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Meet HCBA Member... Michael Boulette

Posted By Nick Hansen, Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Updated: Thursday, July 13, 2017

Early in his career, Mike Boulette questioned his decision to practice family law. “I spent the first few years of my practice with my head in my hands thinking, what kid grows up saying that they want to be a divorce lawyer? And now I'm a divorce lawyer—talk about societal unpopular roles,” he said.

 

However, now after almost seven years as a lawyer, the Messerli & Kramer attorney has pretty much become the opposite of what he once had feared. He enthusiastically shares his insight for news stories on family law updates.  He’s worked on proposed family law legislation. He blogs at the website family-in-law.com and regularly speaks at CLEs and conferences. In short, he is happy to share his passion for practice.

 

What changed?

“I started thinking that it might not be the area of law, it might be how I'm viewing the area of law.”His paradigm shift opened up a whole new way to think about family law. “I started thinking about family law not as the dregs of legal practice, but as a practice area that mattered in ways that some of the bigger, more flashy areas of the law might not...I could get behind that,” he said.

 

Advice Boulette received from a mentor helped him make this adjustment, “Find what you like to do and slowly make it bigger.”

 

In addition to writing and discussing areas of family law, one of Boulette’s favorite parts of being a lawyer is teaching, “I really enjoy that pedagogical aspect of what I do. So, I'm going to try and find excuses to do that and do more of it. But I think that so many of us don't seek that out because we want someone to come find us and tell us that that's ok,” he said.

 

Boulette noted that the HCBA is a great way to get involved with other things in your practice, “If you think there is important work to be done, the bar is happy to be a launch pad for you to go do it,” he said.

 

Boulette first started showing up to New Lawyers Section meetings. His involvement gradually snowballed. He most recently served on the HCBA Finance and Planning Committee and was the HCBA New Lawyers Liaison to the MSBA.

 

This initiative has paid off for Boulette. He’s a recognized name in the legal community, and he was recently awarded the Minnesota State Bar President’s Award.

 

Sometimes success really does come down to doing what you love.  “It's amazing how many opportunities pop up when you just go try things because you like them,” he said.

 

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Meet HCBA Member... Monte Miller

Posted By Nick Hansen, Monday, May 22, 2017

One topic that comes up frequently when talking with Monte Miller is “service.” Miller served his country while working on the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General Corps over a military career that has spanned 24 years. He currently works in public service as a prosecutor for the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. He also serves the legal community by representing the Minnesota Asian Pacific American Bar Association on the HCBA Board of Directors.

After law school, working for a law firm didn’t appeal to Miller. After clerking for the Honorable Mary Louis Klas, in Ramsey County District Court, he wanted to get more experience in the courtroom. A few attorneys recommended that he look into the Judge Advocate General (JAG) programthe legal department of the different service branches.

“It sort of fed into my strong desire to serve. I always felt like I missed the boat in high school, so I didn't enlist. Then I didn't really know a lot about the military and then when I looked into it I saw that it was an opportunity for me to get some experience, leave Minnesota, go out on my own and travel, and serve my country,” said Miller.

Miller ended up traveling all over the world and working on a variety of cases over his eight years on active duty. “You'd get a phone call and they'd say they needed a defense lawyer on the USS America. You'd show up at the terminal and they'd land you on the carrier. And you'd meet your client, do your investigation and figure out what was going on. That was the good thing about the military, everything was contained so all the witnesses were there unless it was something that happened out in town,” said Miller. He also later worked at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, and as an appellate judge on the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals.

Wanting to settle down, Miller looked for a public attorney job back in Minnesota. Eventually, he got a job with the Hennepin county attorney’s office after Amy Klobuchar gave him a call.

About a decade ago, Miller wanted to get more involved with his heritage. A Korean-American, Miller got involved with the Minnesota Asian Pacific Bar Association (MNAPBA). There was an opening for a board representative to the HCBA and Miller took the opportunity. “I feel like I'm contributing the community and my job,” he said.

Miller believes that public service is an essential part of the legal field, even if it is usually overlooked.  “You have to look inside yourself and ask, what's going to make your tank full as far as contributing? What I would say is that public service is something that you get great satisfaction out of because you know the work that you do is making the community safer and better.”

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Meet HCBA Member... Jayne Sykora

Posted By Nick Hansen, Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Jayne Sykora had no idea she was being so brave. After graduating from law school in 2009, Sykora and her law partner, Jen Santini, started their own firm, Sykora & Santini. Fellow attorneys commended them for taking a risk at the height of the financial crisis. “At the time we didn’t understand what that meant because we didn’t have much of a legitimate choice,” said Sykora. The risk paid off. Their firm is now coming up on its seventh anniversary.  

 

This success did not happen instantly. Sykora and Santini took a methodical approach to building their practice. And it wasn’t always glamorous. They forced themselves to do the banal parts of building a practice, like writing a business plan.  “I remember that being really painful at the time, but what else did we have to do?” said Sykora. “I think that helped. Since we have been a partnership from the get-go, it forced us to articulate and write down what it is that we want and what we are looking for as our practice has grown.”

 

Attending law school in Nebraska put Sykora in a different position than most of the law school graduates in the Twin Cities. Volunteering with the Hennepin County Bar Association gave Sykora the connections that may come easier for Twin Cities law school grads.  “The connections that we've made and the opportunities that we've been given would never have happened if not for our involvement in the bar association. I think also just understanding how the legal community works is really helpful,” she said.

 

Getting involved with the HCBA also gave Sykora some convenient opportunities to market herself and her skills. Through her work as the New Lawyers Section social director, she helped develop the HCBA sponsorship program.  “Other attorneys said that they had seen my involvement and wanted us to continue. I think that helped kind of build our reputations even though people didn't know what we would do legally,” she said.  After serving for three years with the New Lawyers Section, Sykora now serves on the Hennepin County Bar Foundation board of directors.

 

The connections have translated into business success. “Our involvement in the bar association has been really great for the growth of our business and the growth of our reputations as a whole,” said Sykora.

 

Sykora recommends that new attorneys put themselves in a position to be successful, “If you just chalk it up to be like ‘Oh bar association dues are so expensive’ you're just not taking advantage of what there is here to learn and benefit from and to make really great connections that are going to be helpful in your practice.”

 

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Meet HCBA Member... Dan Gilchrist

Posted By Nick Hansen, Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Dan Gilchrist made the best decision of his life last year. He started his own firm. After two decades in finance and at a private firm, he wanted to run his own show. “I’ve always had an entrepreneurial bent to me, so it was not a big leap,” he said. Gilchrist relished the ability to serve his clients better, and he is excited to have more flexibility for family time.

Gilchrist’s advice for those wanting to hang their shingle is simple: learn to do it all. “You’ve got to be able to do all the work yourself,” he said. He noted that having a support system is also important for a solo practitioner.

One way that Gilchrist developed a support system for himself was through his involvement with various bar associations. After passing the bar, he joined the Minnesota State Bar New Lawyers Section, and he eventually chaired the section. "I can't tell you how invaluable that was to me because I met dozens and dozens of lawyers in my first four years of practice, outside of my firm. I still know these folks and value our relationships,” he said.

About seven years ago, Gilchrist decided to focus his involvement with the HCBA. He joined various groups and committees and he eventually joined the board. “It's been a great experience learning what other lawyers do, knowing them, and meeting with them regularly. I hope I can help other people, too, along the way,” he said. 

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Meet HCBA Member... Brandon Vaughn

Posted By Nick Hansen, Monday, December 19, 2016

When Brandon Vaughn talks about his experience with mentoring, he makes it sound simple: Don’t be scared. Say hello. Show up.  As an attorney at Robins Kaplan and a board member with the HCBA, he’s developed a passion for returning the help he’s received over the years.  

Vaughn has encountered more hurdles than the typical law school graduate in the Twin Cities. The Chicago native had to put in extra effort to gain a foothold in the legal community.  “It's taken work on my part to get there. It wasn't something that was easy. When I first moved to the Twin Cities, it was a bit of a culture shock and I had to deal with some homesickness,” he said. In spite of those challenges, he’s made his mark here. Minnesota Lawyer recently named him an “Up and Coming Attorney” for 2016.

Mentoring has been a huge part of Vaughn’s career development, especially through his involvement with the bar association. I've gotten to know a lot of good people in the community that way…. Knowing more people and engaging more people; the bar has been a very safe place to build relationships, both professionally and personally,” he said.

Vaughn specifically mentioned his colleague, Robins Kaplan partner, Terry Wade as an influential mentor. The two developed a rapport after meeting when Vaughn was working as a summer associate for Robins. “One of the things that Terry has afforded me is the opportunity to learn skills to become a good trial lawyer, which I'm very appreciative of,” said Vaughn. “He's learned a lot from me by having the opportunity to talk about issues of race and issues of what it's like to be a transplant to Minnesota.”

Vaughn also mentioned Kathleen Flynn Peterson, another partner at Robins. “She took a lot of time early on in my practice to not only introduce me to people in my practice and in our profession, but really serve as a sounding board to overcome some of the obstacles that I had,” said Vaughn.

In addition to these two colleagues, Vaughn also expressed that he had received many other forms of support from the partners at Robins.

There isn’t a magic formula to develop a robust professional network, but it does require stepping out of one’s comfort zone, something Vaughn has excelled at. “The thing I encourage people to do is not be scared. Most lawyers like to talk and talk about themselves. The hardest part for most people is putting themselves in that room to build those relationships and make those connections. Once you get there, if you muster up the courage to get there and take the time to just meet one or two people, then the web can grow.”

In addition to helping out his peers, Vaughn also enjoys helping his clients. “I really like being that beacon of light for my clients, who would otherwise feel like they wouldn't have an advocate or somebody standing up for them,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to help people. When people have lost a loved one or have been injured because of some wrongdoing of someone else, that's when they're most vulnerable and need a good advocate. 

This type of relationship building has paid off for Vaughn, literally.  “I've gotten a lot of phone calls to investigate cases just based off of the relationships that I've made. There are enough people who do personal injury work to where if I wasn't visible and seen, the work or the opportunities could go to someone else. I think if people know you and they trust you, they will take the time to refer cases to you,” he said.

It really is that simple.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meet HCBA Member... Aaron Street

Posted By Nick Hansen, Monday, November 21, 2016

Aaron Street has a history of taking risks. At age 11, he started a sports card and memorabilia retail store in downtown Northfield. He later dropped out of the 9th grade to run the business. The 1994 Major League Baseball strike caused the store to close and caused Street to return to school, but he never lost that entrepreneurial spirit.

 

Street is the CEO of Lawyerist.com, an online community dedicated to helping solo and small firm lawyers with practice management resources. He also serves as a board member at the HCBA. He first got involved with the HCBA after being recruited by the then-president of the Hennepin County Bar Foundation. The idea of giving back to the profession stuck with him. “The professional responsibility to engage in the profession as the profession is something that has resonated with me,” he said.  

 

Street’s professional passions are slightly different from what you would expect from a typical lawyer. After just about 10 years in existence, Lawyerist has developed into a popular (and profitable) online resource for solo/small firm lawyers all over the world. The site now has comprehensive practice management articles, a weekly newsletter, an active Q&A forum, as well as a weekly podcast. “I love business strategy and working with our team to come up with creative solutions and innovative ways for growing our business by helping the legal industry. The act of running this business is really exciting to me,” said Street.

 

The market for business skills in the legal industry was ripe, and Lawyerist has been able to seize the market. “There are very few resources for lawyers to become good business people. That's one of the tools I happen to have developed in my toolkit. It's exciting for me to be able to bring some of that to the legal industry,” said Street.

 

With the legal industry churning, bolstering business skills could be the difference between success and failure. “Most talented lawyers and solo and small firms don't have background or training in also running small businesses, which they're doing. I think their focus, rightly, is on providing good legal work to their clients. That is where their focus should be, but at the same time, if you're not putting in effort to learn how to engage your business as a business. It's pretty easy to tend to just put your head down and work your case files,”

 

Those skills can often be the difference in a competitive marketplace. Street said that for most law practice areas, “business skills turn out to be a one of the primary drivers of success.”  

 

One unique way Street and his Lawyerist colleagues are engaging with the solo & small-firm legal community is with their new conference, TBD Law. “We wanted it to be a different kind of legal event. Rather than one where it's paid speakers at the front of a room, talking at people for an hour, we wanted to bring together people who already get it to work together to talk about and build for the future.”

 

The first conference, held in August of 2016 in St. Louis, was a resounding success. “The interaction and engagement exceeded our expectations tremendously,” said Street. “A huge portion of the people there said that it was one of the best events they had ever been to and these are the people who are usually the paid keynoters at other people's state and national conferences.” A second TBD Law conference is scheduled for February of 2017.

 

 While Street loves the business aspect of what he does, there’s also another, more personal part of his job that he enjoys doing, “There are some really interesting and inspiring lawyers doing really cool stuff and getting to know them is the best.”

 

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Meet HCBA Member... John Barham

Posted By Nick Hansen, Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Few attorneys are like John Barham. The criminal defense and immigration attorney lived in South America for many years, he sings in a punk band, and he counts the former lawyer of Hunter S. Thompson as one of his legal heroes.

He also serves on the HCBA Misdemeanor Defense Panel, and participates in the HCBA Lawyer Referral Service.

Here are 10 of the most interesting things to know about Barham:

1. He taught English to astronomers in La Serena, Chile. “I probably had more of a fun practice than any other English teacher there,” he said.

2. He is not the only lawyer in the family. “I think I let my brother talk me into law school. He’s a lawyer with the National Labor Relations Board.”

3. Barham is passionate about racial justice issues. Many of his immediate family members emigrated from Vietnam, and his ex-wife and stepson suffered racial abuse after they moved to the United States. While he says that Minnesota is a more tolerant place, it has not tempered his zeal for fighting for issues related to equality. He currently volunteers with Black Lives Matter in the Twin Cities. "I've always been doing kind of an uphill battle for disenfranchised folks.”

4. Barham’s favorite part of his job is being able to help people. “It's really nice to be able to help people, especially when they have a really tricky problem. I had a guy come to me last week with an unusual immigration situation. At the outset, I am ready to say I cannot help you, which is what everybody else had told him. But it was cool that I have been in practice long enough that I've figured out enough weird things. I was able to figure out an actual plan to help this guy and his family out, which I think has a real chance of success.”

5. He has found a niche legal market in the Twin Cities: the local punk music scene. “I probably was able to start doing most of my criminal defense through my connection to the punk scene here. As the one lawyer connected to the punk scene who does criminal defense on any sort of regular basis, people would call me up whenever they'd get charged for something.”

6. His advice to young lawyers is to enjoy life now. "If you have crazy adventures you want to do, do them now. By the time you're actually a working lawyer, you'll probably never be un-busy again."

7. He counts Oscar Zeta Acosta, William Holland Thomas, and James McNamara, a civil litigation lawyer in Columbus, Ohio, as among his heroes. McNamara’s demeanor in the courtroom inspired Barham. “He was facing attorneys who typically were jerks and the guy was really reasonable and just explained things and got people to agree with him and would take on big powerful monolithic institutions and win. It was a cool thing to see.”

8. He speaks fluent Spanish and conversational Portuguese.

9. Barham’s band, Murrieta, performs all over the Twin Cities.

10. While he knows he is not in the most lucrative field of the law, he enjoys many things about his work. He likes being able to, in a way, reciprocate for all the help he received when he lived in South America. "It's nice to be able to help out Latin American immigrants here."

 

 

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Meet HCBA Member... Sarah Roeder

Posted By Nick Hansen, Monday, October 3, 2016
Updated: Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Even though it’s taken some time, Sarah Roeder is figuring this out. “As a young lawyer, you are totally self-conscious about the fact that you haven't had 30 jury trials. You haven't negotiated two thousand settlements, so you don't have that breadth of experience. But, I have been doing it long enough to see similar patterns and see the way things worked out before,” she said. Just as Roeder's knowledge base has grown with experience, so has her professional network.

 

 As vice-chair of the New Lawyers section, Roeder knows that developing your practice and reputation takes time. “You don’t build a network of connections in an instant,” she said.

 

She learned from former HCBA President Tom Nelson that building a professional reputation takes a while. “We would be walking in the skyway to a planning meeting, and he would say hi to 20 people he knew on the way there,” she said. Roeder observed that Nelson was a pro at getting to know people. “He's been involved in the bar association for a long time. He's worked at different places.”

 

While the word “networking” evokes a range of emotions from all young professionals, Roeder swears that it isn’t as hard as some people envision it to be, especially if you get involved with the HCBA.  

 

“It's the most painless way to network and to get to know your peers in the legal community,” she said. While events like happy hours are one avenue of meeting fellow bar members, Roeder extols the benefits of gaining experience of getting to know people in other ways.

 

Roeder said that having tangible experiences helps build credibility among other professionals in the legal community.  “I've been on the Finance and Planning Committee, and talked with bar leaders about the overall financial health and direction of the association. I've been involved in conversations to plan a series of vintage lawyer events connecting new lawyers with people who are further along in their careers,” said Roeder

             

New lawyers can feel pressured to be constantly marketing themselves, and networking events may feel uncomfortable for just that reason. However, Roeder believes new lawyers can learn just as much from networking with others as others can learn about them.

 

Roeder said that getting involved helps one get to know the personalities of the different firms. “You get to know people that work at all the different firms here,” she said. Those connections can help at some point in the future.

 

There are challenges to committing to things outside of your practice. When Roeder first started working, the pressures of learning the practice of law and a high billable hour requirement made it difficult to get involved. She has now also started a family. She knows that honoring commitments is important, and that takes planning ahead. “You will never have more time. Make sure you're building enough time to get the things done that you need to get done, but then also going along with that, make sure you build enough time into get the wish list things done too,” she said.

 

While sometimes the benefits from networking are tangible things, the intangible things are a critical part of success as well.It feels good walking into a room and knowing people, having a measure of commonality because you've been on a committee with them before, or at least have seen them before. It makes you realize, 'I've done this before, I can do this',” she said.  It seems that not only do skills and connections grow with time, confidence does as well.

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Meet HCBA Member... Landon Ascheman

Posted By Nick Hansen, Monday, August 29, 2016
Updated: Monday, August 29, 2016

Landon Ascheman is one of those attorneys who always seems to be on the move. It’s not too far from the truth. He is an active member of the Hennepin County Bar Association, the Ramsey County Bar Association, and the Minnesota State Bar Association. He practices criminal defense all over the state, and he can usually be found at an open-water swim race on the weekends.

Ascheman currently co-chairs the HCBA Criminal Law Section and serves on the HCBA Board of Directors. He also participates in the association’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service and serves as a volunteer attorney for the Misdemeanor Defense Project.

Ascheman dove right into volunteering with the HCBA. He views it as a chance to give back to the legal community. “I take the extra time I’ve got in between clients and come and do whatever they need me to do,” he said.

As co-chair of the Criminal Law Section, Ascheman likes promoting discussion between practitioners. “It tends to be a lot of talking back and forth about what's working in courts, what's not working in courts, what are some of the problems we're running into,” said Ascheman. “You get a lot of communication back and forth between the courtroom and the bar associations.”

Ascheman hung his shingle in 2009. He had been clerking at the Hennepin County Attorney’s office and was in the running for an assistant county attorney position, but after the 2009 recession, the prospects turned dim. He, along with a law partner, started their own firm. Ascheman stated that, “we decided that we were not going to sit around and just send out applications for jobs when we could actually do work.”

Practicing as a criminal defense attorney gives Ascheman a perspective that the public usually doesn’t get to see, “That’s the kind of thing you don’t get in a
Law & Order  type show...You don’t get the background, what people are going through, what led them up to that.”

Ascheman also enjoys helping a client who genuinely wants to change. “I get to work with them to try and improve their life,” he said.

Ascheman takes a holistic view of his job. “My job is not just to make sure that they’re taken care of in court, that their rights are protected, but also to make sure that they get on the right track.”

Outside of his professional life, Ascheman literally likes to just keep swimming. He competes in numerous open water races every year with the Minnesota Masters swimming program. He recently competed in the Point to LaPointe swim in Lake Superior. “It’s just a lot of fun. I just got hooked on it,” he said.

He is also the only Minnesotan who has completed an International Ice Swimming Association-certified Ice Mile. Ascheman endured through single-digit temperatures at Square Lake in Washington County.
He credits his hobby for helping him stay motivated with his job. “Just about every fantastic attorney that I know has a crazy passion about something,” he said. “I think for my sanity’s sake, I need to have something crazy in addition to the law.”

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Meet HCBA Member... Danielle Bird

Posted By Nick Hansen, Friday, August 12, 2016

As a lawyer, adjusting your practice can be difficult. Different practice groups, new clients, and other unfamiliar procedures can throw off even the most experienced lawyer.  For Danielle Bird, a workers’ compensation attorney at SiebenCarey, her career change caused her to see things from the other side, literally. After eight years as defense counsel for an insurance company, she moved to doing plaintiff’s workers’ comp about two years ago.

After practicing for eight years, Bird was looking for a change.  Bird had a challenge finding a position where she could use the experience and knowledge she accumulated during her time as defense counsel. “The idea was 'How do I continue to challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone and have a personally rewarding work experience, but still use the knowledge and information I have gained with workers’ compensation laws, statutes and court personnel in such a specialized area?’ The answer was obvious, switch sides. So when I did make the move to SiebenCarey about two years ago, I carried that experience with me, however, since then my day to day work has been challenging and invigorating.  I continue to learn new things every day, it really keeps me on my toes,” she said.

Bird now works for a new group of clients: injured workers. “For my current clientele, this process is new to them, and it can be scary. There's no learning curve. Just because I explained to one person the rules of workers’ compensation or what to expect, it doesn't mean this new person has any knowledge or understanding. It is important that I spend a lot of time with each individual client talking to them about what types of benefits are available through workers’ comp and answering their questions, because it’s a complicated system and they usually have a lot of questions,” she said.

Bird’s background in understanding claims processing helps troubleshoot certain delays in treatment and puts her clients at ease. "When clients call me and are wanting to know what's going on and why there is such a delay in getting treatment approved, I bring a unique perspective on that situation, and in many instances am able to facilitate a quicker resolution,” she said.

While workers’ compensation is a very analytical field of law, Bird’s current job allows her empathetic side to flourish. “The conversation is much more personal because it's not like their life is a number. To most people, this is their livelihood on the line or their credibility on the line,” she said.

Bird has also been able to gain advice from a source outside of her colleagues: her family. Her father is also a plaintiff’s workers’ compensation attorney who practices in Rochester. While practicing in insurance defense, Bird didn’t often have a need to seek advice from her dad. Now that they both practice in the same field, their conversations regarding the law are much more nuanced and have a common thread to them since they are both now ‘on the same side.’

“I've been able to just sort of bounce things off of him, with regard to strategy and especially tough client conversations. He’s been practicing a long time and I most certainly trust him,” she said. Bird has also credited her colleagues at SiebenCarey, Mark Olive, Mike Scully, and Sue Holden for their assistance and mentorship.

The Workers’ Comp section of the HCBA is also getting a boost from Bird’s work. Along with Kathryn Hipp Carlson and Judge William Marshall, they are reviving the section after a few dormant years. They look forward to another year of interesting dialogue and CLEs especially in light of the new laws which took effect in August .

Bird believes that the section can help practitioners of all levels. Discussing the issues and developments surrounding workers’ comp can help attorneys keep up with new developments in the field.  "The HCBA is really good at bringing all varieties of people together from all different areas of expertise and different experience levels, which is what I appreciate about it most.” she said. “It is very invigorating to get out and meet your fellow bar members, not only to talk about legal issues but to meet like-minded people and forge lifelong friendships.” 

 

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