Working hours for top firms?

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DScofield
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#1
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#1
Hi,

I have heard several stories about the American firms wanting your 'soul' whilst you work for them. Has anyone had any experience with this? Also, one of the firms suggests as a target number of billable hours to be 1600 / year - how does this figure of billable hours translate into working hours for a newly qualified solicitor? I.E if you are targeted 35 billable hours / week how many hours can you be expected to work / week on average to meet those targets?

Thanks,

Dan.
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Brevity
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#2
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I think there probably is a difference, but not as large as most people think. For instance, at one MC firm, the annual billable hours target was 1700--but that was a minimum; whereas, at one US firm, average annual billings in the London office was ~2000.

I'd guess you're expected to work as many hours as necessary to meet your targets. If you're efficient, you might be able to do 35 billable hours from 50 hours of being in the office; if not, it might take you 60.
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chalks
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#3
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#3
(Original post by DScofield)
Hi,

I have heard several stories about the American firms wanting your 'soul' whilst you work for them. Has anyone had any experience with this? Also, one of the firms suggests as a target number of billable hours to be 1600 / year - how does this figure of billable hours translate into working hours for a newly qualified solicitor? I.E if you are targeted 35 billable hours / week how many hours can you be expected to work / week on average to meet those targets?

Thanks,

Dan.
It is difficult to give a broad indication of working hours - it varies hugely by department and firm. Equally, most practice areas are affected by economic circumstances so the hours will fluctuate depending on the degree to which work is coming in through the door.

Corporate/transaction based depts will find that their activity levels fluctuate more markedly than other areas such as litigation. The timelines of their deals are often tight resulting longer hours for short periods of time, followed by days when there's little to do. With areas such as litigation, activity levels tend to ramp up towards particular events eg hearings, mediations or trials. Those periods can be horribly intense, but they're more easily anticipated.

In addition to billables, lawyers are expected to do a variety of non-chargeable work (know-how presentations, articles, training etc). With the usual coffee breaks, lunches etc, you'd normally add 2 or 3 hours a day on. So, on average, you might expect to be doing your 7 to 8 chargeable hours plus another couple of non-chargeable. Call it a 10 to 11 hour day on average - say, 9 till 7.30. Some days will be quieter, some days will be far worse. The difficulty in hitting billable targets is that you only need a couple of days when you've slipped below the 7.5hrs per day to make it hard to catch up. If you've only done 4 chargeable on Monday and Tuesday, then you're going to have to try and do 9 chargeable hours each day for the rest of the week. That can be tough.

In addition, the life of a junior lawyer is often at the whim of those more senior. You might be waiting around to discuss a research note with your supervising partner and you can't get to see them until they escape another meeting late in the day. Your hours will fluctuate depending on who is giving you work, and when they need it by.
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scribble_girl
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(Original post by chalks)
It is difficult to give a broad indication of working hours - it varies hugely by department and firm. Equally, most practice areas are affected by economic circumstances so the hours will fluctuate depending on the degree to which work is coming in through the door.

Corporate/transaction based depts will find that their activity levels fluctuate more markedly than other areas such as litigation. The timelines of their deals are often tight resulting longer hours for short periods of time, followed by days when there's little to do. With areas such as litigation, activity levels tend to ramp up towards particular events eg hearings, mediations or trials. Those periods can be horribly intense, but they're more easily anticipated.

In addition to billables, lawyers are expected to do a variety of non-chargeable work (know-how presentations, articles, training etc). With the usual coffee breaks, lunches etc, you'd normally add 2 or 3 hours a day on. So, on average, you might expect to be doing your 7 to 8 chargeable hours plus another couple of non-chargeable. Call it a 10 to 11 hour day on average - say, 9 till 7.30. Some days will be quieter, some days will be far worse. The difficulty in hitting billable targets is that you only need a couple of days when you've slipped below the 7.5hrs per day to make it hard to catch up. If you've only done 4 chargeable on Monday and Tuesday, then you're going to have to try and do 9 chargeable hours each day for the rest of the week. That can be tough.

In addition, the life of a junior lawyer is often at the whim of those more senior. You might be waiting around to discuss a research note with your supervising partner and you can't get to see them until they escape another meeting late in the day. Your hours will fluctuate depending on who is giving you work, and when they need it by.
Tried to rep but PRSOM - OP, I'm a legal secretary at present and I have to help out people with their time entry software (though they technically ought to be do it themselves, sigh :rolleyes:) and I totally agree with Chalks. Obviously various firms have different targets but the principle will be the same
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DScofield
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#5
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many thanks all, + rep.
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jacketpotato
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#6
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As a trainee I usually bill 7-9 hours a day. It can be more, but it can be a lot less if there isn't a lot on. Most days I work 9:30-6, but there are often periods of a week or two where I would be staying until 8 or 9, possibly to midnight or later. If I am late it is often because we are waiting for something to happen or there is some other reason I need to be in the office, I'm not usually working all the way through. However these are transactional departments in a recession, I'm sure I would work longer hours in a boom.

To be honest I don't have a problem with the number of hours. It is the unpredictability that can be annoying - there can be times where I am happily expecting to leave at 5:30pm, but something comes through and I end up staying until midnight. If you have plans this is very frustrating. I think the unpredictability is much worse for trainees: whilst working late unexpectedly is sometimes unavoidable, you can also be the victim of disorganised associates failing to give you urgent work until 6pm that they could have easily given you at 11am, or simply failing to brief you properly such that you have no idea whats going on in the deal and can't anticipate when the busy periods are likely to be. As Chalks said, trainees are at the whim of the lawyers they work for so having a competent/organised/not insanely busy superviser makes an enormous difference.

Its true that the American firms have higher targets, but unlike the UK firms the American firms count pro-bono and business development activities to your billable hours. This makes quite a large difference - if BD and pro-bono were counted I would smash a 2000 billable hour target quite comfortably.
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cocacola2
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#7
(Original post by jacketpotato)
As a trainee I usually bill 7-9 hours a day. It can be more, but it can be a lot less if there isn't a lot on. Most days I work 9:30-6, but there are often periods of a week or two where I would be staying until 8 or 9, possibly to midnight or later. If I am late it is often because we are waiting for something to happen or there is some other reason I need to be in the office, I'm not usually working all the way through. However these are transactional departments in a recession, I'm sure I would work longer hours in a boom.

To be honest I don't have a problem with the number of hours. It is the unpredictability that can be annoying - there can be times where I am happily expecting to leave at 5:30pm, but something comes through and I end up staying until midnight. If you have plans this is very frustrating. I think the unpredictability is much worse for trainees: whilst working late unexpectedly is sometimes unavoidable, you can also be the victim of disorganised associates failing to give you urgent work until 6pm that they could have easily given you at 11am, or simply failing to brief you properly such that you have no idea whats going on in the deal and can't anticipate when the busy periods are likely to be. As Chalks said, trainees are at the whim of the lawyers they work for so having a competent/organised/not insanely busy superviser makes an enormous difference.

Its true that the American firms have higher targets, but unlike the UK firms the American firms count pro-bono and business development activities to your billable hours. This makes quite a large difference - if BD and pro-bono were counted I would smash a 2000 billable hour target quite comfortably.
What kind of 'business development' are you involved in as a trainee?
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jacketpotato
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#8
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#8
(Original post by cocacola2)
What kind of 'business development' are you involved in as a trainee?
Examples are helping prepare a pitch or doing background research to help a partner prepare for a client meeting. Occasionally there are small pieces of work that the firm doesn't charge for - e.g. a client might ask a small self-contained question, or they might ask you to do a small amendment to a large finance deal the firm worked on.
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DScofield
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#9
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#9
(Original post by jacketpotato)
As a trainee I usually bill 7-9 hours a day. It can be more, but it can be a lot less if there isn't a lot on. Most days I work 9:30-6, but there are often periods of a week or two where I would be staying until 8 or 9, possibly to midnight or later. If I am late it is often because we are waiting for something to happen or there is some other reason I need to be in the office, I'm not usually working all the way through. However these are transactional departments in a recession, I'm sure I would work longer hours in a boom.

To be honest I don't have a problem with the number of hours. It is the unpredictability that can be annoying - there can be times where I am happily expecting to leave at 5:30pm, but something comes through and I end up staying until midnight. If you have plans this is very frustrating. I think the unpredictability is much worse for trainees: whilst working late unexpectedly is sometimes unavoidable, you can also be the victim of disorganised associates failing to give you urgent work until 6pm that they could have easily given you at 11am, or simply failing to brief you properly such that you have no idea whats going on in the deal and can't anticipate when the busy periods are likely to be. As Chalks said, trainees are at the whim of the lawyers they work for so having a competent/organised/not insanely busy superviser makes an enormous difference.

Its true that the American firms have higher targets, but unlike the UK firms the American firms count pro-bono and business development activities to your billable hours. This makes quite a large difference - if BD and pro-bono were counted I would smash a 2000 billable hour target quite comfortably.
Thank you - this was an extremely informative post.
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robinhosantiago
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#10
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#10
(Original post by jacketpotato)
As a trainee I usually bill 7-9 hours a day. It can be more, but it can be a lot less if there isn't a lot on. Most days I work 9:30-6, but there are often periods of a week or two where I would be staying until 8 or 9, possibly to midnight or later. If I am late it is often because we are waiting for something to happen or there is some other reason I need to be in the office, I'm not usually working all the way through. However these are transactional departments in a recession, I'm sure I would work longer hours in a boom.

To be honest I don't have a problem with the number of hours. It is the unpredictability that can be annoying - there can be times where I am happily expecting to leave at 5:30pm, but something comes through and I end up staying until midnight. If you have plans this is very frustrating. I think the unpredictability is much worse for trainees: whilst working late unexpectedly is sometimes unavoidable, you can also be the victim of disorganised associates failing to give you urgent work until 6pm that they could have easily given you at 11am, or simply failing to brief you properly such that you have no idea whats going on in the deal and can't anticipate when the busy periods are likely to be. As Chalks said, trainees are at the whim of the lawyers they work for so having a competent/organised/not insanely busy superviser makes an enormous difference.

Its true that the American firms have higher targets, but unlike the UK firms the American firms count pro-bono and business development activities to your billable hours. This makes quite a large difference - if BD and pro-bono were counted I would smash a 2000 billable hour target quite comfortably.
You regularly leave at 5.30-6? Is that a regional firm?

I'd agree with what's said above: you can't work out how many hours you'll have to do by simply adding up weekly billable hours and non-billable hours. It all depends on the work, particularly in transactional departments like Banking/Finance or Corporate/M&A. If there's a big deal on you might be working 15 hours a day for a week straight, including the entire weekend. If it's august and there happens to be nothing really going on, you might get to leave before 7pm every day. Or you might think you're about to leave by 7pm, and then suddenly get told you're actually pulling an all-nighter.

That said I've heard the hours even at top UK law firms aren't too bad compared to some other types of City work, something like 9am-9pm on average. Whereas I've also heard that US firms, particularly in the US itself, have a "face time" culture where you wouldn't want to be seen leaving before 11pm-midnight at the earliest. That's just what I've heard though, no direct experience with it.
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jacketpotato
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#11
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#11
(Original post by robinhosantiago)
You regularly leave at 5.30-6? Is that a regional firm?

I'd agree with what's said above: you can't work out how many hours you'll have to do by simply adding up weekly billable hours and non-billable hours. It all depends on the work, particularly in transactional departments like Banking/Finance or Corporate/M&A. If there's a big deal on you might be working 15 hours a day for a week straight, including the entire weekend. If it's august and there happens to be nothing really going on, you might get to leave before 7pm every day. Or you might think you're about to leave by 7pm, and then suddenly get told you're actually pulling an all-nighter.

That said I've heard the hours even at top UK law firms aren't too bad compared to some other types of City work, something like 9am-9pm on average. Whereas I've also heard that US firms, particularly in the US itself, have a "face time" culture where you wouldn't want to be seen leaving before 11pm-midnight at the earliest. That's just what I've heard though, no direct experience with it.
Magic Circle. I regularly leave at 6, both in my corporate seat and finance seat, but I am an efficient worker and this is with the caveat that I very often work later if there is a lot on. It does depend what department you are in, if a group is very busy then trainees might be leaving at 8pm most nights.

There are some people who will stay to 7pm even if they have nothing to do, but frankly I think most people grow out of this in their first seat after realising it impresses noone. I think your reference to an average leaving time of 9am-9pm for other types of city work is on the high side, the bankers start early but they are gone by 6pm and certainly don't want to read emails from their lawyers at 1am. The US firms generally staff more leanly than UK firms hence their lawyers do more work, but this does very much depend on the firm in question and I think a regular leaving time of 11pm-midnight would be pushing it unless the particular department is very busy.
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robinhosantiago
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(Original post by jacketpotato)
Magic Circle. I regularly leave at 6, both in my corporate seat and finance seat, but I am an efficient worker and this is with the caveat that I very often work later if there is a lot on. It does depend what department you are in, if a group is very busy then trainees might be leaving at 8pm most nights.

There are some people who will stay to 7pm even if they have nothing to do, but frankly I think most people grow out of this in their first seat after realising it impresses noone. I think your reference to an average leaving time of 9am-9pm for other types of city work is on the high side, the bankers start early but they are gone by 6pm and certainly don't want to read emails from their lawyers at 1am. The US firms generally staff more leanly than UK firms hence their lawyers do more work, but this does very much depend on the firm in question and I think a regular leaving time of 11pm-midnight would be pushing it unless the particular department is very busy.
Wow, I really didn't expect that. Regularly leaving at 5.30-6pm in the finance and corporate seats, of all places, at a magic circle firm? I haven't worked at a MC firm yet but I've spent time in them, and while everyone did try to convince me the hours weren't too bad, the impression I got was that the average would be something like 9am-9pm across the year, taking into account the really busy periods. If it really is a lot less than that then that's great news.

Bankers don't all start early - working in IBD at an investment bank you tend to start fairly late but work VERY late. 9am-midnight is what I've heard is the average. I know people who turned down jobs with top investment banks after the internship, and who have left investment banks soon after joining them, because they quite literally didn't have a life. With that in mind I felt like working to 9pm at a law firm wouldn't be too bad; although if it's actually more like 6-8pm like you say then that makes it an even better proposition in comparison.
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jacketpotato
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#13
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(Original post by robinhosantiago)
Wow, I really didn't expect that. Regularly leaving at 5.30-6pm in the finance and corporate seats, of all places, at a magic circle firm? I haven't worked at a MC firm yet but I've spent time in them, and while everyone did try to convince me the hours weren't too bad, the impression I got was that the average would be something like 9am-9pm across the year, taking into account the really busy periods. If it really is a lot less than that then that's great news.

Bankers don't all start early - working in IBD at an investment bank you tend to start fairly late but work VERY late. 9am-midnight is what I've heard is the average. I know people who turned down jobs with top investment banks after the internship, and who have left investment banks soon after joining them, because they quite literally didn't have a life. With that in mind I felt like working to 9pm at a law firm wouldn't be too bad; although if it's actually more like 6-8pm like you say then that makes it an even better proposition in comparison.
I don't think that many people do 9am-9pm all the time. In finance and corporate the workload is heavily dependent on the status of a deal. If you are closing a deal you are doing a lot more work than normal - if you were finishing at 9pm even during quiet periods your team would find it very difficult to cope with a particularly large deal or if multiple deals close together. If you have finished at midnight every weekday for three weeks in a row it can feel like you finish at 9pm every day, but that isn't the reality.

But it just completely depends. If your team is really busy due to a massive deal or massive piece of litigation, you can be busy for the whole of your seat. Similarly you can be quiet for the whole of your seat - 6months isn't a lot of time. Everyone has a different experience - in two of my seats I would have liked to have more work to fill my days, not less, the other was about right.

I think people were more likely to do outrageus hours in private equity/M&A corporate seats during the boom. In the recession I think its less likely. Certainly many of the corporate lawyers in my firm didn't hit the 1700 target last year, which equates to about 6.5 billable hours a day. In fact a couple of firms are culling corporate partners at the moment.

RE: bankers it depends on the type of banker. IBD do work late, but most (traders, asset managers, private bankers etc.) work early and leave at 6-6:30
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scribble_girl
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#14
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#14
(Original post by jacketpotato)
RE: bankers it depends on the type of banker. IBD do work late, but most (traders, asset managers, private bankers etc.) work early and leave at 6-6:30
Very ignorant question, but out of interst, is this to do with the timezones of the markets they follow or something strategic, or is it just the culture?
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cocacola2
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(Original post by scribble_girl)
Very ignorant question, but out of interst, is this to do with the timezones of the markets they follow or something strategic, or is it just the culture?
I think its a bit of both.

Most bankers in London who are traders, or rely on immediate access to live markets during their work will be working on the London exchange and will therefore need to take that into account. If they are dealing with Forex or foreign exchanges then they'd need to adapt to that.

Besides that, the 'be in the office for 6am' attitude is just a culture thing from my understanding. But 6 - 6.30 is still long hours, if it is everyday of the week, without a break.
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robinhosantiago
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(Original post by scribble_girl)
Very ignorant question, but out of interst, is this to do with the timezones of the markets they follow or something strategic, or is it just the culture?
It's mainly to do with the markets. A lot of bankers and financial workers work to the markets. Traders, people working in the sales departments of investment banks, etc. They generally have to arrive before the markets open, sometimes well before, but once the markets are closed there's not much left for them to do other than tie up the day's loose ends.

Lawyers, by contrast, work to the schedule of clients, not the markets. The way it was described to me by a partner at a top corporate law firm, the tongue in cheek version, was that "bankers start early and get through their own work, then when they're about to head home at 6pm they dump it on their lawyers to have ready for them the next morning". That's obviously the stereotyped version, but you get the picture he's trying to convey.

Personally I doubt it has much to do with culture - there are bankers that start late and work late (IBD, for instance). The departments that universally start early generally do so for a reason, not just because it's more manly! Although I'd find it funny if anyone knows of an exception...
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jacketpotato
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#17
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I imagine much of it is to do with the fact that London really began to grow and overtake New York as a financial centre in the 70s and 80s. This happened because US legislation made it far easier for companies to raise dollars in London than in New York - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurodollar. As much of the city's finance work grew up around raising eurodollars it makes sense that lawyers and investment bankers start late (around 9:30) and finish late as this is convenient for doing business with New York. Most other city professionals (private bankers, asset managers, insurers etc.) tend to start earlier and finish earlier.
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RetroSPECT3.0
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#18
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#18
(Original post by jacketpotato)
Magic Circle. I regularly leave at 6
6!?-At MC? Crikey, I wasn't expecting that- are you in a dispute or advisory group by any chance? Also, could you PM what firm you're at? (Don't worry if you don't feel comfortable )
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jacketpotato
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#19
(Original post by RetroSPECT3.0)
6!?-At MC? Crikey, I wasn't expecting that- are you in a dispute or advisory group by any chance? Also, could you PM what firm you're at? (Don't worry if you don't feel comfortable )
I posted that 9 years ago. I am still working in a city law firm, but have left the firm in question I am now supervising trainees rather than being a trainee myself ...

I can't remember whether I was talking about corporate, finance or litigation. In all of those seats there were times when I left at 6pm. Likewise, there were also times where I worked until 4-5 am in the morning, and was back in the office for 9:30am the next day.

A lot of people say that litigation is a bit more predictable in that you are more likely to be working until 7pm, i.e. a bit less "up and down" than corporate, but that wasn't my personal experience.

I found it was very much a case of sometimes leaving at 6pm and sometimes leaving at 2am; not a case of working 9am-7pm consistently. When you arrive at work in the morning as a trainee you don't necessarily know which it will be - especially if you have a non-communicative or dis-organised supervisor. Unfortunately I had crappy supervisors in 2 of my 3 seats with the firm - my 4th seat was a secondment.
Last edited by jacketpotato; 1 year ago
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RetroSPECT3.0
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#20
Ah I understand- so it is mainly based on personal experience/the organisation of your supervisor?
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