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Meet HCBA Member... Stephanie Willing

Posted By Nick Hansen, Monday, February 1, 2016

     Networking is a divisive word among legal professionals. Some thrive at it, while others view it as a chore, and others just avoid it all together. Stephanie Willing, the social events coordinator for the New Lawyers Section of the HCBA, insists that networking does not have to cause that much consternation.

      Willing, a native of Seattle, knew very few lawyers when she moved to Minnesota with her husband after graduating from the University of Oregon Law School. She first got involved with the HCBA after attending some all-member socials. The New Lawyers Section intrigued her.

     “They seemed to really develop camaraderie and all were doing really interesting projects. It was a group that I really wanted to be a part of,” she said.

     She recognized that just sitting behind her desk might not the best way to advance her career. “I was working at a small firm, so there were one or two new lawyers, but we kind of had the same mindset and we saw the same things every day. It’s been incredibly helpful to be able to meet other new lawyers that are doing other things and hear what’s out there and learn about the firms,” she said.

     Through the HCBA, Willing also connected with other more experienced lawyers that she might not be able to meet otherwise.

     “It's good to see what other people have done and how they've gotten to where they are. The more experienced members of the HCBA have been incredibly willing to hang out and talk to me, just kind of informally,” she said.

     While Willing misses her law school classmates, she enjoys how easy it is to develop relationships within the local community.

     “That’s been one of the benefits of the HCBA, as opposed to any other bar association. It’s the people you see in the skyway. It’s the people you can meet for lunch easily,” she said.            

     Willing asserts that networking does not have to be so challenging. “Start out by trying a bunch of different places and then narrow it down to the ones you actually enjoy going to. And then networking is not such a chore. It’s actually fun,” she said. And of course, the New Lawyers Section also sponsors a number of events, including after-work happy hours.

     New lawyers may even have an easier time at these events than they think. “People are always really happy to meet you and to ask you what you are doing… Even if you don’t have a job yet, sometimes it can be intimidating to go to an event with lawyers if you don’t have a job, but really everyone is always excited to meet new grads and help them on their way,” she said.

     Willing said the most important part of networking is to not be afraid to meet new people, “Don’t be intimidated.”

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Meet HCBA Member... Michael Kreun

Posted By Nick Hansen, Monday, January 25, 2016

     The most prestigious positions are not always the ones that help you most in your career. Michael Kreun, chair of the HCBA Real Property Section, learned that firsthand.

     After graduating from the University of North Dakota, Kreun did not know where he wanted to focus his practice. He had some experience with civil litigation after clerking for the Grand Forks firm of Camrud, Maddock, Olson & Larson, but he did not have much luck finding a job after moving to the Twin Cities with his family.  

     “I probably applied to every single firm that did civil litigation down here and didn't get an interview at any of them,” he said.

     Kreun decided to apply for a judicial clerkship in the 10th District Court. While it was not his first choice to continue his legal career ladder, he gained valuable career experience while working there. “I was fortunate enough to work for a judge that had been on the bench for a long time,” said Kreun.

     Working for Judge Edward Bearse gave Kreun experience in a variety of areas. "When you're clerking in Anoka County you do everything basically that a judge does,” said Kreun.

     He worked on a number of jury trials where he wrote jury instructions, first drafts, findings of fact, resulting orders, and other court documents. He loved being able to have a hand in different aspects of the law.

     After working on a bench trial that involved a real estate issue, he thought about it as a potential career path.

     “I spent a lot of time crafting the resulting order, of course, the judge made the decision and told me his general thoughts after the trial, but I had an opportunity to flesh all of that out. I thought that was a really neat experience and it got me into thinking about real estate even more,” he said.

     Coincidentally, his future boss, Kevin Dunlevy, presented a CLE to the 10th Judicial District law clerks.  “I didn't think I would end up working for him someday, but it got me thinking about real estate,” Kreun said.  

     He eventually landed at Beisel & Dunlevy, where he is now a partner.  He became chair of the Real Property Section in 2014. Now leading one of the bar’s more active sections, Kreun wanted to make sure the section remained lively. He’s organized a full slate of CLE’s and organized collaboration with the Family Law Section.

     Kreun’s advice is to take the opportunities that come to you, especially if they involve clerking. “You'll get exposed to almost everything. After a year of doing that, you'll have a pretty good idea of what you like and what you don't like. That would be my advice…That time clerking really helped me figure out what I wanted to do,” he said.

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Pro Bono Spotlight: Refugee and Asylum Cases

Posted By Nick Hansen, Thursday, January 14, 2016

     Refugee resettlement and asylum law are much more complex than one often hears about in the news. These issues are especially relevant in Minnesota, which has traditionally been a welcoming state for migrants. That means there is no shortage of pro bono work for lawyers.

     Luke Olson, an associate at Dorsey & Whitney, wanted to work on a case related to migration issues for his pro bono work. He developed a passion for issues related to resettlement after traveling in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Africa. He also is deeply involved with global issues at his church, the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. 

     Olson connected with The Advocates for Human Rights and was assigned to a case with a Guatemalan woman claiming asylum in the United States. The woman, who spoke no English, was persecuted as a child in her own country due to being Q’anjob’al, an indigenous group. She also faced threats from a gang on a regular basis.

     After six weeks of proceedings, Olson and his team won the case, which permitted the woman to stay in the country. “It’s cool to have a direct impact on somebody’s life like that,” said Olson.

     Minnesota is expected to accept more refugees this year. Sarah Brenes, the program director for the Refugee and Immigration program at the Advocates for Human Rights, said there are ample pro bono opportunities for lawyers to work on asylum cases.  

     Volunteers are expected to attend a training session before signing on to take a case. Brenes interviews potential volunteers to find the best fit for them with the program.

     A lawyer who takes a case has the power to drastically change someone’s life. Many of the clients that the Advocates for Human Rights works with have lived through dire situations. “About half of our clients are torture survivors. Many of them are victims of trauma. All of them are low-income,” said Brenes

     In Olson’s case, he did change his client’s life. “I have no doubt in my mind that if my client didn’t have representation, she wouldn’t be in this country,” said Olson.

     Many of these cases involve stakes not normally faced by many attorneys in their regular work. “That can be a very new thing if you are used to working in a business transaction environment,” said Brenes.

     The pro bono attorneys get to work multiple aspects of the case, which can provide valuable experience for new lawyers, who are supported by staff and consulting attorneys at The Advocates. Brenes said that a lawyer doesn’t need experience in immigration law to help on a case. Olson, who was less than a year out of law school when he accepted the case, got valuable time in the courtroom.

     “It’s great experience. It’s cool to get into the courtroom and learn those skills,” he said. Even though the issue involves high stakes, there is a potential payoff for both attorney and client. “You see this transformation from when they come in as a client to when they’re hopefully told that they are able to be protected here. It’s transformative for the client and the attorney as well,” said Brenes.

      Interested in finding out more about representing asylum seekers? Visit Or contact Sarah Brenes at

     The Advocates for Human Rights is also putting on a model hearing CLE on February 26. Find out more information here. The program is free and attendees receive CLE credits. 

Tags:  Pro Bono 

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Meet HCBA Member... Kerri Nelson

Posted By Nick Hansen, Monday, January 11, 2016

     Some lawyers know from the start that they are destined to practice law, but others find out later—sometimes serendipitously—that a legal career is the right place for them.   

     Kerri Nelson, an HCBA board member and co-chair of the Civil Litigation Section, is a legal late-bloomer who decided to attend law school over a decade after receiving her bachelor’s degree. She pivoted to a law career due to, what she calls, “being in the right place in the right time.” She is now an associate at Bassford Remele.

     “Right out of college, I was working in a convenience store, trying to figure out what to do with a double major in English and psychology,” she said. “One day, a guy came in and gave me a business card for a temp agency that specialized in placing people who could work in the then relatively new field of personal computers.  I applied there, was hired, and came into the office to do some additional training on word processing and spreadsheets.”

     She was placed at a nearby law office that needed a temp legal secretary. (Coincidentally, she was hired by the man who originally gave her the business card for the temp agency.) She was eventually hired full time and began to take in everything she could about the legal world. 

     Coincidentally, an event unrelated to law pushed her to ultimately head to law school.

While working for attorney Linda Holstein, Nelson would help her boss prepare for appearances on a local current events commentary show. The work involved a lot of the things Nelson now likes about being a lawyer, “I really liked the pace. I liked the research. I thought, 'Hey, I want to do more of this.’”

     She eventually moved on to William Mitchell Law School. She served as assistant editor of the law review and eventually graduated magna cum laude.

     While starting law school later in life than most of her classmates provided its own unique challenges. Nelson credited her support system, which included classmates, professors, lawyers, and her family. “I have the world’s best husband,” she said.

     Nelson acclimated to practicing law quickly after passing the bar. Her experience as a legal secretary provided a good introduction to the system. “I knew what discovery was. I knew how to do it. I had a little bit of an advance there,” she said. She was named a “Minnesota Rising Star” by Super Lawyers magazine and was also recognized as an “Up and Coming Attorney” by Minnesota Lawyer. Her practice involves business and insurance litigation.  

     Getting involved with the HCBA provided her with the connections needed to help further her career. “The HCBA has really been a fundamental building block of my career in a lot of ways,” she said. Anh Kremer, then a partner at Holstein Law Group, guided Nelson into the Civil Litigation Section, where she quickly took on a leadership position.

     While Nelson’s career path has taken an ideal turn, she cautions those interested in attending law school at a later stage in their careers to really examine what they want out of a J.D. “There are a lot of opportunities in the law and the trick is to find the place in the law where you are the happiest and matches most closely with your skill set,” she said.

      And sometimes in order for that to happen, it helps to be in the right place at the right time.


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Meet HCBA Member... Greg Simpson

Posted By Nick Hansen, Tuesday, January 5, 2016

     Greg Simpson describes himself as a “Swiss Army Knife” type of lawyer. One day he could be working on an insurance coverage case, while the next day, he could be working in construction law. Or he could be working with a franchisee owner. This partner at Meagher & Geer is happy to buck the trend of our increasingly specialized legal field.

     “I have a lot of different blades. I'm fortunate to be in a firm where I can use a lot of those different areas of experience,” he said.

     Simpson loves the assortment of cases he works on. "I think my favorite thing about it would have to be the variety of my practice; every day is completely different. I hardly ever see a case that's just like any other case. My cases are not cookie cutter,” he said.            

      He knows that his way of doing business is not the norm, "I have seen people specialize. I have not specialized. Maybe I'm not being wise. Maybe I'd do better if I specialized, but that's boring. I want to do different things. I like the change of pace.”

     On his website, Simpson lists eight different practice areas. One might think that broad of a practice would overstretch him, but it has not been the case. Simpson has been named to the Minnesota Super Lawyers list three years in a row.

     Simpson became involved with the Hennepin County Bar Association after graduating from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1989. The HCBA Executive Director encouraged him to join the district ethics committee, where he served for 12 years. After that, he began attending meetings of The Hennepin Lawyer. He served as committee chair for the previous two years.

      As the current co-chair of the Insurance & Tort Law Section, Simpson understands the benefit of being connected to other lawyers who practice in the same area. This is especially true in the rapidly-changing area of insurance law.

      If you are not connected with the small community of people that are litigating these issues, you wouldn't necessarily find out what other people are doing, what the judges are doing. It's hard to get that kind of information,” he said.

       One other benefit of practicing in a variety of areas is that Simpson understands the nuances of an issue that a specialist may miss.

     “For my clients, they find it useful to have a lawyer who sees the whole spectrum or much of the spectrum of law because if you come to a specialist and you have a problem that is slightly outside of the lines, that person just might not recognize what the problem is or how to solve it. I might not know the answer to a problem, but I at least recognize the issue and I know how to find the right person who can get us the answer,” he said.

     In a legal world where niche practices are becoming increasingly common, Simpson still sees value in having a broad swath of legal knowledge, “They call the law a seamless web. I’ve got a pretty good idea of how to diagnose the legal problem and strategize how to get the best result for the client.” 

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Meet HCBA Member... Stacey Slaughter

Posted By Nick Hansen, Monday, December 14, 2015

     Stacey Slaughter appreciates the comforts and connections of home. While the Robins Kaplan attorney spends a lot of time in courtrooms across the country litigating complex financial cases, she still relies on her connections here in Hennepin County.

     "When you have a national practice, sometimes you're practicing in courts all across the nation, but it still helps to be part of a community where you’re from,” she said.

     It’s evident that Stacey Slaughter has become a trusted authority on matters related to financial litigation. She has delivered speeches all over the country and been cited in numerous periodicals and news stories. Even though she has this national recognition, she makes sure to remain active locally.

     Afters serving as co-chair of the business and securities section, Slaughter became chair this year, taking over for Larry Bakken. She wants to continue to provide opportunities for lawyers to connect.

     “I think it's partly a lost art, really. Being able to be a part of the Hennepin County Bar Association gives me an opportunity to actually come face-to-face with other bar members and meet other people in the community,” she said.

     According to Slaughter, building those sorts of relationships is important for getting new business as well as becoming a more successful lawyer.  “No one knows what I do if I don't have a presence here. I think that will help. If there is a complex business or securities litigation matter, then people will know who to call. Call Stacey Slaughter, she knows that kind of stuff,” she said.

     As chair, she has worked on developing more social events for section members. This included a successful co-CLE/social with the Civil Litigation section that featured two judges.

     Becoming active with the bar association is another great way to get noticed locally.

     “I think very well-developed lawyers who are experienced, and the ones I know who get good referral business, are very active with their group of people who they network with and know who to refer to,” she said.  

     “One of the things I've encouraged others to do is to speak at a Hennepin County Bar Association CLE. It's a great way to get your name out there and a great way to be associated with a particular practice area,” she said.

     While Slaughter loves working in the courtroom, she acknowledges that connecting with others is a pivotal part of the job.

     “One of the things that I see with newer attorneys is they don't develop that part of their practice,” she said. ”They shouldn't neglect that piece of it.”

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Meet HCBA Member... Emily Robertson

Posted By Nick Hansen, Monday, December 7, 2015

      Emily Robertson isn’t your stereotypical lawyer. She wears scuffed up Chuck Taylor tennis shoes. She’s active with the Minnesota Fringe Festival and she practices in an area that probably won’t ever be the subject of a John Grisham novel: nonprofit law.

      Robertson’s practice focuses on helping nonprofit organizations navigate the bureaucracy of 501(c)(3) designations. Unlike most lawyers who work with nonprofits, Robertson is a solo practitioner.

     “There’s not a ton of us. Most of the people who do it, do it in big firms because it’s a unique enough practice area that it’s easier to do when you have other folks around that kind of hit on all of those other areas that you don’t,” she said.

     She first became interested in nonprofit work after she worked as a phone canvasser in college. She enjoyed her work, but knew she eventually needed to make a change.

     “I’m somebody that needs my world to be constantly changing and kind of constantly need new and interesting things,” she said. She started working at a boutique law firm that specialized in areas unique to nonprofit corporations. This is where she realized she could combine her passion for nonprofit work and her law experience

     “I saw that I could continue to work in the nonprofit sector, but in a way that allowed me to have a lot more variety in what I do. I don’t have to pick an issue that I care about,” Robertson said.

     She loves the different types of organizations she works with: no-kill cat shelters, youth sports leagues, youth empowerment organizations, among many others.  

     “My clients do all sorts of awesome things,” she said.

      Working with nonprofits as a solo attorney fits her personal style as well. “I try not to be a boring attorney. The practice of law is far too boring to begin with. Practicing in a way that is a little more interesting is definitely my thing,” she said.

      That means wearing jeans, tweeting about her love of Christmas, and sharing the human side of being a lawyer.

      In her show for the Minnesota Fringe Festival,  “Kill All the Lawyers”, she and a former lawyer presented numerous stories of lawyers behaving badly. She even took the show on the road and performed at the Charm City Fringe Festival in Baltimore.     While the show contained gasp-worthy tales of lawyer’s misdeeds, she wanted to get the message across that lawyers screw up just like everyone else.

     “We go to law school and in law school you learn to put up this front. You do everything right and you always know what the solution is, which means not showing that you have flaws or that you may not know the answer to something or that you have weaknesses. Part of what it’s always meant to be a good lawyer is that you don’t have weaknesses and that you’re very confident. That means that people don’t ask for help,” she said.

     Even though she isn’t afraid to be critical of her profession, Robertson still finds delight in her work, “Had I not been able to make starting my own practice work, I’m not sure I could have done another kind of legal work. My clients do really inspire me and I love working with that community.”

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Meet HCBA Member... Karl Johnson

Posted By Nick Hansen, Monday, November 30, 2015

      To Karl Johnson, transactional law is like poetry, “Transaction is about making and building. Poesia, the greek root of poetry, is all about making.”
     That connection may surprise some people, but it makes sense to Johnson, a staff attorney for the Office of the Standing Chapter 13 Trustee.
     Johnson studied creative writing and philosophy as an undergraduate and earned his master’s degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. His career nearly turned down a much different path.
    “I finished the M.A. and was ABD, all but dissertation, for the Ph.D., but didn't really want to finish,” he said. He felt like his time studying English literature had run its course.  
    “You can do the English literature route and then switch to law school later in life. It's tough to do the opposite. It's tough to start a Ph.D. program when you are in your mid-30's,” he said.
     Having always been curious about the law, he switched tracks and began law school at the University of Minnesota where he studied business law.
     One would think that litigation would be a natural fit for Johnson because few classic works of literature are written about bankruptcy lawyers. However, Johnson views his practice much differently.
     “[It] is really fascinating in a lot of ways that most bankruptcy practitioners don't really understand,” he said. “I look at bankruptcy as a social contract and this swinging pendulum. Where the social contract part of it is, you get discharged for all your debts in exchange, you bare your soul and disclose everything about your financial circumstances to prove that you've paid as much as you can.”
     He also had practical reasons for focusing on bankruptcy law. “It's a great foundation for transaction because you always have to think 'what if'; Contingency planning, what if things go wrong?” he said.
     His professional life took its own dramatic turn. After graduating at the height of the Great Recession, he struggled to find a full-time job. Only about half of the summer associates where he interned were offered full-time positions after law school.
     He gained a clerkship with Judge Gregory Kishel where he found himself in the middle of Minnesota’s most well-known legal dramas: the Tom Petters case. Due to conflicts, he would be unable to work on any case related to Petters in the future. “It's really hard to find a commercial bankruptcy in this state that wasn't involved in Petters,” he said.  
     However, he eventually found work with the Office of the Chapter 13 Trustee, where he has been able to tackle a lot of challenges. In his current position, Johnson has been able to do a lot of building. This past year he has prevailed on three issues of first impression and successfully defended an appeal.
     “To keep it interesting, I have to try to, within the parameters of what my client will allow, make new law, otherwise all I'd be doing is arguing about how much people can spend on food and gasoline,” he said.
     That desire causes Johnson to approach his job like a poet. “I want to not necessarily push the edges, but explore areas that hadn't been questioned before,” he said.


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Meet HCBA Member... Tammy Friederichs

Posted By Nick Hansen, Friday, November 20, 2015

      Tammy Friederichs is not a doctor, but she still makes house calls. The chair of the Hennepin County Bar Association Solo and Small Firm section often visits small businesses in her hometown of Hastings to assist them with legal issues.

      “I do counseling for small businesses that can't afford or choose not to run downtown Minneapolis when they have questions, so I make house calls in Hastings,” she said.

      Friederichs, a partner and co-founder at Friederichs & Thompson, located in Bloomington, focuses her practice in employment litigation and employment consulting.

      In addition to her pro bono work with businesses, she also serves as chair-elect of the Hastings Chamber of Commerce. She started working with the chamber as a way to give back to the community. Initially, she spoke on topics related to human resources and served as counsel for them when they needed legal help.

      Friederichs appreciated the connections she made through the organization. “We're always networking and looking for great ways to do that in new and different ways to keep people engaged and excited. But at the end of the day, we're all trying to grow our business,” she said.

     She was soon asked to serve on a committee and then to join the board. The Chamber of Commerce has been beneficial on both a personal and professional level for Friederichs.

     "It's been a great experience to work with other business owners. At the end of the day, I am a business owner as a solo/small,” she said.

     She loves working with business owners in her home community.

     “I've met some great people and friends. It's been a wonderful opportunity to use my skill set to give back to those people,” she said.

     The small businesses environment is nothing new for Friederichs, who has spent her entire career working in small firms. "The small firm was much more suited to me. I liked the one-on-one contact that I had with the clients. I liked the opportunity to choose clients, which is what I have with my own firm, rather than be assigned. I enjoy working with the people that I choose to be my clients,” she said.

     While Friederichs appreciates working in a smaller setting, she said that It takes the right kind of person to set out on their own. Friederichs listed a number of qualities that make for a successful solo/small firm lawyer: strong sense of self, ability to make good decisions, and being able to sell your business.

      Friederichs likes helping people and solving problems. “The most rewarding thing for me is helping good people solve their issues wherever they are before and in lieu of it becoming litigation. If all goes well and I've done my job, my clients don't get sued.”

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Meet HCBA Member... Scholastica Baker

Posted By Nick Hansen, Wednesday, November 11, 2015

         If you’re an active member of the Hennepin County Bar Association, there’s a good chance you’ve run into Scholastica Baker. She is usually the only attorney with a camera around her neck at HCBA events, where she is shooting event photos for the Hennepin Lawyer magazine. She is also the CLE committee co-chair for the New Lawyers Section and is co-chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

          Lawyers are constantly balancing their billable hours with other professional obligations, like involvement with the HCBA. Baker is no exception. As a lawyer who practices in product liability, she has a busy work schedule. She also has two kids with a third on the way. But Baker said, even with its challenges, her association involvement has been beneficial to her career.

          Baker, an associate at Bowman & Brooke, became involved with the HCBA after speaking with her B&B colleague Roshan Rajkumar. Rajkumar recommended she get involved with the HCBA because it provided the most “bang for your buck” with regards to career development and networking opportunities.

        “I knew that I needed to get my name out there,” said Baker.

         She started getting involved with the Diversity and Inclusion committee first. “I literally just started showing up to meetings,” she said.

         Baker chose the committee because she wanted to support organizations that focused on diversifying the legal profession. She herself gained career experience by taking part in a program through the Twin Cities Diversity in Practice organization.

            “I am so passionate about paying it forward,” she said.

             Soon HCBA President Kim Lowe noticed her at the meetings and asked her to co-chair the committee.“When the president asks you to do something, you say ‘yes’,” she said.

             She also became involved with the Hennepin Lawyer magazine committee because she enjoyed her experience on the law review committee in law school. “I valued the people that I met; I enjoy the interaction,” she said.

            While Baker admits that she sometimes stretches herself too thin with her professional commitments, a variety of things prevent her from becoming burnt out.

            Being married to a lawyer helps her navigate the work-life balance. “I have to give praise to my amazing husband,” said Baker with a smile.

          Being proactive about time management is another helpful skill. Baker admitted that she does some work at least every day of the week, but she completes tasks in the mornings so she can spend time with her family in the evenings.

          Baker, who served in the Army National Guard, credited her military service for helping keep her organized as well. “I need to give it way more credit,” she said.  

         As a busy person in all aspects of her life, Baker has some words of wisdom for young attorneys.

         “My advice is two things: your billable work always comes first. You also must get involved, but bite less and chew more,” she said. Baker also said that keeping your family priorities on top is important as well.

          Baker has set ambitious goals for herself, one of which includes making partner at her firm. She knows that being active and involved in the local legal community is crucial to her professional success.

        “I know that I cannot make those goals without the help of others. You don’t forget where you came from and who helped you get there,” she said.  


Scholastica Baker is the co-chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee. She is also co-chair of the CLE committee for the New Lawyers Section and sits on the Hennepin Lawyer Committee. 

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