Associate Salaries at Top Personal Injury Firms

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yankees12345!

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Associate Salaries at Top Personal Injury Firms

Post by yankees12345! » Fri Jun 19, 2020 11:08 am

Anyone have a sense for associate salaries at well-regarded, plaintiff-side personal injury firms?

I have a firm in mind in my home market (a mid-sized, essentially mid-western city). They get many of the most serious injury cases in the area, have a strong med mal practice, and get involved in the occasional mass tort and consumer class action, including with steering committee / lead counsel appointments.

That's essentially the type of work I want to do over the long term. But I don't even have a ballpark range for what these types of places pay associates. By the time I'm available, I will have had two years big law experience and be coming off a federal clerkship. Anyone have data points or an educated guess at what the salary (or the broader compensation structure) might look like at a place like that?

Thanks in advance.

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Lacepiece23

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Re: Associate Salaries at Top Personal Injury Firms

Post by Lacepiece23 » Fri Jun 19, 2020 11:23 am

I don’t know much. But here’s what I do know. I’m in Philly and my friend worked at a top 3 PI firm. We have some of the best PI forms in the country because verdicts are so high out here.

He said he make 75k base and his hughes bonus year was like 60k maybe. So, he was all in at 245k that year. He left as a fourth year. The named partners are multi multi millionaires. Much richer than biglaw.

Another data point is Kline & Specter, which gets tossed a lot around here when talking prestigious PI. An associate there said he makes biglaw money. I’m assuming he made slightly more than me at my biglaw firm in Philly. So anywhere from like 225 to 400k.

I think “partners” make someone around that to biglaw PPP depending on verdict sizes and their own book of business. Much more important to have your own book, like biglaw.

I’ll say this, I think the PI guys/women have pretty big egos. They are very skilled trial attorneys. And the people who make it to the top are normally fantastic lawyers but even better business people. They do not share more than they have to.

They will make a 400 million or so if there name is on the door, much less if not. In every respects you’re better off, down the line, opening up your own thing.

yankees12345!

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Re: Associate Salaries at Top Personal Injury Firms

Post by yankees12345! » Fri Jun 19, 2020 11:31 am

Thanks Lacepiece, really appreciate in. Much better info than I've been able to find surfing the internet.

Quick question on your first example, you say your friend made 75k base + 60k bonus, but 245k total comp? I'm guessing there's a typo in there somewhere. Just curious.

Agreed with your observations about the personalities, haha. And the prospects for hanging a shingle--that would be the goal long term, but gotta learn the ropes somewhere.

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Re: Associate Salaries at Top Personal Injury Firms

Post by Lacepiece23 » Fri Jun 19, 2020 10:29 pm

yankees12345! wrote:
Fri Jun 19, 2020 11:31 am
Thanks Lacepiece, really appreciate in. Much better info than I've been able to find surfing the internet.

Quick question on your first example, you say your friend made 75k base + 60k bonus, but 245k total comp? I'm guessing there's a typo in there somewhere. Just curious.

Agreed with your observations about the personalities, haha. And the prospects for hanging a shingle--that would be the goal long term, but gotta learn the ropes somewhere.
Sorry, yes, that’s a typo. Should have been like 135k. I have similar credentials to you except I’m two years older.

I do plan to go to the plaintiffs side, but, it’s definitely a risk. If you own your own shop you can make a lot of money, even if you’re not a good lawyer.

If you don’t own your own shop, it seems like you’re pretty capped from what I can tell in my market.

Also, a lot of PI attorneys don’t like discussing salary because it’s so contingent on the bonus and because they have to admit that even though they’re hitting on these huge verdicts they aren’t taking much of that home.

But in the defense of the owners, a lot of these really good cases are home runs. And the associates wouldn’t have the verdicts without the firms name and reputation.

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Re: Associate Salaries at Top Personal Injury Firms

Post by Anonymous User » Sat Jun 20, 2020 12:35 am

I used to practice in South Florida and I have a few friends at the top PI firms there. I know that one makes $100,000 base with bonus up to $200,000, depending on how much the verdicts are and whether he originated the matters that year. He’s a senior level associate, though. I think bonus is capped at $100,000 with base around $60-70,000 for more junior associates. The firm had posted a position a few years back and I think that was what it was then.

The partners live very, very comfortably. For example, one used to drive around in his Rolls Royce. My guess is that they make around $5m-$10m/year.

These are the top South Florida PI firms, though, so I don’t think the numbers are normally this high.

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BansheeScream

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Re: Associate Salaries at Top Personal Injury Firms

Post by BansheeScream » Sat Jun 20, 2020 12:51 am

To the anon who posted about South Florida PI Firms, could you possibly PM with the names of the top firms? I'm thinking like Podhurst and Colson Hicks. I'm clerking for two years after a stint in big law and I'd like to go plaintiffs side in South Florida after. Thanks in advance!

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Re: Associate Salaries at Top Personal Injury Firms

Post by Anonymous User » Sat Jun 20, 2020 1:34 am

Anon from before:

If you’re looking at a firm like Podhurst, I’m not sure if the firms I mentioned would interest you at all.

The ones I mentioned are in West Palm, not Miami. Two of the big ones are Lytal Reiter and Searcy Denney.

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Re: Associate Salaries at Top Personal Injury Firms

Post by BansheeScream » Sat Jun 20, 2020 11:02 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Sat Jun 20, 2020 1:34 am
Anon from before:

If you’re looking at a firm like Podhurst, I’m not sure if the firms I mentioned would interest you at all.

The ones I mentioned are in West Palm, not Miami. Two of the big ones are Lytal Reiter and Searcy Denney.
Thank you! That’s super helpful.

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Re: Associate Salaries at Top Personal Injury Firms

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Jun 22, 2020 10:38 am

My spouse interviewed at one of the top local PI firms (ended up turning it down for biglaw). I also have a little PI experience as a paralegal before/during law school. As others have stated at similar firms, base was fairly low (~$100k or so) but highly variable bonus on an "eat what you kill" type formula. You could make more or less than biglaw depending on how you did (which was probably equal parts skill/grinding/luck). Partners made bank, though highly variable- they could make almost nothing one year and many millions the next.

Even though these firms will handle high buck cases, most of the work on those will go to the partners while the associates may grind out the smaller cases that provide steady stabilizing income for the firm. It's a different business model from biglaw where partners are in charge of every case and supervise juniors. My impression is that juniors handle small cases and named partners handle biggest cases, but partners won't have much direct involvement in those smaller cases.

Such gigs can be really good for the right person, but I think it works best for an aggressive gunner type. You'll likely deal with a pretty high volume of cases, so you'll also need to stay super organized and handle the stress of constant deadlines well. You'll also have to be good at dealing with unsophisticated clients- many have never personally worked with lawyers and have unrealistic expectations based on TV/movies, etc.

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Re: Associate Salaries at Top Personal Injury Firms

Post by ND2018 » Mon Jun 22, 2020 5:50 pm

Out of curiosity, what are hours like at places like this?

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Re: Associate Salaries at Top Personal Injury Firms

Post by lavarman84 » Mon Jun 22, 2020 7:36 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Mon Jun 22, 2020 10:38 am
My spouse interviewed at one of the top local PI firms (ended up turning it down for biglaw). I also have a little PI experience as a paralegal before/during law school. As others have stated at similar firms, base was fairly low (~$100k or so) but highly variable bonus on an "eat what you kill" type formula. You could make more or less than biglaw depending on how you did (which was probably equal parts skill/grinding/luck). Partners made bank, though highly variable- they could make almost nothing one year and many millions the next.

Even though these firms will handle high buck cases, most of the work on those will go to the partners while the associates may grind out the smaller cases that provide steady stabilizing income for the firm. It's a different business model from biglaw where partners are in charge of every case and supervise juniors. My impression is that juniors handle small cases and named partners handle biggest cases, but partners won't have much direct involvement in those smaller cases.

Such gigs can be really good for the right person, but I think it works best for an aggressive gunner type. You'll likely deal with a pretty high volume of cases, so you'll also need to stay super organized and handle the stress of constant deadlines well. You'll also have to be good at dealing with unsophisticated clients- many have never personally worked with lawyers and have unrealistic expectations based on TV/movies, etc.
I'd say that's pretty accurate. The partners are around if you absolutely need them, but you're going to be responsible for your cases and have a lot of autonomy. If the case goes to trial, a partner likely jumps in and assists with it for the trial (at least in my experience). The challenge is that with that autonomy comes the responsibility. There's nobody holding your hand, so you can screw up and blow the case (by missing deadlines or making errors).

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Re: Associate Salaries at Top Personal Injury Firms

Post by Lacepiece23 » Mon Jun 22, 2020 11:22 pm

ND2018 wrote:
Mon Jun 22, 2020 5:50 pm
Out of curiosity, what are hours like at places like this?
I was told by a couple of friends that biglaw lit or more is usually the expectation. Everyone exaggerates how hard they work, though.

I would say that the hours are different. Likely a lot less writing and less fun stuff and more deps, case management, and in court arguments depending on the jurisdiction.

I’ve heard that handling 20-25 cases is expected.

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Re: Associate Salaries at Top Personal Injury Firms

Post by Lacepiece23 » Mon Jun 22, 2020 11:23 pm

lavarman84 wrote:
Mon Jun 22, 2020 7:36 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Mon Jun 22, 2020 10:38 am
My spouse interviewed at one of the top local PI firms (ended up turning it down for biglaw). I also have a little PI experience as a paralegal before/during law school. As others have stated at similar firms, base was fairly low (~$100k or so) but highly variable bonus on an "eat what you kill" type formula. You could make more or less than biglaw depending on how you did (which was probably equal parts skill/grinding/luck). Partners made bank, though highly variable- they could make almost nothing one year and many millions the next.

Even though these firms will handle high buck cases, most of the work on those will go to the partners while the associates may grind out the smaller cases that provide steady stabilizing income for the firm. It's a different business model from biglaw where partners are in charge of every case and supervise juniors. My impression is that juniors handle small cases and named partners handle biggest cases, but partners won't have much direct involvement in those smaller cases.

Such gigs can be really good for the right person, but I think it works best for an aggressive gunner type. You'll likely deal with a pretty high volume of cases, so you'll also need to stay super organized and handle the stress of constant deadlines well. You'll also have to be good at dealing with unsophisticated clients- many have never personally worked with lawyers and have unrealistic expectations based on TV/movies, etc.
I'd say that's pretty accurate. The partners are around if you absolutely need them, but you're going to be responsible for your cases and have a lot of autonomy. If the case goes to trial, a partner likely jumps in and assists with it for the trial (at least in my experience). The challenge is that with that autonomy comes the responsibility. There's nobody holding your hand, so you can screw up and blow the case (by missing deadlines or making errors).
I’ve actually heard from both of my friends that they never sniffed trial as a first chair. I know some associates that got to first chair big cases too. I think the trial aspect can really depend.

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Re: Associate Salaries at Top Personal Injury Firms

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Jun 23, 2020 11:59 am

Lacepiece23 wrote:
Mon Jun 22, 2020 11:23 pm
lavarman84 wrote:
Mon Jun 22, 2020 7:36 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Mon Jun 22, 2020 10:38 am
My spouse interviewed at one of the top local PI firms (ended up turning it down for biglaw). I also have a little PI experience as a paralegal before/during law school. As others have stated at similar firms, base was fairly low (~$100k or so) but highly variable bonus on an "eat what you kill" type formula. You could make more or less than biglaw depending on how you did (which was probably equal parts skill/grinding/luck). Partners made bank, though highly variable- they could make almost nothing one year and many millions the next.

Even though these firms will handle high buck cases, most of the work on those will go to the partners while the associates may grind out the smaller cases that provide steady stabilizing income for the firm. It's a different business model from biglaw where partners are in charge of every case and supervise juniors. My impression is that juniors handle small cases and named partners handle biggest cases, but partners won't have much direct involvement in those smaller cases.

Such gigs can be really good for the right person, but I think it works best for an aggressive gunner type. You'll likely deal with a pretty high volume of cases, so you'll also need to stay super organized and handle the stress of constant deadlines well. You'll also have to be good at dealing with unsophisticated clients- many have never personally worked with lawyers and have unrealistic expectations based on TV/movies, etc.
I'd say that's pretty accurate. The partners are around if you absolutely need them, but you're going to be responsible for your cases and have a lot of autonomy. If the case goes to trial, a partner likely jumps in and assists with it for the trial (at least in my experience). The challenge is that with that autonomy comes the responsibility. There's nobody holding your hand, so you can screw up and blow the case (by missing deadlines or making errors).
I’ve actually heard from both of my friends that they never sniffed trial as a first chair. I know some associates that got to first chair big cases too. I think the trial aspect can really depend.
Anon from above. I think a lot of it is that those smaller cases the juniors handle are less likely to go to trial. Usually not worth going to trial over a $20k car accident case.

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Lacepiece23

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Re: Associate Salaries at Top Personal Injury Firms

Post by Lacepiece23 » Tue Jun 23, 2020 12:39 pm

I think law is all pick your poison. On the Plaintiffs side the work seems more fun, but being an associate still doesn’t mean you’re in court all the time and you will be hard pressed to find a firm that pays biglaw money. And on the partner end, you need to be a great trial lawyer, own the firm, or both to make bank.

With biglaw, the work mostly blows, but you make more. You also have different and likely better exit options. I’d actually argue that partnership could be better. It’s way less reliant on actual skill and probably more reliant on convincing rich people to hire you.

Anyone disagree? I actually decided not to go down the Plaintiff PI firm route for the above reasons. If I’m missing something, please add.

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Re: Associate Salaries at Top Personal Injury Firms

Post by nealric » Tue Jun 23, 2020 2:28 pm

Lacepiece23 wrote:
Tue Jun 23, 2020 12:39 pm
I think law is all pick your poison. On the Plaintiffs side the work seems more fun, but being an associate still doesn’t mean you’re in court all the time and you will be hard pressed to find a firm that pays biglaw money. And on the partner end, you need to be a great trial lawyer, own the firm, or both to make bank.

With biglaw, the work mostly blows, but you make more. You also have different and likely better exit options. I’d actually argue that partnership could be better. It’s way less reliant on actual skill and probably more reliant on convincing rich people to hire you.

Anyone disagree? I actually decided not to go down the Plaintiff PI firm route for the above reasons. If I’m missing something, please add.
I disagree biglaw is less reliant on skill.

Getting rich in PI is more about getting cases in the door and keeping them than incredible trial skill. There are successful PI lawyers who aren't good at anything other than advertising and sales. You can make a lot of money by just settling scores of small auto accident claims with nothing but a demand letter and a few phone calls. Not saying that PI doesn't have some skilled lawyers out there, but a high degree of legal acumen isn't really a prerequisite. If you do get a big jury trial, you tend not to have to deal with super complicated legal concepts as is more common in biglaw lit. It's more about explaining the facts and telling a story in a relatable way.

Biglaw partner success isn't really about convincing "rich" people to hire you. Individuals don't make a significant part of biglaw client roster. You need to convince the institutional decision makers to hire you (who may or may not be particularly rich). Most of those decision makers are lawyers, and will be much better attuned to work quality than your average PI clients.

I don't think one is worse than the other. They require somewhat different skill sets and different personality types to thrive.

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Re: Associate Salaries at Top Personal Injury Firms

Post by Lacepiece23 » Tue Jun 23, 2020 5:49 pm

Fair points. Maybe I underplay some of the legal skills because biglaw lit doesn’t seem hard to me anymore after doing it for five years. And I know that most biglaw partners are scared shitless of trial.

And the instructional clients are generally rich guys. GCs aren’t poorly compensated.

All your other points are good.

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Re: Associate Salaries at Top Personal Injury Firms

Post by Tide030 » Tue Jun 23, 2020 10:57 pm

Brand new associates at above average plaintiff firms in cities I'm familiar with (AZ, CA, NM, NV) generally make a base around $80-$100K. Everyone does bonuses differently, so some might get $5K while others may get 5-10x that. 3 years down the road, if you're at a top firm and handling you're own cases, $200-$400K is pretty normal.

But like everyone's said, the real success is in hanging your own shingle. I know of solos & small firm owners clearing $700K-$1mil, relying on a referral networks and no TV/billboard advertisements.

Hours are what you make of them. Top earners work biglaw hours, but not everyone does. Plaintiff work requires more autonomy, which I appreciate (as well as not billing hours). But I do also enjoy the client relationships, perhaps more so knowing I'm appreciated and trusted and that they won't fire me the second a competitor undercuts my fee.

The biggest problem I've encountered is training. Law schools seem to steer away from plaintiff centered material and few firms have solid training programs. Most throw associates into small cases or will only hire associates with several years of experience. Anyone have any experience with this?

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Re: Associate Salaries at Top Personal Injury Firms

Post by yankees12345! » Wed Jun 24, 2020 8:08 am

Tide030 wrote:
Tue Jun 23, 2020 10:57 pm
Brand new associates at above average plaintiff firms in cities I'm familiar with (AZ, CA, NM, NV) generally make a base around $80-$100K. Everyone does bonuses differently, so some might get $5K while others may get 5-10x that. 3 years down the road, if you're at a top firm and handling you're own cases, $200-$400K is pretty normal.

But like everyone's said, the real success is in hanging your own shingle. I know of solos & small firm owners clearing $700K-$1mil, relying on a referral networks and no TV/billboard advertisements.

Hours are what you make of them. Top earners work biglaw hours, but not everyone does. Plaintiff work requires more autonomy, which I appreciate (as well as not billing hours). But I do also enjoy the client relationships, perhaps more so knowing I'm appreciated and trusted and that they won't fire me the second a competitor undercuts my fee.

The biggest problem I've encountered is training. Law schools seem to steer away from plaintiff centered material and few firms have solid training programs. Most throw associates into small cases or will only hire associates with several years of experience. Anyone have any experience with this?
Thanks Tide030, that’s super helpful. I’ve also noticed that hiring at these places seems to be much more focused on practical skills than hiring in big law or even the “prestige” national plaintiffs shops. It seems like public defenders and prosecutors actually have a leg up, due to their trial experience, despite practicing criminal law. As a big law associate with a sum total of zero experience going to trial, that’s a bit of a concern for me, but I’m hoping sheer enthusiasm, genuine interest in the work, and maybe the polish of a federal clerkship will overcome it.

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Re: Associate Salaries at Top Personal Injury Firms

Post by Lacepiece23 » Wed Jun 24, 2020 8:44 am

yankees12345! wrote:
Wed Jun 24, 2020 8:08 am
Tide030 wrote:
Tue Jun 23, 2020 10:57 pm
Brand new associates at above average plaintiff firms in cities I'm familiar with (AZ, CA, NM, NV) generally make a base around $80-$100K. Everyone does bonuses differently, so some might get $5K while others may get 5-10x that. 3 years down the road, if you're at a top firm and handling you're own cases, $200-$400K is pretty normal.

But like everyone's said, the real success is in hanging your own shingle. I know of solos & small firm owners clearing $700K-$1mil, relying on a referral networks and no TV/billboard advertisements.

Hours are what you make of them. Top earners work biglaw hours, but not everyone does. Plaintiff work requires more autonomy, which I appreciate (as well as not billing hours). But I do also enjoy the client relationships, perhaps more so knowing I'm appreciated and trusted and that they won't fire me the second a competitor undercuts my fee.

The biggest problem I've encountered is training. Law schools seem to steer away from plaintiff centered material and few firms have solid training programs. Most throw associates into small cases or will only hire associates with several years of experience. Anyone have any experience with this?
Thanks Tide030, that’s super helpful. I’ve also noticed that hiring at these places seems to be much more focused on practical skills than hiring in big law or even the “prestige” national plaintiffs shops. It seems like public defenders and prosecutors actually have a leg up, due to their trial experience, despite practicing criminal law. As a big law associate with a sum total of zero experience going to trial, that’s a bit of a concern for me, but I’m hoping sheer enthusiasm, genuine interest in the work, and maybe the polish of a federal clerkship will overcome it.
Here’s some unsolicited advice. I had the same credentials as you when I went into an interview with a top PI firm. I also had a pro bono trial win, so they were pretty interested.

I messed it up by talking about how much I wanted to help people and how great it would be to do that.

I couldn’t have made a worse mistake. They hated that answer. I’m positive I didn’t get a job because of it. That side is equally a business and about the money. If you go into an interview, you should probably remember that. Focus on your skills, what you can bring, and how you can be retooled quickly for that type of work.

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Re: Associate Salaries at Top Personal Injury Firms

Post by nealric » Wed Jun 24, 2020 9:06 am

Lacepiece23 wrote:
Tue Jun 23, 2020 5:49 pm
Fair points. Maybe I underplay some of the legal skills because biglaw lit doesn’t seem hard to me anymore after doing it for five years. And I know that most biglaw partners are scared shitless of trial.

And the instructional clients are generally rich guys. GCs aren’t poorly compensated.

All your other points are good.
GC's don't necessarily make all the hiring decisions, especially at larger companies. I've selected counsel many times, but I make about on par with a mid-level associate, and a heck of a lot less than the partners I work with. I guess that's rich in the grand scheme of things, but a far cry from GC comp.

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Re: Associate Salaries at Top Personal Injury Firms

Post by Lacepiece23 » Wed Jun 24, 2020 3:03 pm

Yeah, I didn’t mean technically rich. More or less you’re convincing normal people to hire you rather than lawyers with Ivy League degrees and six figure salaries.

You could also argue that in the end you’re still convincing lawyers to hire you if you’re getting most your business through referrals.

I guess my overarching point is that law kind of sucks. Few make it big. Everyone works way too hard. And either way you go is not a path to easy riches.

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Re: Associate Salaries at Top Personal Injury Firms

Post by yankees12345! » Thu Jun 25, 2020 11:40 am

[/quote]

Here’s some unsolicited advice. I had the same credentials as you when I went into an interview with a top PI firm. I also had a pro bono trial win, so they were pretty interested.

I messed it up by talking about how much I wanted to help people and how great it would be to do that.

I couldn’t have made a worse mistake. They hated that answer. I’m positive I didn’t get a job because of it. That side is equally a business and about the money. If you go into an interview, you should probably remember that. Focus on your skills, what you can bring, and how you can be retooled quickly for that type of work.
[/quote]

Thanks Lacepiece, that's a good thing to keep in mind. Appreciate it.

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