With offers for summer employment going out to law students around the country, Thinking Like A Lawyer unveils its annual “The Offer” series. If you’re wondering which of your offers you should take, Joe and Elie are happy to anonymously discuss them. Just send them to [email protected] subject line “The Offer.” In the meantime, here are some general thoughts on the job hunt process.
Above the Law – Thinking Like a Lawyer
Law School Students Need To Figure Out Where They’re Going To Work
Intro: Welcome to Thinking Like a Lawyer with your hosts Elie Mystal and Joe Patrice, talking about legal news and pop culture, all while Thinking Like a Lawyer, here on Legal Talk Network.
Joe Patrice: Hello. Welcome to another edition of Thinking Like a Lawyer. I am Joe Patrice from Above the Law. I am joined by Elie Mystal, who is looking tired.
Elie Mystal: I mean it’s been like six or seven minutes since I checked Twitter so I am not sure which new crimes the Trump Administration is admitting to. There will be some.
Joe Patrice: By admitting to I think you are referencing the curious decision of Mulvaney to just kind of go ahead and admit to, not really the crime, but admit to the issue undermining the story that has been the administration’s story so far.
Elie Mystal: I mean I feel like we can’t even really talk about it, because by the time this airs who knows what other wrongdoing these people will talk to.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, I don’t really care about it on that front. It’s more — from my perspective, it was just an interesting decision to say the thing that had been the opposite and almost suggest no one is like quarterbacking anything.
Elie Mystal: So for those folks at home, Mulvaney — Trump’s Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was asked at a presser today, that sounds like a quid pro quo, was there a quid pro quo, and Mulvaney said well, look politics and it’s going to happen in foreign policy all the time and you guys have just got to get over it, which is like admitting the thing.
Joe Patrice: Right. The previous argument had been of course there was no quid pro quo, which is the right defense, if that’s what you are going for, and so it does seem like there is not really a consistent through line on how they are approaching the issue, which is the sort of thing that happens when you don’t have a lawyer who kind of is running this situation, you know?
Elie Mystal: Yeah, which kind of — I wanted to talk a little bit about Rudy Giuliani today, because he fired his lawyer. So Giuliani appears to be under investigation by lots of forces, right, he appears to be under investigation by the Southern District of New York, which Giuliani used to run, so there are some turnabout. He appears to be under a counterintelligence investigation, and he fired his lawyer, which I mean every lawyer joke about what do you say about a lawyer who hires himself as a client. Like I don’t understand what they are doing and I guess it scares me or unsettles me because these people are so cavalier about their apparent crimes, that it makes me feel like they must know something that I don’t know, right?
It’s like the Game of Thrones thing where everybody is in the sept waiting for the trial of Cersei Lannister and only Margaery Tyrell notices that Cersei is not there, and there is that moment of like, well — the fact that she is not there suggests that she knows something that we do not know, and what Cersei knows that Margaery doesn’t know is that Cersei is about to blow up the entire sept.
So that’s how I feel right now. I feel like I am the High Sparrow in the sept waiting for something to happen, not realizing that I am standing on top of a pit of Dragon Fire.
Joe Patrice: Well, that was tortured. So yeah, yeah, it’s not — I don’t think that there is —
Elie Mystal: You are unconcerned?
Joe Patrice: Yeah, about that level of it, sure. No, but of interest is a decision to fire a lawyer when you are under an investigation. There is the adage about a lawyer having a fool for a client. It is true that Rudy Giuliani has extensive legal experience, but no, you should not be representing yourself, and the whole nature of trying to get ahead of things on your own is what leads to a situation where bad admissions are being made and there is no real plan and that’s why you have lawyers and why you should.
Elie Mystal: I feel like Giuliani should set himself up for like an ineffective assistance of counsel or just a straight up insanity defense, because he looks crazy.
Joe Patrice: It doesn’t look great, but you know, I am going to be one of those people who says he has always been this way and it’s weird that people haven’t caught on to this before.
I mean there were stories of him at the US Attorney’s Office standing up and yelling at people when he wasn’t the lawyer, he was just in the audience, standing up and yelling at witnesses in court. This is the behavior of somebody who doesn’t understand how law works, not somebody who is in a really effective legal mind.
So anyway, and that was, what, that would be 30, 40 years ago that he was doing that, so anyway.
Elie Mystal: That’s not what we are talking about today, what are we talking about?
Joe Patrice: We are talking about becoming a lawyer and this is somewhat timely. For those of you who are in law school you probably — if you are a 2L right now, you are going through the process of deciding where you want to work. You have probably had some interviews and maybe you have some callbacks, now you are getting to the point where you have offers, where should you go, which of these offers should you choose, which one works for you?
And that’s what we want to talk about, because we often have a series here that we call The Offer, where you send us kind of an anonymized — well, you don’t have to anonymize it, we will anonymize it for you, recounting of what you are looking at. I have an offer from this place, I have an offer from that place, what I want to do is this, but I don’t know. Explain those issues to us and we can offer what advice we can from our experience covering the industry about which of these two you might want to choose, two or three or more, however many offers you may want to choose and why.
We don’t have any submissions yet, because we are just telling you about this kind of now, but you should send those to [email protected], subject line The Offer. You can give us the rundown of what you are looking at and we can walk — on future episodes walk-through that decision.
But today, to kind of preview this, we thought we would talk in a general level about issues you should be looking for, considering, thinking about when you are making a decision on where you want to work.
Elie Mystal: So let’s start with the personal, Joe, how did you make your final decision that led you to Cleary straight out of law school?
Joe Patrice: Right. So I did the whole process, went on my callbacks. I narrowed it down fairly quickly in buckets of what kind of law I was interested in. So when I had multiple offers from firms that I considered of the same peer group, I would make the decision, if I am going to go with this kind of a practice, I prefer Cleary. If I want to go with this kind of a practice, then of that bucket of firms I would prefer Proskauer or whatever it is, and I went through and kind of created, not that I was dancing around what my idea of what I wanted to be was, I was at that point going into litigation, but what did I really want to be?
Was I interested in sort of the foreign sovereign defense stuff, the classical Cleary, working in international issues, was that the sort of thing that I was interested in? Was I interested in something that had more of a labor and sports lien, that being the Proskauer discussion. But whichever of these areas I wanted to go into, I made a quick bucket of who is the leader in those areas, and then my final decision was just going to those firms and then deciding which of them was the bucket I wanted to be in.
Elie Mystal: And that was — you made that sorting after you already decided that you were going to definitely be in New York, right?
Joe Patrice: Yes, I made the decision about being in New York during the on campus process. I did interview a few places during on campus that were outside of New York, but more or less I had decided to be in New York.
That’s a good question too. Let’s transition to that. So you were always going to be in New York, did you even consider anywhere else?
Elie Mystal: Well, I did actually, but it wasn’t from — it was going to be in the Tri-State area. So my big choice when it really came down to it was whether or not I was going to be in New York or if I was going to be on Long Island. I had some political aspirations in a former life and my father is from Long Island and I kind of understood that if I wanted to run for office, I would probably be running out of Long Island.
So the question for me was a little bit of did I want to go to Mineola and work in Mineola, but live in the district that I would eventually try to run for, those kinds of concerns.
But I still wanted big law money, because that was the whole goddamn point of the legal degree. So a firm like Nixon Peabody, which is a kind of big law firm that has a big office in Manhattan, also has a satellite office in Mineola, and I was kind of seriously considering that, versus kind of doing the standard Manhattan white-shoe big law firm and I had a couple of offers on that scale.
So I had to make that kind of call first and I didn’t make that until callbacks, right? I didn’t make that until I went out to the offices in Mineola and remembered the things I didn’t like about Long Island and the things I did like about Manhattan, I had to see that again, because being in school for so long and not just college, but law school, like you forgot a little bit of the feel of the place. And after I saw Great Neck again I was like, you know what, I think I am good.
Amongst the big law firms that I was choosing for, and it’s interesting to me that you didn’t say this at all about your choice, I really, really didn’t want to work with assholes. Like I thought that was like critically important. I knew you couldn’t fully —
Joe Patrice: Except you went to a law firm.
Elie Mystal: Yes, right.
Joe Patrice: So like at that point —
Elie Mystal: Right, so you are already going to a law firm, you are already going to a big law firm, like you are self-selecting to be around assholes, and let’s not put too fine a point on it, I am an asshole, like I am a jerk. I didn’t want to work with people like me.
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Elie Mystal: And so that was a weird kind of thing to try to select for, like were their firms that kind of liked the things about myself that I did like, but didn’t like the things about myself that I don’t like, to the point that it wasn’t generally hiring people like me, and could I get them to hire me, three-dimensional chess.
Joe Patrice: Certainly people that you enjoy working around is going to be key, although you are not going to get a great sense of that through the callback process, you are not going to have a real good sense of whether or not somebody you have talked to for 15 minutes is the sort of person you can work with and won’t be mean.
But even if they are, you can I feel get a better sense in that 15 to 20 minutes about whether or not they are the sort of person that you can actually learn something from.
I felt like I had a greater sense of whether or not a partner I was talking to in 15 minutes was a potential mentor just by the engagement they had with the conversation, the ways in which they talked to me about the work that they were doing than I could whether or not they were quietly somebody who was going to call me at 3:00 in the morning or something like that, because that you can’t predict. You can’t predict whether or not they care.
Elie Mystal: Yeah, you are getting the call at 3 o’clock in the morning and they don’t care. But I do think that you can find places that are nicer than others. I think one of the — at least one of the ways that I kind of went through it was, first of all, I looked at firms that through either the on campus phase or the callback phase proactively emphasized that they were trying to be nice.
I mean this is — I don’t know the extent to which this is still a thing that everybody gets to do, but if you remember at least back in our day and still certainly at the Harvards and the Yales and the CCNUs of the world, between on campus interviewing and the callback phase, they take you out to dinner at your campus, right, so you get to meet some more people at the firm outside of just a straight up interview phase.
And I gravitated towards firms, even if it was a little bit of like marketing, who were marketing themselves as like we are a nice place to work. We have nice people here. Like we don’t scream at our associates, like firms that emphasized that as opposed to firms where it was just kind of a throwaway and like, oh, you know, we are good people, like I looked for that. So that was one thing.
The other thing that I did, and I really do — this is one of like my keys to life, so like listen, this is something that I want to impart to you, I really did everything I could while I was doing the callbacks to interact with, even in a small way, with support staff. I am a big believer that you are as good as you treat your — people that you do not have to treat well, right?
So if I was walking from one person’s office to the other and I passed the secretary, I would like hi, hello, my name is Elie and I am interviewing here. You pass the legal assistants’ desks, I would say hi. If you pass some paralegals, I would say what’s up.
I happened at that time to be a smoker, when I would go for my smoke break I would like try to find the people who looked like they were in the IT room as opposed to people who looked like they were other associates and just shoot the breeze with them. Like I think that you can tell a lot about how people really are by how they treat people that they do not have to treat well at all.
And certainly there were firms where you say hi and the secretaries or legal assistants were like hey, oh, nice to meet you, and there are firms that like their heads are down there. It’s almost like they are afraid of looking up, like that are colds, right, and I tried to get a sense that way about which firm might actually have nice people.
Joe Patrice: That’s fair, though that is also dangerous, because I have definitely interacted with attorneys who have the mindset that the staff I treat like very well, because they do all these things and they are not getting paid enough for me to treat mean, and the associates, I absolutely pay them enough to be mean to. So that is a thing out there that’s worth considering.
But no, you mentioned the dinner, aspect which —
Elie Mystal: I absolutely pay them. You are right, I mean there are partners who think that way.
Joe Patrice: Yeah. You mentioned the dinner thing, which is less of an issue in New York, that’s more of a thing for, like you were outside of New York, so people will come up and have an event with you in like — a large event, because that way they can see everybody at once. In New York they tend not to do that because they don’t have to, frankly, we are all here.
But I will say if you are at one of those, a good point to watch out for is how people already working at the firm interact with each other as opposed to how they are interacting with you. If you can see people in the corner laughing and enjoying themselves, especially if you see people of different levels enjoying themselves when they don’t happen to have a candidate in front of them, that’s a useful sign. If they are trying to get away from each other the whole time, that’s also a useful sign.
Elie Mystal: Especially, you have got to remember for these recruiting events, like they are putting their best foot forward.
Joe Patrice: You would think.
Elie Mystal: They are putting people who have for the most part volunteered to be there, so if you are at one of these events with pretty much an all-volunteer crew and the all-volunteer crew is looking at each other like they want to stab each other in the face and like they wish they could be anywhere else but there right now, because they are so busy and this is like — like that’s a sign, that’s absolutely a sign.
Joe Patrice: So true. So you ended up — so I guess you asked the Cleary choice on mine, what drew you to what I consider a very parallel firm to Cleary, to Debevoise?
Elie Mystal: Yes, so does Voss and I think —
Joe Patrice: No, but I mean we both went to similar places.
Elie Mystal: Right. So yeah, so the niceness was a thing. Like Debevoise has a — it’s part of their reputational culture that they are nice, and they are nice. I mean that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have all-nighters or worked very hard and that kind of stuff, but they were nice about it. I like to say Debevoise is the kind of place that’s like, oh man, I am so sorry, you are not going to sleep. I really — like if we can get you a nap, we are going to do that, like that’s the kind of firm they are.
And it bore out I thought in my experience there, I met only nice people, but again, just to go back to this cultural thing, I mean there — I don’t think I am telling you this, there was a person that I worked with who was a lateral in from Skadden, and that person came in with some Skadden in them, right? Hey, you have got to get there. Hey, this margin is — and man, when I say that the partners clipped that person so quick. It took him about two or three months, but like they explained to that person that there is a way that Debevoise treats people and that he was not treating people that way and he had better learn quick, and he did learn quick.
And so I would go back to this like I do think that there are firms who emphasize a certain culture and that you can see that that shows up in who they hire. Now, it’s interesting, I have been emphasizing so far that I was choosing firms that I thought would be nice to work at. You will note that I have not said that I was particularly looking for diversity in my choices. And for there I kind of would say what you were starting to say about being nice. I can’t tell.
First of all, diversity, when we talk about — especially when we talk about African-American diversity, the numbers are so small generally that like if you have — if a firm kind of looks up on a class with like five more black people than usual, that like spikes their diversity numbers and it’s just random, because the sample sizes are so small.
So A, it was hard for me to really know which firm was more diverse than another or if that diversity — that visual diversity I was seeing was a kind of statistical blip as opposed to a cultural commitment. They all say culturally, oh, we care, they all say it; it’s really hard to feel it. So that’s one thing.
Two, one of the real issues with diversity comes in the partnership ranks. Are you making a diverse class of partners and mentors and whatever? With me going in, I am not thinking I am going to be there to make partner. I used to actually have a sign on my desk, a handwritten sign, just like I have in my office, that I stopped writing so long, I had a handwritten highlighter marker sign above my computer saying, remember you are not trying to make partner.
So I was not going into the process thinking this was going to be my home for the next 15, 20 years of my life, I was going in like, where can I put my head down, not get screamed out all the time, make a little scratch, and then go live the rest of my life in a couple of years, right? So, I wasn’t particularly looking at diversity when it comes to the partnership ranks. I didn’t think that was going to ever — going to be my calling anyway.
So I really wasn’t looking at diversity indices, and if I was, if that was particularly important to me, I don’t know how I would have — I don’t know what I would have done to enhance my likelihood of being in a diverse place if I was still going to stay in big law. Now, that’s the thing. It seems to me like if I had really cared about diversity, they might have pushed me out of big law entirely.
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Elie Mystal: Clearly at your time was kind of renowned for making a real diversity push really trying to get the critical as they used to call it back then, getting the critical mass of minority associates to be able to legitimately brand itself as a firm that was welcoming to minority associates.
Joe Patrice: I do think that we need to remember that you’re very old and what I mean by that is you went through this — you went through this process quite a while ago and not that diversity has been fixed in the intervening years because that obviously hasn’t —
Elie Mystal: We got them.
Joe Patrice: Right, but when you say, oh, well, they all say it, but blah, blah, blah, we are in an era now where just words has kind of fallen behind and nobody’s just saying it anymore. Now, there’s just various levels of robustness of what they are actually trying to do.
You have clients now putting pressure on firms to do things. It’s a different dynamic now and given that you’re probably going to — I just don’t want people to do the take-away, oh, they all say it, but look for the ones that actually do something. Now, lots of people do stuff but the question is, is that enough for what you want and it may not be? Even though it is far more robust than it was when he was looking at firms, and potentially when I was too, but these days it’s a little bit more —
Elie Mystal: Did you just try to sell yourself as younger than me?
Joe Patrice: I mean, I am obviously. I mean, I’m looking like you’ve got gray hair and like you just look beaten down by life. I’m young and vibrant over here.
Elie Mystal: I really almost miss that, wow.
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Elie Mystal: Okay. Good job.
Joe Patrice: Yeah — no. Anyway, so that’s a key to look for is whether or not that’s an issue there but the flipside of that is times have changed since back then and one of the issues that has changed is the explosion of income partner ranks and non-equity partnerships, which is something to keep an eye on too because if you find a diverse partner set that doesn’t necessarily mean it has a diverse partnership. There could well be a situation where a lot of the partners of color are being shunted into a glorified of counsel role and being called partners for the sake of diversity numbers but really aren’t, and so that’s something to keep an eye on.
Elie Mystal: Would you work at a firm speaking of the modern era versus the era when we were going through this?
Joe Patrice: Okay.
Elie Mystal: Would you work at a firm that required you to sign a mandatory non-disclosure agreement?
Joe Patrice: No. That’s an issue that is very much in the news these days. Most firms are, I believe, correctly pushing back, realizing this is bad and walking back from it.
Elie Mystal: Not all.
Joe Patrice: Certainly not all, but mandatory non-disclosure agreements which they are part of the forced arbitration world that too many companies are going down where they force people to have their workplace issues handled in the quietest and most friendly to the firm possible way.
That sort of world is rightly under attack as we’ve been going through a MeToo movement and that’s led people protesting.
Elie Mystal: People understand that those agreements are too often used to silence legitimate claims of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct or racial discrimination, I mean that’s just how they use them. When we were coming up, there was no option. Of course, there was no option not to sign one. There was no option really not to go to a firm that had one if you wanted the big law money at least.
Now, there truly is. There are firms who have — largely because of students’ demands, there are firms that have dropped them and in the face of student demands, there are firms who are sticking hard to them and at this point, I don’t — I would not in good conscience go to a firm that’s required me to sign such an agreement.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, absolutely, and that is a very recent change but an important one to keep an eye on.
Elie Mystal: What about — did you look at all at the bonus structure before you made your decision and did you have a preference, an hour’s requirement, straight class year requirements like did you have a preference?
Joe Patrice: Yeah, that’s a great question. When researching firms, you’ll find that most of the big firms —
Elie Mystal: Researching on Above the Law.
Joe Patrice: Right, researching on Above the Law, you’ll find that most of the big Tier 1 firms are more or less lockstep with their bonuses. Everybody’s paying on that scale. Now that said, what’s not necessarily there or what the strings attached to that are? Do you need to be billing 2300 hours to see that equal money or is it okay to be billing 1850 to see that money or whatever? Personally —
Elie Mystal: How many do pro bono hours can write towards those billing requirements? How many pro bono hours?
Joe Patrice: Right, are there limits, whatever? From my perspective, none of those requirements mattered to me vis-à-vis am I going to get a bonus, they mattered to me in what they said about how the firm viewed associates. What I mean by that is I didn’t care whether or not — what strings were on the bonus, but I preferred ones where there were no strings.
If to that end, there would be firms that only needed 1850, I didn’t like them for the same reasons I didn’t really like the 2300 minimums, I went to firms, I went to a firm that had no minimum at all that was just you’re here you get your bonus. We assume you’re working.
Elie Mystal: You weren’t at all times that by firms that offered you a kicker if you —
Joe Patrice: Right.
Elie Mystal: So like a Quinn Emanuel which the hours requirements for the mainline bonus are kind of industry standard for firms that have hours requirements but Quinn kind of excels at putting big kickers in if you hit 2600, 2700, 2800 hours a year.
Joe Patrice: I didn’t. No, I understand the impulse to say if I really kill myself for a year like I should get something for that, and that’s fair, but I approached it more as that will even out over time and what I was really interested in is a firm that had a collegial mindset that said you’re working here, if you aren’t cutting it, we will probably fire you.
So we don’t need to worry about whether or not you’re making 1800 this year and 2200 the next. So long as you are doing your job and trying and their vagaries to this job and so we will just — we view you in lockstep and that mattered to me.
Elie Mystal: I also — I am clearly with you, I wanted a firm that was going to treat me like an adult, and I also really did not want the — it’s not that I had a moral issue here but like I did not like what it said that you would get more money if you build more hours. I just feel like that’s a perverse incentive to do things more slowly as opposed to more quickly.
Now, to be fair, I also wanted a lockstep firm because I assumed with my outside interests and whatever that it would be on the low end of any billing competition anyway. I ended up billing 2800 hours in my first year, which is, I mean, I can’t even, it was so stupid — it’s so stupid. I don’t know how that happened to me.
Joe Patrice: That’s a lot.
Elie Mystal: It was bad news, it was bad. I shouldn’t have done that. So maybe I would have actually benefited from a firm that had a Quinn Emanuel style kicker, but exactly for what you just said, for the kind of collegial and cultural reasons if you could get one, a firm with no hours requirement and in the lockstep system to me was preferable even if that meant that at the top end, you might be losing some money if you end up having a particularly tough year.
Joe Patrice: I’ll tell you when this wasn’t true of my first firm but when I moved into a boutique white-collar practice, that firm had a policy that I actually think is the best answer to the kicker rather than have a bonus that is bill more hours and you’ll get a little bit more. An indirect way of valuing you if you happen to work more than other people in the year instead of having roll over and expiring vacation, this policy was you have your four weeks and if you don’t use it, we will pay you out for the unused days. That way, if you billed 2800 hours, you are not getting all your vacation days in unless something really weird has happened.
Elie Mystal: You are not.
Joe Patrice: So, that’s a way in which you can receive some additional compensation for the effort you put in that is not structured in the way of you get money for just continuing to hurt yourself more.
Elie Mystal: Right, right. It also kind of gives you a — that’s really nice.
Joe Patrice: It was a good policy, yeah.
Elie Mystal: Because arguably you want to take your vacation, right?
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Elie Mystal: If you’re not like that’s still money that you’re putting back into the firm. So you might as well get a kick out, that’s really good.
Joe Patrice: Yeah — no, it was a good policy and it was one that was born out of obviously it was a boutique firm. We worked hard but not at big law our levels, and it was not the policy when we started, we had a more traditional rollover, but we had a trial that happened and the people who were on that trial, and I wasn’t among them, just it slammed to them and they just weren’t able to take all their vacations and they used one week of their four that year and the question was, hey, how do we value this? And the decision was made to do it by payout, which was, I think the right answer. It’s good indirect way of getting handled. Yeah.
Elie Mystal: Cool.
Joe Patrice: Anyway, reminder, so if you are sitting between multiple offers, you should let us know.
Elie Mystal: Congratulations.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, well, one, yes. Let us know we’re at [email protected]. Call it the subject line the offer and we will look at those and try to get you a response to your situation. Even if you really know where you’re going, it might be worth — frankly it might be worth sending us the questions anyway, even though you may know what it is, your issue may raise some common themes that are valuable to other listeners. So our walking through it may still have some value to everyone else. You can be a hero indirectly to other people. So send that —
Elie Mystal: You don’t need another hero.
Joe Patrice: There we go. So, yes, you should read Above the Law, you should follow us on Twitter. He is @ElieNYC, I am @JosephPatrice. You should listen to the LTN family of podcasts. You should listen to The Jabot, which is Kathryn Rubino’s podcast here at Above the Law. You should be — what else should you be doing? Oh, you should follow.
Elie Mystal: Listening to Elie karaoke.
Joe Patrice: Yeah — well not really if we can avoid it.
Elie Mystal: We don’t need to find a way home.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, let me see if I can find a sound effect for that. Yeah, so — but no, there is — oh yeah, it is. So if you have an opportunity to follow Above the Law on Twitter too, that’s @atlblog. Oh, and give reviews to this podcast and subscribe to it, that will help out.
All right, and with all that said I think we’re done. Talk to you later.
Elie Mystal: Peace.
The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network, its officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders, and subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.
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