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Melissa Shanahan

#229: Legal Reinforcements: Why Military Spouses Make Great Law Firm Employees with Lindsay Kennedy

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Lindsay Kennedy is the founder and president of Legal Reinforcements: a company dedicated to connecting law firms with military talent. As a military spouse herself, Lindsay has been navigating the challenges related to upending her life every couple of years, and has found herself in a unique position of connecting other military wives with remote legal work.

Due to the nature of being a military spouse, Lindsay is a huge advocate for changes in the legal profession to allow for more non-traditional options. She helps law firms meet their staffing needs by hiring military talent as remote legal assistants, paralegals, and attorneys, and she’s here today to highlight what’s truly feasible for both military spouses who desire work and law firms looking to hire a great team member. 

Tune in this week to hear why Legal Reinforcements has become the top legal recruiter for military talent, and how the people Lindsay places are uniquely suited for any law firm. Lindsay and Melissa are discussing what it takes to connect the right people with the right role, and how she ensures successful matches every time.

If you’re a law firm owner, Mastery Group is the way for you to work with Melissa. This program consists of quarterly strategic planning facilitated with guidance and community every step of the way. Enrollment is open so click here to secure your spot!

Show Notes:

What You’ll Discover:

• What separates Legal Reinforcements from other companies out there.

• The types of positions Lindsay fills in law firms.

• Why military spouses have a high unemployment rate.

• How Lindsay quells the fears employers have of hiring across state lines.

• Why military spouses are uniquely suited to any legal business.

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Legal Reinforcements: Website | Email

Gusto

Wolters Kluwer

The Hardest Part of Becoming a SAHM After Being a Lawyer by Lindsay Kennedy - article for Above the Law

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Full Episode Transcript:

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I’m Melissa Shanahan, and this is The Law Firm Owner Podcast Episode #229.

Welcome to The Law Firm Owner Podcast, powered by Velocity Work, for owners who want to grow a firm that gives them the life they want. Get crystal clear on where you're going. Take planning seriously and honor your plan like a pro. This is the work that creates Velocity.

Melissa Shanahan: Hi, everyone, welcome to this week's episode. I am pretty excited to be talking to Lindsay Kennedy today, of Legal Reinforcements. We have just been chatting before we pushed record. It's our first time meeting, but I have clients that are really happy with the services you've provided them. So, I'm excited to have you on the podcast to share you as a resource for others and for listeners.

Welcome to the show.

Lindsay Kennedy: Thank you. I appreciate it. I'm excited to be here.

Melissa: Do you want to tell everybody a little bit about yourself? Who you are, where you are, and what you do?

Lindsay: Yeah, I am a military spouse attorney, and I have been navigating my career challenges related to being a military spouse attorney. I started to just do freelance work about eight, nine years ago. That's before there was a name called “freelance” work. I was just trying to do something fun. I love litigation, but I couldn't really practice litigation with us moving every two and three years. So, I just did ghostwriting for attorneys.

I met so many small and solo practitioners, and I saw their pain points. Then, all of a sudden, COVID hit while we were in Korea. I saw so many small law firms who are just desperate to hire, and I was just drowning in amazing women who were wanting to work.

And so, it just seemed logical to push the two together and say, “Okay, let me just start matching everybody up.” “Hi, Diane, I've got this great person for you. Hi, Bob, I've got this great person for you.”

Then it just drastically grew and grew through no real effort on my part. I got to the point, two years later, where I had to make the choice, do I make this into a business or do I stop? I saw that I couldn't stop because I was helping so many military spouses have these wonderful long-term careers that were mobile with our lifestyle.

I was watching so many law firms just grow and grow, having the support staff they needed, that I was like, “Okay, I’ve got to do this.” So, we created the business just under a year ago when I moved back to the States. It's been super fun since then seeing it all and figuring it all out.

I still do that ghostwriting, but I love that I get to do this business where I'm helping military spouses and small businesses do their staffing needs.

Melissa: Oh my gosh, yeah. What do you think separates you and the spouses that you place? What do you think separates you guys from the “competition” out there? Because it seems like something does, after talking to clients.

Lindsay: Well, I think the fact is military spouses are resilient. We're constantly thrown into these crazy situations, moving around, figuring it all out from scratch every two and three years, so there's a level of similarities in a law firm.

Where you're like, “Here's a case, let's figure it out. Let's be creative. We have to prove this. How do we get that, when we don't have the obvious? How do we get there?” Just thinking very creatively. In the civilian sector, where people don't move very often, people are highly networked. They're connected to their communities, and they have their full time job.

Whereas the military spouses are stuck starting over. So, you get these highly qualified people, who are highly educated and intelligent, who are not able to work because they're not given the opportunities.

Anytime you look at the Department of Labor unemployment or underemployment statistics, we're always number one. We always have the worst unemployment rates. Our service members we move around with, they have a job. That's why they're moving. We're at 21% now, and just before COVID we were in the 70%.

Melissa: Wow. Oh, my goodness. Tell me where I'm wrong, it seems like what you're speaking to is this resourcefulness just to get in there and figure it out, just like you said. If you haven't been challenged with having to do that very often in life, it's not a muscle you're used to flexing, and so the people that you place are uniquely suited to have that skill set. Which any employer would value greatly, speaking from experience.

Lindsay: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah, for sure. I mean, every two to three years I’ve got to find new schools, new childcare, new friends, new home, new you-name-it. We’ve got to figure it out.

Melissa: Oh my gosh. I can’t imagine. I have moved across the country more times than I ever anticipated, but that's nothing compared to what you all have to deal with. And, I didn't have children when I did all those moves. Now, I'm planted in one place. Then we had a kid, and it's a ton of coordinating, even if it's just for yourself, let alone a whole family. Anyway, that makes a ton of sense to me why law firm owners tend to be impressed with the people that you place.

Okay, so maybe fill everybody in on who you place, what kinds of positions that you place.

Lindsay: We place any position that a law firm hires. The vast majority of ours are legal assistants, because they don't necessarily need to have a lot of background in it. But we do require that the people we place as legal assistants have worked in person in an office setting somewhere, not necessarily a law firm.

We place paralegals. We get some high level paralegals, some entry level. The military spouses get this thing called “MyCAA money.” It's $4,000 for us to use, when the service member’s rank is lower, the younger, towards some kind of education. Magically, all these universities create these $4,000 programs and market them towards us.

Paralegal certificates have started to just skyrocket in the last two years. So, we're getting a lot more military spouses who are getting paralegal certificates, because they can for free, with that MyCAA money. So, that's an interesting one to see.

They don't necessarily have the experience, but they've got the educational background. So, I usually place them as legal assistants to start out with, but sometimes they can, depending on their background, they might be able to go ahead and move up to the paralegal level.

I also have to know there are lots of areas in this country where paralegal and legal assistant are used synonymously, so I distinguish between them. But I fully recognize that there's a ton of law firms that don't, and they just use them interchangeably.

We also have tons of attorneys. Some attorneys are looking for contract work, some are looking to be an associate, some are looking to be a part-time associate. All at varying skills and levels, some brand new.

If you are barred in one state and you move to another state, you're kind of stuck until you can either get licensed in that state, or maybe you can't get licensed in that state at all.

For example, I was just helping one attorney. It takes 18 months in Tennessee to get licensed. So, if you only know you're going there about two months in advance, before you move, and you're only there two years, there's no point. There's no value in even getting licensed there. So, now you're stuck in a state you're not barred. It's very limiting.

But that's where the contract work and the remote associate positions can really come into play; so, all the attorneys, all the paralegals, all the legal assistants. We've started to get quite a few social media consultants that specialize in law firms and helping them, bookkeepers, and intake is occasionally what we can find.

Those tend to be the younger military spouses that really have that phone presence that they can extract the information from the client, and all that. So, intake is a newer one we've added, and that one doesn't necessarily require in-person experience, or in-office experience, but definitely requires extensive amount of customer service experience.

So, all those different roles. Basically anything a law firm will hire.

Melissa: And, any practice areas.

Lindsay: Yes. Now, obviously, if you want an attorney who's been practicing 10 years for IP Law, I may or may not be able to deliver. I'll reach out to my network. I'll see if we have someone already in our database, but we'll try our best, but I can't always guarantee “Oh, yeah, I'll find that for sure.”

I have one person who says, “If you ever find an Arizona barred attorney, just see if I need to hire because I'm constantly hiring.” And so, I said, “Okay.” We put her name down, and as soon as we find an Arizona barred attorney, we send them and connect them to see… assuming it's an area of law that particular attorney wants. There's not a fit for everything.

Melissa: Yeah, okay. No, that's fantastic. You mentioned before we started recording that, oftentimes, these positions start out as contract positions. But the goal is to provide employment, not mandatory, but that's a goal. So, can you speak to that a little bit, and what that journey is usually like?

Lindsay: Sure, yeah. The vast majority of the time we’ll encourage the law firm to hire them for three months as a contractor. Some law firms will have the military spouse be their contractor for the duration. That's fine as long as you, we always say, comply with all the rules and the IRS rules. I can go over that in detail with them, and I do, with a lot of law firms, just to make sure everybody's doing the right things.

But the goal the military spouses want, for the most part, is be employees. The vast majority of military spouses want to be the employees of a place, they want to find a home for the next 10 years of their career, grow with that company, take on more responsibilities, help the company grow, and have this sustainable fulfilling career in their lives.

So, the idea is to be the employee, down the line. It's understandable, because as a remote hire you have to jump through hoops with whatever that other state is, where that person lives. And so, you really want to make sure it's a good fit before you jump through all those hoops as a law firm owner.

Melissa: Definitely. I do want to come back to those hoops. I was wondering if you could share a little bit… I just don't want to forget. You were just mentioning, they want to be a long-term employee, they want to have this fulfilling career where they can grow and grow with the company. That's so amazing, I mean, every employer wants that, right?

It seems like there's more of a longing for that within your community, because they are cut short of that anywhere they live. I don't know if you can speak to what you shared before the recording began, about how hard it is to get work if you are a military spouse.

Lindsay: Yeah, absolutely. I mentioned we have the high unemployment rate, more so than any other category. But that's because not only do we move so much, but wherever you move, that's going to be a military community most likely. The larger the base, the more of that city around it is entrenched in the military world.

There's no one that's going to look at my resume, and the mass majority of these other military spouses, and say, “Oh, I wonder if she's a military spouse?” No, the fact that I've got Korea and Germany on my resume shows I’m a military spouse.

These employers around a military base instantly know that, and it is constant that we will get discriminated against because of it. They will say, “I'm not hiring you because you move too much.”

We're not a protected class, as a military spouse. I mean, we can make arguments that it's related to gender, because most spouses are that, but it's a losing battle. They're simply not hiring us in the surrounding area. So, we're limited on in-person jobs. Then, on base, because those are majority either contractor jobs or they’re federal jobs, those are not only hard to get, we do get the military spouse preference, but they're very hard to get and it takes a long time.

The federal government is not known for being lightning fast. So oftentimes, those jobs take anywhere from six months… I've even had people say, “Two years ago, I applied for this job and I just started.” That's not the first time I had heard that. It's common that it takes so long to get into those federal jobs.

Then, not being hired for the in-person jobs surrounding a base, it means you're very limited on who will even talk to you, in your career.

Melissa: I didn't know a lot of this before you shared it today. What a gift to the community, and to law firm owners both. Everybody wins it seems like, because of the level of skill and character. There's a character that's built, I think, with just navigating some of the things you've already talked about. That can be a really big plus as a team member for any business that you have.

Lindsay: Sure, think about it. We married servicemembers. It wasn't like the vast majority of people that choose to be a soldier an airman… It's not something you do by accident, right? You do it because you want to serve, you want to strive for your country, you have that dedication. And so, it makes sense that their spouse would have that same level of drive and care and desire for service.

Law fits that quite well, it’s a good match-up. Especially the availability for it being remote, and also just personality-wise.

Melissa: Okay, so now, hopping back to talking about if you move to an employment relationship and the employee is in a different state, and some of the hoops that you have to jump through.

I had a contractor, and it was turning into not a contractor relationship. So, I needed to hire that person as an employee. They lived in Florida, I lived in Colorado, and I used Guusto. This was a while back. So, I was being led by Guusto, being pointed by Guusto to what I needed to do. There were some instructions, but it wasn't straightforward. It was very confusing.

I actually reached out to a couple of clients that I had, “Is this something that you help with?” I was trying to find someone to help me because I felt like I wasn't doing it all correctly. Anyway, it was a pain to get it all done and taken care of. I registered my business in the state of Florida. Then, you're paying taxes there.

So, after talking to you about this a little bit, you said, “I don't even know if you needed to do that.” And, gosh, I wish I would have had some guidance back then to help. More than what Guusto was providing me back then.

Here's my question. I think people are afraid to hire across state lines because they don't want to get roped into, they don't want to jump through those hoops. But you mentioned a few things to me that might make this a little bit easier. What it's been like from your seat? Watching people from your position, and maybe be able to quell some fears that owners might have.

Lindsay: Definitely. I mean, of course, we always do the legal disclaimer; talk to the right attorneys and follow the compliance, and all that. But the biggest thing to note is things have gotten easier because more states are becoming much more remote friendly.

Some are taking the opposite approach, but the vast majority of states are recognizing that they need to make it easy for small businesses to hire their people. Because every state has a vested interest in their citizens having employment. So, the Guusto’s and ADP’s and all the payroll companies have gotten a lot better at being able to provide that level of guidance and help.

And so, what you'll always have to pay is the unemployment taxes, and any of these other taxes that are required from that state. Every state requires unemployment taxes. California has this small sort of disability tax in addition to it. Anyhow, the Guusto’s and all that, can create your account with that state to pay whatever it is that you need to comply with, those parts of it.

In terms of whether, jumping to you, actually having to register your business in that state, that's going to depend on that state's requirements for doing business in that state. That's where, and we had talked about this, this company here has this great book, so I'll just plug them: Wolters Kluwer.

They have this entire PDF; you have to give them your firstborn and your website name and your email and all of that fun stuff. But they'll send you this free book, PDF, and it's what constitutes doing business. It cites exactly what statute, for each state, applies.

There are tons of states where just having one admin person in that state is not considered constituting business in that state, so you're not paying in to your overall taxes. You still have to comply with the employment laws, and the unemployment fees or whatever, their insurance; that's the word… for it. But you don't necessarily have to... It's not as much of a financial cost related to it.

The other sort of loophole that I see commonly, business-to-business transactions are different. So, if the military spouse is having a lot of trouble because they're living in a state, or overseas, where it's not feasible for them to be an employee, they'll often create their own LLC.

Now, you still want to comply with all the right rules. But if it's a business-to-business transaction, you're renting an employee from them. I mean, that's a common way that tons of businesses exist. You pay that business $40/hour, and you're renting their labor, their worker, for years.

You can do that on the smaller scale. If the military spouse wanted to create that. If it's not feasible for you to hire them. If it's just going to be too costly. You could say, “Well, I can't.” But if you happen to be that, and then they come to me, and we talked about it, then I can help guide them along.

But I see a lot of military spouses in California, New Jersey, creating their own LLCs in order to be able to get employment from them. It wouldn't be an employee-employer relationship, it would be back to being a business-to-business relationship. But it is available. There's always a way. You know us lawyers, we can always figure out a way.

Melissa: Yeah, yeah, definitely. I think that is really helpful. I know, from talking to law firm owners, there's almost a dismissal. If it's across state lines, and it's going to be an employee hire, it’s like, “Nah, it's just going to be too many hoops to jump through.”

But truly, what I love about what you're saying, is you place them first as a contractor. That relationship needs to be appropriate, it's like a contractor relationship. And if it's a great fit, then they can move forward with jumping through the hoops.

And there is more guidance than there used to be to jump through hoops. It's not as costly in many instances, as it used to be. You did mention there's a couple of headache states, New Jersey being one of them. But generally speaking, it's not as heavy of a lift.

So, I am hoping that that point lands with people, because I don't think everyone knows that. I think many people tend to think this is going to be harder than it is, and so they're just not going to mess with it. And that doesn't have to be the case, which is pretty incredible.

Lindsay: Yeah. COVID did a lot of bad things to our world, but it did some good ones too.

Melissa: We'll put this in the show notes, but I'm going to spell, for anybody listening, that Wolters Kluwer. It’s WoltersKluwer.com. We'll try to find the exact link where you can get the book, but it's somewhere on their site. You can opt in to get that PDF.

That's great. You mentioned you've formally been in business for about a year. How has this grown? I'm just imagining, it was kind of grassroots at the beginning. And now, you've decided to go for it. To really do this, what has changed from when it was more grassroots to now? You mentioned, you're having fun with it, so I'm just curious, sort of behind the curtain, what are things like for you?

Lindsay: I’m having a ton of fun with it. I'm really surprised, and I guess I probably shouldn't be. But I am really surprised at how many more attorneys who were afraid to “bother” me are like, “Oh, it's a business. Let's do this now.” They were supportive before just generically helping military spouses.

Now I'm getting much more referral contacts from them. They recognize we charge $400 for the matchup, a onetime flat fee. All the money otherwise goes directly between the law firm and the military spouse.

I really enjoy getting to watch them grow. The military spouses get to have this career, and they'll come check in with me on occasion, or they'll ask a question like, “Okay, this law firm is merging with another. Any advice? What should I look out for? How do I do this? What is a merger?” Those sorts of components of it.

Just keeping up with them and seeing them really blossom. Or, “My lawyer,” if it's a solo, “decided to shut down the practice and go be an employee at another law firm. They can't take me with them.” So, they'll come back and we'll go, “Okay. Now, what are you looking for in this chapter of your life?”

A big component of the success, I think, is I spent a significant amount of time asking them what they want, which no one really does in your career. Their first answer is always, “I'll take anything.” “Okay, that's great. Now, let's actually answer the question. What is the right thing for this chapter of your life?”

I have so many… I was there. I wrote an article for Above the Law, where it was like, “I'm a stay at home mom and I'm losing my freakin’ mind.” Talking to these military spouses, they say, “I want to work. I need to use my brain.” I said, “Okay, let's look at your schedule. You've got a newborn and a toddler. I get that desire, I had it. What time of day are you going to work? Look at your calendar. Look at your schedule. When do you actually have any minutes?”

Then we go through it and figure it out. If they don't, they don't. They come back later and say, “Okay, when I have minutes in the day that I can actually dedicate towards a career, I'll come back,” and they do. Or they say, “Okay, I'm going to do it at naptime.”

I said, “Okay, so for one week, for one hour each day, during nap time, I want you to sit down and just do office stuff. Let's practice for one week. Then if after that week, you're like, ‘Yeah, this is feasible. I can do this,’ and not look at the laundry, not look at the dishes, just focus, then we'll move forward with you.”

And then others, are career women and have done this for a decade or so. And so, it's just the gambit of different people, and making sure we connect the right person to that right role and where they can fit.

Melissa: I mean, that, to me, is also a huge reason that sets your company apart from others. I don't know anyone else that's really taking that time to connect with the people who are coming and saying, “Hey, I want work,” but really working with them to see what's feasible.

Because a lot of people think they want work… Just like you said, their hopes are high. It's like magical thinking, this is what people do, law firm owners, do this with their calendars all the time; they think they can get more done than what they can do. But it's the same idea. So, you really make sure that they're being honest with themselves, because it's not going to be a good fit for either side. It’s going to be really frustrating and deflating.

So, the fact that you take that care, is for sure, a reason why there are successful matches more of the time. Because you're not just taking at face value what they’re saying, you're really connecting with them to make sure that that is what they mean. Wow, that is a differentiating factor for sure.

Lindsay: I hadn't really thought of that. That's cool. Thanks for pointing that out.

Melissa: Yeah. I mean, most companies take what they say, when they come. Like, “This is what I can do,” and they match it. And then, of course, it's not a match. That costs money and time and frustration. And so, yeah, that's really, really cool.

Now, it's clicking in my head why… I'll tell everybody… I guess I didn't say this at the top. I was thinking I would do it in a pre-recorded intro, but I'll just say it here anyway.

The reason that I reached out to Lindsay, was because during strategic planning with Mastery Group, oftentimes what happens in there, is that there are firms that are at this size where they're at this crux, where it doesn't make sense to make a full hire. But they need to bridge the gap because the workload is becoming too great.

And so, if they don't have the resources to just make a full time hire right away, they'll work their way through contract work. They share experiences about what that's like, when they have hired from… there's all kinds of services out there.

In this most recent strategic planning retreat, your name came up. Then, someone else said, “Oh, yeah, me too. It went fantastic.” Then someone else said, “Oh, yeah, me too. It went swimmingly.”

What's funny is, I tend to hear about the complaints. People will say, “Well, I tried this service, and it's just not working out. I have to try another service.” I hear about those. So, it struck me when three different people, maybe four, but for sure three different people, in a fairly small group; probably 30 people were on this call live.

Three different people said, “Yep,” and vouched for your company Legal Reinforcements. I thought, “You've got to be kidding me. I never hear that.” I never hear consensus that it's amazing. That's why I reached out, and we should have you on the show.

Now that you're saying what you're saying, it makes perfect sense to me why there’s success in ways that other companies aren't being able to deliver. So, that's really, really cool.

Well, okay, if someone wants to reach out to learn more about your company, and how maybe they can utilize your company, can you tell them where to go?

Lindsay: Yeah. Our website’s the best place to go, Legal Reinforcements. It’s got my email on there. Not that it's hard; LKennedy@legalreinforcements.com. But the website really walks you through it. We just launched it. I had a little dinky website I threw together about a year ago.

Now we have someone who knew what they were doing and put it together, a service member, of course. We have to stay true to our core values. And so, my hope is when you look at it, it walks you through exactly what to do. We try to make the process as seamless and easy.

I mean, law firms are busy. When I say, “Give me a job description,” most lawyers fall to the ground and cry, because that seems like an overwhelming thing. But we don't want that, we just want: Give me the task you want them to take off your plate. Give me an informal, just spit it out what you want them to do, and approximate hours each week. Because that is another differentiating factor, I guess.

Most military spouses want part time, at least initially. Then, as the kids get older, we move on to full time and that sort of thing. There are some that want full time, I don't want to ignore them. But the vast majority want part time, because we’re running the household. Yeah, we're doing everything.

There's a lot of people in the civilian sector that happens too, but I don't even know if my husband's available that following day. I always have to make those plans as if he's not existent. And then if he is, I'm like, “Sweet, you can drive the kids to school this morning.”

I mean, last night I was asking him, “Can you drive the kids to school?” This was I think around 7pm, and he goes, “Not sure, yet.” That's how unaware of our schedules the military members often are. I said, “Okay, well, at seven…” Twelve-hours’ notice, I still don't know if he's doing it. That's the norm in our world. And, that's fine. We handle it, no problem. But we have to make lifestyle choices because of it.

And so, the majority, you get these women who are very highly educated, very highly experienced, want 10, 20 hours per week to start out with, and to grow with your firm. And when you have those small law firms that are like, “Yeah, we need to hire,” full time is not the only option. There is hiring those part time people.

They often will have that flexibility with the part time job to say, “Okay, we can have an ebb and a flow, no problem.” It could be contract. Or even when their employees, their hours can change weekly, as long as there's some level of notice and consistency, and you can work it out with them.

I mean, my assistant is awesome, but her husband's on TDY this week, and her childcare happens to also be closed this week. So, we're just slowly saying, “Okay, this week we have to keep that in mind.” She's got a toddler and preschooler at home, which is difficult, and a husband who's off doing military things. So, yeah, just stuff to keep in mind.

Melissa: Right. Yeah, absolutely. This is fantastic. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. It’s lovely to meet you, and I look forward to more and more of our clients utilizing your services.

Lindsay: Thank you so much. I loved it. Thanks for having me. This has been fun. This is my first podcast. So, it's exciting.

Melissa: Oh! Well, I'm glad to have been your first. That’s awesome. All right, thanks again.

Hey, you may not know this, but there's a free guide for a process I teach called Monday Map/ Friday Wrap. If you go to VelocityWork.com, it's all yours. It's about how to plan your time and honor your plans. So, that week over week, more work that moves the needle is getting done in less time. Go to VelocityWork.com to get your free copy.

Thank you for listening to The Law Firm Owner Podcast. If you're ready to get clearer on your vision, data, and mindset, then head over to VelocityWork.com where you can plug into quarterly strategic planning with accountability and coaching in between. This is the work that creates Velocity.

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