
Kelly LaGrave: Oh okay, weren’t these all fun questions?
Carl Morrison: Well yes. It’s the exam. It’s studying for the test. I mean. I now have a live studio audience here and fun right, certification exam is fun. See, she has her certificate, her CP through NALA, okay so fun question.
Kelly LaGrave: Okay.
Carl Morrison: I am sure you love the resort. I have fallen in love with the resort and I’ve only been here a day and a half.
Kelly LaGrave: Unfortunately I haven’t been out and about into the resort yet, but I’m hoping that we can do that later this weekend.
Carl Morrison: Okay good. So but I’m going to ask you, so you haven’t done it yet but –
Kelly LaGrave: Yeah I’ve read a bunch about it. So yeah —
Carl Morrison: Okay so got to choose.
Kelly LaGrave: Okay.
Carl Morrison: You can’t pick both, you got to pick one of them. So tell me why you’re going to pick one of them.
Kelly LaGrave: Okay.
Carl Morrison: Swimming pool or lazy river?
Kelly LaGrave: Oh lazy river.
Carl Morrison: Why?
Kelly LaGrave: Just get to lay in on an inner tube and go down the river and just relax. Swimming takes energy, and once I’m done with conference and done speaking, I just want to relax and just lay on that inner tube and go down the lazy river.
Carl Morrison: Are you are you going to be able to stay an extra day or are you just turn it —
Kelly LaGrave: We are here till Wednesday because we have family friends.
Carl Morrison: How fantastic.
Kelly LaGrave: So we’re at the resort till Sunday. So I’m kind of hoping on Sunday. I can get a little bit time in before we leave.
Carl Morrison: Well I will tell you I came a little early yesterday enough that a couple hours before the reception last night that I did get to enjoy the lazy river. I will tell you it’s amazing.
Kelly LaGrave: So for you is it a swim or the lazy river?
Carl Morrison: Lazy river, put me in an inner tube and just let me float. It’s just so relaxing. I don’t know what it is about being in the water, I just love water, but being in the lazy river, I just like that.
Kelly LaGrave: There’s no water down here. That’s where you got to go where I live, you like water, you go where I live.
Carl Morrison: Well I will tell you. I’m more of an ocean type of person when it comes to water. I like the large body of ocean.
Kelly LaGrave: That would be the Great Lakes.
Carl Morrison: You know I have not been to the Great Lakes.
Kelly LaGrave: Great Lakes are salt-free, shark free and there’s nothing there that’s going to hurt you.
Carl Morrison: Really now, do you guarantee that Kelly? Okay, I’ll have to make a trip out there. Kelly, thank you so much.
Kelly LaGrave: Oh, you are very welcome.
Carl Morrison: For taking the time to talk about NALA’s CP Exam and the review and I know that the individuals are going to be setting in your sessions and you’re going to be doing contracts, corporate and then ethics, which I — and one more, right?
Kelly LaGrave: The legal writing.
Carl Morrison: The legal writing, which for those that have not, and I will do this little plug for NALA as well.
Kelly LaGrave: Sure.
Carl Morrison: The sessions are recorded.
Kelly LaGrave: Yes they are.
Carl Morrison: So you can access the CP Exam courses that our wonderful Kelly LaGrave is going to be doing.
Kelly LaGrave: Well, and it’s not, and it’s not just me.
Carl Morrison: Right. There are other sessions.
Kelly LaGrave: They are recorded and that you can purchase them from NALA that also includes the PowerPoints. So it’s not just that you can — you can get not just the audio, but also the written.
Carl Morrison: The actual handout material.
Kelly LaGrave: Yeah, handout materials too, yeah.
Carl Morrison: Which is fantastic, it’s another, definitely another resource for —
Kelly LaGrave: For those who can’t come to conference.
Carl Morrison: Right and we’re going to say to those that are listening that didn’t come to conference this year for whatever reason, you don’t want to miss next year, definitely want to come next year, right.
Kelly LaGrave: Right, yeah. Atlantic City will be interesting.
Carl Morrison: It will be — so I’m in Vegas. Now I’m the desert rat. So I live in Vegas. I’ve been there now for years, so I’ve never been to Atlantic City. So I’m intrigued to see how that side 00:26:11 resort environment.
Kelly LaGrave: I was there in March for two days at the resort. We went out and it’s definitely different than Vegas.
Carl Morrison: Okay I’m looking forward to.
Kelly LaGrave: Not a bad different, it’s just different.
Carl Morrison: And I will be attending next year with a CP behind my name.
Kelly LaGrave: That’s right.
Carl Morrison: So I’m claiming it right now.
Kelly LaGrave: We’re looking forward to it. All right, Carl.
Carl Morrison: Kelly, thanks so much for being our guest.
Kelly LaGrave: Thank you.
Carl Morrison: So if any of the listeners wanted to get in touch with you, is there a social media that they can follow you on or email or how would they contact you?
Kelly LaGrave: LinkedIn.
Carl Morrison: Okay. Just finds you at Kelly?
Kelly LaGrave: My name, it’s just, Kelly LaGrave. I think I am the only one on LinkedIn.
Carl Morrison: LaGrave, yup.
Kelly LaGrave: Yeah.
Carl Morrison: Definitely okay great. So thank you Kelly, and that’s all the time we have for this episode of The Paralegal Voice brought to you by of course, the generous support of NALA, CourtFiling.net, Legalinc and ServeNow and thanks again to our sponsors so much and thank you to our listeners for tuning in.
If you like what you’ve heard, definitely please rate, review in Legal Talk Network at the Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting application.
So, I’m Carl Morrison, host of The Paralegal Voice and definitely if you have any questions, please send to me at [email protected], that’s [email protected].
So definitely, until next time, thank you for listening.
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