SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 1:24 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Echoing all the above, thank you a ton for doing this.

About grades - If you're in, say, top 5% at HYS, how much does it matter whether you are around 5% versus around 2%? Does it mostly come down to other factors at that point?

About applying to the various circuits - I see why it's difficult to target specific judges. But how important is D.C. Circuit versus Second? Second versus Ninth? Ninth versus Seventh? Etc. I know the obvious answer is that it really comes down to the judge in question (e.g., someone like Reinhardt is obviously different from some other Ninth Circuit judge sitting in, say Phoenix). But since it's a lot harder to place your bets on any particular judge than to focus on certain circuits, how important is it to prioritize the circuits? If at all.


Better to apply to essentially cherry-picked feeder judges if you're what we might think of as the upper tier of candidates (top 5 people at a t14, top 5% at HYS). If you're #1 at T14 or top few people at HYS your school will be working on your behalf aggressively.

Re: blanketing circuits. I know a lot of people like to separate out circuits into tiers. I think this is nonsense for the most part. CADC is the only difference that matters. CA2 is more competitive to get, but that's because of the desirability of NYC biglaw jobs, not because SCOTUS cares about CA2 vs, e.g., CA8, or CA4, or wherever. If you aren't clerking for a feeder, by which I mean a judge that has sent 10 or more clerks in the last 15 years, then it kind of doesn't matter. Tiebreaker goes to chief judges, or recent chief judges. Chiefs have a lot more to do with their circuit justices and SCOTUS in general. Prioritizing feeder judges (and chiefs, or recent chiefs, who have relationships) helps. Otherwise care about DC and don't care otherwise. The idea that CA9 or CA2 are better for you than CA7 or CA5 is silly, except that CA9 and CA2 have a couple more feeders. But to attribute that to California or New York geographically misunderstands the whole process.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 1:27 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Wow thank you for doing this. I have a question about when you develop professor connections. I was an idiot 1L and didn't take the time to get to know my professors, even though I did well on my exams. Some of them (especially the bigger name ones) aren't going to be at the school next year, so I can't try to reach out to them then. Is it too late to start developing professor connections in 2L? 3L?


You're welcome (and this applies to the many people saying kind things).

It is not too late. In fact, most people get through 1L and stop working hard. SCOTUS is not like OCI: your 2L and 3L grades matter equally as your 1L ones do. Which isn't to say you can get over bombing 1L: you can't. But if you just did alright 1L (and "alright" in this context means, say, top 10-15%), if you drag that upwards to top 5% by the time you graduate and you're at a t14, you're a live candidate.

Conversely, if you were top 3% or something after 1L and take it easy, you will sink yourself. Even a feeder clerkship won't make up for barely placing top 10%. (Even at HYS top 10% but not top 5% is a longshot unless you are getting pushed by someone with MAJOR credentials. That said, every year there are 1-4 candidates who get it outside the top 5% of their schools. They usually had a nationally known professor and a feeder judge making multiple aggressive phone calls on their behalf.)

In other words: no. Not too late. This is a long and fluid process. Anyone thinking about getting SCOTUS should look at it as a 5-year project with a 98% chance of failure.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 1:32 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
But beyond having institutional support, yes, who the profs recommending you are matters immensely. I think the median SCOTUS clerk had at least one nationally known professor pushing him. Hard.



Thanks for answering questions!

I just have two followup questions to the institutional support piece because it seems so mysterious to me.

First, what does "institutional support" refer to aside from professor recommendations/calls? Logistical help from a career services office? Or something else?

Second, does your reference to the "median" SCOTUS clerk mean that strong support from well-connected professors is not necessary (though still very, very helpful)? Do otherwise strong applications have any meaningful shot without well-connected professors beyond them?


This is OP, as were the two previous posts.

"Institutional support" generally means your school's clerkship committee actively reaching out to current and former clerks on your behalf. Current clerks are totally the gatekeepers of the process. Current clerks listen to former clerks. Justices listen to former clerks too, and deans, and very prominent professors (and a handful of super-elite lawyers). Institutional support means the law school contacting these people on your behalf and pushing you. Talking about how smart you are, how hardworking you are, how the school thinks you're the best candidate from this year's crop. Make no mistake, it means pushing you and not pushing other people. It means the school says: "Yes, hire this person," and implicitly not the other candidate(s) from that school.

Yes. Some people get it without superstar professors. But usually they have a superstar judge. It's best to have a superstar judge or superstar professors. But you definitely need at least one.

A "strong application" without any superstar professors behind it would be rare. I'll hypothesize. Imagine you're the #1 student at Michigan but none of the big-name faculty know you. Okay. You have a shot still on the strength of #1 at Michigan. But I expect you probably placed with Kozinski, Wilkinson, etc. and that judge is going to push you hard, because Michigan will sit the #1 person down and ask him if he's interested in SCOTUS and will direct him to judges that can make him have a chance.

It's hard to envision a truly "strong application," by which I assume you mean either #1-2 at a lower top 14 or top 3% at a T6 + law review + strong writing sample + serious courses that did not garner the attention of The Powers That Be at a school, including the brand-name law professors. Not impossible. But hard to believe. The people who work that hard and do that well garner attention, and naturally get opportunities to work with big-name profs.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 1:36 pm

Anonymous User wrote:It's hard to envision a truly "strong application," by which I assume you mean either #1-2 at a lower top 14 or top 3% at a T6 + law review + strong writing sample + serious courses that did not garner the attention of The Powers That Be at a school, including the brand-name law professors. Not impossible. But hard to believe. The people who work that hard and do that well garner attention, and naturally get opportunities to work with big-name profs.


This is OP. I think I should clarify what a strong application is.

A minimally qualifying application is t25 school in top #1-3 people, top 14 at top ~5-10 people, top 6 at top 5-10%.

A realistic application is #1 in t25, #1-3 in t14, top 3 in top 5%, all with LR.

A strong application is "best in the last decade" at t25, #1 at t14 usually with high-end LR spot, top 3 in top 2-4% with attractive awards & brand-name recs, LR, and probably a feeder judge (from any of these school bands).

A "strong application" to SCOTUS is so glitteringly elite that it is hard to even postulate. Someone who has an application like that has probably done everything he or she was supposed to since approximately age 10, and that's not an exaggeration. A couple renegades a year that are just legitimate geniuses or lucky as sin get in too. But for the most part you're talking about (1) dedicated lifetime conformists that are (2) very, very bright. Or (3) outlandishly lucky people that are bright as a supernova.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 1:39 pm

Can you discuss the interview process? Any advice on how to prepare and what to expect?

Also: how does to process work for, say, the HLR president? Is it essentially a done deal for him/her?

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 1:40 pm

First, thank you very much for doing this - fascinating discussion so far.

I'm wondering if you've ever seen or heard of an applicant getting attention from a justice with a non-traditional profile, and if so, what stood out to make that applicant get the attention. For example, the applicant had some non-traditional path before/during law school or life story that stood out to the justice (ex: military, a personal disability, etc), or the applicant has lower grades than normally competitive but has 6 professors and the dean behind her, or the applicant was a professor in another discipline before law school and had published big academic articles prior to applying. I'm curious to see if justices ever take anyone that doesn't fall into the traditional bucket of someone that's competitive from HYS (top 1-2%, law review and RA for X and Y feeder professors).

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 1:44 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Can you discuss the interview process? Any advice on how to prepare and what to expect?

Also: how does to process work for, say, the HLR president? Is it essentially a done deal for him/her?


This is OP. The interview process varies per chambers. Wildly. You can group chambers into systems that are "two-tier," involving a screening interview before a "real interview," and one-tier chambers, that bring all the interviewees in. Screening chambers usually have a phone call with a former clerk or panel of former clerks to see if the person on the papers matches up with his/their impressions. If so, the candidate is referred on to chambers. Kennedy's chambers, e.g., does this. Some just bring candidates in directly, e.g. Kagan. Waiting times differ wildly too. Kagan candidates usually wait a few days-weeks. Justice Stevens often contacted candidates within a day or two! Justice Roberts can make you wait months, though.

Re: number of candidates varies too. Justice Thomas usually does 4-6 -- if you get the in-person interview you're a favorite. But Alito does up to 20 (for 4 spots). The other justices are between these two extremes, usually congregating around 10-12 candidates for 4 spots.

Everyone who goes in-person is terrified. You study up on recent SCOTUS cases, try to know the big areas (habeas, federal preemption, recent issues in con law, structure of government stuff, First Amendment) so you're conversational. But it is usually about that invisible "fit" that lets an employer know that he or she wants to have you around for a year. Justices see their clerks a lot, and you're a part of their history. They want to know they trust you as a person, not just you for what you know. Absolutely nothing you do in the job comes off of what you know already! They want to know that you know what you think you know, and that you know well enough not to just let gibberish come out. So it's a lot more about who you are by then than how you prepare.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 1:45 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Can you discuss the interview process? Any advice on how to prepare and what to expect?

Also: how does to process work for, say, the HLR president? Is it essentially a done deal for him/her?


This is OP. It is never a done deal for anyone. Even the #1 at Yale has under a 50% chance, though much closer to that than anyone else. No one is a "lock." (Unless born to legal royalty, I guess. If you're Paul Clement's or David Boies's child, good luck with your SCOTUS clerkship.)

But the process there works behind-the-scenes kind of the same way as it does for anyone. Just that person has so much institutional support it is baffling.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 1:47 pm

Thanks so, so much, OP. I've been waiting years for a thread like this.

Based on your categorizations, I'm a "realistic" (but not "strong") applicant. One of my weaknesses is that I don't have super-powerful professor connections. My recommenders are mostly former SCOTUS clerks, but their justices are no longer serving. They don't have active relationships with current members of the Court. I will, however, be clerking for a feeder judge next year.

Assuming no one will make calls for me, is it possible to get an interview on the strength of a COA judge's recommendation alone? Or is that more of a "necessary, but hardly sufficient" thing? If I need a judge's recommendation PLUS vigorous advocacy (i.e. phone calls) from people at my school, I imagine I'll be out of luck.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 1:50 pm

Generally speaking, can you speak to whether you have perceived a credential/qualifications difference between (1) applicants who land interviews and (2) applicants who get the job?

A former clerk once told me, "To get an interview with my justice you need X, but to actually get the job you probably need Y."

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 1:52 pm

Anonymous User wrote:First, thank you very much for doing this - fascinating discussion so far.

I'm wondering if you've ever seen or heard of an applicant getting attention from a justice with a non-traditional profile, and if so, what stood out to make that applicant get the attention. For example, the applicant had some non-traditional path before/during law school or life story that stood out to the justice (ex: military, a personal disability, etc), or the applicant has lower grades than normally competitive but has 6 professors and the dean behind her, or the applicant was a professor in another discipline before law school and had published big academic articles prior to applying. I'm curious to see if justices ever take anyone that doesn't fall into the traditional bucket of someone that's competitive from HYS (top 1-2%, law review and RA for X and Y feeder professors).


Yes. This happens sometimes (I'd guess 1-4 per year, as I described above). These are usually EXCEPTIONAL candidates in some way: they're either frighteningly smart, or are literal war heroes, or otherworldly charismatic, or wrote a truly extraordinary paper in con law, or something like this. But this is so, so unusual that I don't think I can draw any generalizations. This is possible, but you have to be truly extraordinary, and still have to be strong at least at a t14 (think top 15%-ish & LR & COA clerkship), even if not normally "SCOTUS material."

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 1:53 pm

Is failing to take federal courts going to make you an automatic reject?

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 1:56 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Thanks so, so much, OP. I've been waiting years for a thread like this.

Based on your categorizations, I'm a "realistic" (but not "strong") applicant. One of my weaknesses is that I don't have super-powerful professor connections. My recommenders are mostly former SCOTUS clerks, but their justices are no longer serving. They don't have active relationships with current members of the Court. I will, however, be clerking for a feeder judge next year.

Assuming no one will make calls for me, is it possible to get an interview on the strength of a COA judge's recommendation alone? Or is that more of a "necessary, but hardly sufficient" thing? If I need a judge's recommendation PLUS vigorous advocacy (i.e. phone calls) from people at my school, I imagine I'll be out of luck.


This is OP. If you have a feeder judge, you need for your judge to make a phone call on your behalf. That gets you in the door. Past that, you need your former clerk recommenders to make calls/write letters saying: "I know what the job takes, this student can do the job." That makes you likely to get an interview. But the super-powerful professors are what makes interviewees get past the finish line. You need super-powerful recommenders at two gates: either to get the interview or to get the job. I think you have enough to get the interview. But that's more luck. Getting the job is more connections. That's where you'll need to make a relationship either with your judge or with a professor still.

It's not too late after you graduate, you know.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 1:57 pm

You have mentioned LR a lot in this thread. Assuming LR, how important is one's position on the journal? I made a decision to forego the scramble for EIC or AE in order to focus on classes/grades. I was on the editorial board, but not in a very significant role.

The grades plan worked out, but will the lack of a significant LR position be a strike against me?

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 1:58 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Is failing to take federal courts going to make you an automatic reject?


This is OP. No. No one course is an automatic ding. But there is a holistic, "did this person take serious courses?" feel. If you didn't take fed courts but took admin law, criminal procedure, bankruptcy, and other serious, weighty courses, you'll get a question about why you didn't take fed courts, but it's not fatal. If you took law and navel-gazing, you'd better have gone to YLS.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 2:01 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Generally speaking, can you speak to whether you have perceived a credential/qualifications difference between (1) applicants who land interviews and (2) applicants who get the job?

A former clerk once told me, "To get an interview with my justice you need X, but to actually get the job you probably need Y."


This is OP. This is hard to generalize about, especially since a lot of this takes place in the Justice's individual mind. Taking a rough generalization, as a rule, with the conservative justices, all interviewees start out equal again, but with the liberal justices, you go in with an eye towards your previous transcript/school/etc. This is in part because the liberal justices usually care about purity of pedigree more than the conservatives, who care more about ideological fit. (This is relative. Both camps care about both a lot. But this is a general distinction: the liberal bloc of the court has a larger pool to pull from -- law schools are left-wing institutions. So conservative justices have to screen ideologically in a way liberal justices do not really.)

So I think there's a bigger difference between the two when you're dealing with liberal justices than conservative ones. But SCOTUS justices do not do many "courtesy interviews." If you're in the door, you have a live chance to get the job.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Doorkeeper » Tue Jun 10, 2014 2:02 pm

To the extent that you are allowed to answer these (obviously feel free to leave anything anonymous or speak in generalities):

1. Any funny stories that you can tell us about your time there?

2. What are you most surprised about now that you're "on the other side" and get the see the internal deliberations of the Court?

Also, please PM me if you're willing to discuss, OP. I have some more serious questions that I'd like to put forward to you. No worries if you'd rather not.
Last edited by Doorkeeper on Tue Jun 10, 2014 2:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 2:04 pm

Anonymous User wrote:You have mentioned LR a lot in this thread. Assuming LR, how important is one's position on the journal? I made a decision to forego the scramble for EIC or AE in order to focus on classes/grades. I was on the editorial board, but not in a very significant role.

The grades plan worked out, but will the lack of a significant LR position be a strike against me?


Not to be glib, but it's better to have more things than fewer. Yes, it's a strike. But it depends on how your law review titles your position, and depends on your grades. It's better to be #1 than EIC, though it's better to be both when you have the choice.

This is a hard trade-off to face. Upper-level LR positions carry a lot of work. Being ON law review is essential. You're more-or-less dead without it (except for extraordinary candidates, see above). But between entry-level law review position and everything but EIC -- not much difference I think. Better to be top grades. In order of importance:

- Top grades (adjusted for school)
- Top school (adjusted for grades)
- On law review
- Position on law review

If you don't have the superlative grades, the examination stops there and your application goes to the great big shredder in the sky.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 2:07 pm

Doorkeeper wrote:To the extent that you are allowed to answer these (obviously feel free to leave anything anonymous or speak in generalities):

1. Any funny stories that you can tell us about your time there?

2. What are you most surprised about now that you're "on the other side" and get the see the internal deliberations of the Court?

Also, please PM me if you're willing to discuss, OP. I have some more serious questions that I'd like to put forward to you. No worries if you'd rather not.


This is OP. I'm sorry, but I can't break confidentiality. I'm willing to confirm my identity to a mod/admin to verify the accuracy of my claims that I'm a SCOTUS clerk. But I can't disclose anything else. I already feel like I'm treading uncomfortably close to the line in this thread.

I will tell you this though. Even law clerks can't predict the results of internal deliberations very well. Anyone on TV/a blog/a newspaper/a law journal purporting to tell you how "the Justices" think as a group is lying to you. I don't think the average set of SCOTUS law clerks can tell you more than 50% of the time how their Justice thinks. Trying to speak about the Nine as a set is an idiot's errand.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 2:11 pm

Anonymous User wrote:This is OP. If you have a feeder judge, you need for your judge to make a phone call on your behalf. That gets you in the door. Past that, you need your former clerk recommenders to make calls/write letters saying: "I know what the job takes, this student can do the job." That makes you likely to get an interview. But the super-powerful professors are what makes interviewees get past the finish line. You need super-powerful recommenders at two gates: either to get the interview or to get the job. I think you have enough to get the interview. But that's more luck. Getting the job is more connections. That's where you'll need to make a relationship either with your judge or with a professor still.

It's not too late after you graduate, you know.


How would one go about developing a relationship with a professor as an alum?

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 2:14 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:This is OP. If you have a feeder judge, you need for your judge to make a phone call on your behalf. That gets you in the door. Past that, you need your former clerk recommenders to make calls/write letters saying: "I know what the job takes, this student can do the job." That makes you likely to get an interview. But the super-powerful professors are what makes interviewees get past the finish line. You need super-powerful recommenders at two gates: either to get the interview or to get the job. I think you have enough to get the interview. But that's more luck. Getting the job is more connections. That's where you'll need to make a relationship either with your judge or with a professor still.

It's not too late after you graduate, you know.


How would one go about developing a relationship with a professor as an alum?


This is OP. Expressing interest in his or her research if you want to be a professor is one way. If you're close with a professor that's that professor's friend is another. I mean, how would you go developing a relationship with anyone else?

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 2:14 pm

Any thoughts as to feeder or nonfeeder judges "on the rise"?

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 2:16 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Any thoughts as to feeder or nonfeeder judges "on the rise"?


This is OP. This is pretty close to reading tea leaves. If I told you Srinivasan would it really be news?

What matters is how judges and their former clerks interact with the justices, and that's incredibly hard to predict.

If you had specific names in mind I could give you a little more of an impression.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 2:19 pm

How would you recommend moderate (politically) candidates attempt to frame or sell their candidacy? Someone who might not be liberal enough for the liberal justices but not conservative enough for the conservative justices.

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Re: SCOTUS clerk taking questions about federal clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 10, 2014 2:20 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Any thoughts as to feeder or nonfeeder judges "on the rise"?


This is OP. Another follow-up thought. So there's a Democratic president in the WH right now, filling lots of COA spots. The conservative bloc mostly doesn't care. If a GOP WH comes around in 2016, those appointees mostly won't matter to the liberal bloc. The problem with this q is that it has several foils -- a time dimension (asking me to predict the future) and a political dimension.

If you put a gun to my head and asked me to predict the judges that are most likely to be feeders in 10 years but aren't now, I'd say Kethledge for the conservative (CA6) and either Hurvitz (CA9) or Higginson (CA5) for the liberal.

All guesswork.



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