Tag Archives: lawyer advertising

U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals strikes down Ohio law which prohibited solicitation of potential workers’ compensation claimants

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion which struck down an Ohio law which prohibited solicitation of potential workers’ compensation claimants as a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  The case is Bevan & Associates v. Yost, Case No. 18-3262 (U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals) and the July 8, 2019 opinion is here: http://www.opn.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/19a0144p-06.pdf

The Ohio statute prohibited all solicitations to represent claimants or employers in workers’ compensation cases.  The statute states as follows: “No person shall directly or indirectly solicit authority, or pay or give anything of value to another person to solicit authority, or accept or receive pay or anything of value from another person for soliciting authority, from a claimant or employer to take charge of, or represent the claimant or employer in respect of, any claim or appeal which is or may be filed with the bureau or commission.” Ohio Rev. Code § 4123.88(A).

The Ohio statute had an exception permitting access to journalists and, according to the opinion, “Bevan hired Capital Publishing, a journalistic service, and Regina Mace, a former client and apparent journalist, to use the journalist exception to gain access to the Bureau’s claimant information. Bevan then combined the information it acquired from the journalists with information it had obtained from other outlets (including claimant information obtained from the Bureau prior to the 2006 amendments) to compile a list of individuals who would eventually receive direct mail advertisements. Bevan then sent advertisements to these potential customers.  The advertisements were addressed to ‘INJURED . . . WORKER’ and alerted the worker to the fact that they might be ‘entitled to an additional CASH AWARD for your injury that the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation (BWC) has not told you about!’ R. 38-2, Page ID 172–73. Bevan’s letters also included a disclaimer which stated that ‘This ADVERTISING MATERIAL is not intended to be a SOLICITATION under Ohio’s Rules governing lawyers, as it is unknown whether the recipient is in need of legal services.’”

The law firm filed the federal lawsuit after the journalist received a subpoena from an Ohio grand jury investigating a possible violation of the Ohio law.  Lawyers for the state of Ohio argued that the solicitation prohibition was part of a larger statutory structure restricting access to claimant address information from the state workers’ compensation bureau, which was adopted in 2006.

According to the opinion:  “(T)he First Amendment provides “protection, in pertinent part, against laws ‘abridging the freedom of speech.’ U.S. Const. amend. I. Although the First Amendment ‘accords a lesser protection to commercial speech than to other constitutionally guaranteed expression,’ Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Commission, 447 U.S. 557, 563 (1980), it nonetheless protects truthful commercial speech that is not related to unlawful activity, id. at 564.”

“Under the framework of Central Hudson, when analyzing regulation of commercial speech, we follow a four-part test. (1) The commercial speech must not be misleading nor relate to unlawful activity, for the First Amendment does not protect ‘commercial messages that do not accurately inform the public about lawful activity.’ Id. at 563–64. If this criterion is satisfied, the regulation can survive only if (2) the government can show a substantial interest in restricting the commercial speech, (3) the regulation at issue directly advances the governmental interest, and (4) the regulation is ‘designed carefully to achieve the State’s goal.’ Id. at 564.  A regulation is ‘designed carefully’ if it directly advances the asserted government interest and there is no more narrow regulation that might achieve the same goals. Id.”

The opinion held:  “Because Ohio’s interest in protecting claimant privacy cannot outweigh Bevan’s right to engage in commercial speech, and because § 4123.88(A) completely bars solicitation, the statute fails the Central Hudson test.”  The opinion further found that, even if the law firm had violated the Ohio law prohibiting access to claimant information, this would not be relevant to the issue of whether the blanket solicitation prohibition is constitutional since, on its face, the statute prohibits all solicitation of claimants, no matter how the information was obtained and, “(a)s written, this prohibition is repugnant to the free speech clause of the First Amendment.”

Bottom line:  This case is certainly consistent with other federal and U.S. Supreme Court decisions which prohibit states from enacting blanket prohibitions of direct solicitation of clients; however, the opinions do permit the states to place reasonable “time, place, and manner” restrictions on such activities, such as Florida’s 30 day restriction on solicitation of potential personal injury clients and other advertising disclosure/disclaimer requirements.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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Florida Bar Board of Governors approves proposed Bar rule prohibiting misleading law firm information in all lawyer advertisements

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent approval of revisions to Florida Bar Rule 4-7.13 by the Florida Bar Board of Governors (BOG).  If implemented, the proposed revisions would prohibit misleading law firm information in all Florida lawyer advertisements.

As I previously reported, the agenda for the BOG’s May 26, 2019 meeting included final action on a proposed amendment to Florida Bar Rule 4-7.13 related to misleading law firm advertisements. The BOG ethics committee previously voted not to approve a proposal to add Bar Rule 4-7.13(c), which would have stated:

It is inherently misleading or deceptive for a lawyer to intentionally use, or arrange for the use of, the name of a lawyer not in the same firm or the name of another law firm as words or phrases that trigger the display of the lawyer’s advertising on the internet or other media, including directly or through a group advertising program.”

The revised proposed rule would broaden the prohibition to include all advertisements stating or implying that a lawyer is affiliated with the advertising lawyer or law firm in a way that misleads a person searching either for a particular lawyer or law firm or for information regarding a particular lawyer or law firm, to unknowingly contact a different lawyer or law firm.  The proposed rule is below.

RULE 4-7.13 DECEPTIVE AND INHERENTLY MISLEADING ADVERTISEMENTS 

(b) Examples of Deceptive and Inherently Misleading Advertisements. Deceptive or inherently misleading advertisements include, but are not limited to advertisements that contain: 

(11) a statement or implication that another lawyer or law firm is part of, is associated with, or affiliated with the advertising law firm when that is not the case, including contact or other information presented in a way that misleads a person searching for a particular lawyer or law firm, or for information regarding a particular lawyer or law firm, to unknowingly contact a different lawyer or law firm.

The proposed rule will now undergo a review process and will be sent to the Florida Supreme Court in a petition for potential approval and implementation.

Bottom line:  As I have previously reported, if the revised Rule 4-7.13 prohibiting all of these types of misleading advertisements is implemented by the Florida Supreme Court, the rule would be consistent with other jurisdictions that have considered the issue.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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Florida Bar Board of Governors Ethics Committee will reconsider proposed revised Bar rules to prohibit misleading digital advertising

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the Florida Bar Board of Governors’ (BOG) Professional Ethics Committee’s review of a proposal to amend Florida Bar Rule 4-7.13 to prohibit certain misleading digital advertisements at its December 2018 meeting.  A December 1, 2018 Florida Bar News article on the topic is here:  https://www.floridabar.org/news/tfb-news/?durl=%2Fdivcom%2Fjn%2Fjnnews01.nsf%2F8c9f13012b96736985256aa900624829%2Faac68d1f3167d80a85258347004f574f

The BOG Review Committee on Professional Ethics has scheduled a review of proposed Florida Bar Rule 4-7.13 revisions to address a common digital advertising practice known as search engine optimization offered by Google AdWords which allows an advertiser to use a competitor’s name to drive search engine traffic to the advertiser’s website.

The BOG ethics committee previously narrowly voted down a proposal to add Bar Rule 4-7.13(c) at its June 2018 meeting which would have stated that “it is inherently misleading or deceptive for a lawyer to intentionally use, or arrange for the use of, the name of a lawyer not in the same firm or the name of another law firm as words or phrases that trigger the display of the lawyer’s advertising on the internet or other media, including directly or through a group advertising program.”

The proposed rule to be reviewed by the BOG ethics committee contains an alternative proposal that would prohibit  advertisements from stating or implying that a lawyer is affiliated with the advertising lawyer or law firm in a way that misleads a person searching either for a particular lawyer or law firm or for information regarding a particular lawyer or law firm, to unknowingly contact a different lawyer or law firm.

The proposed rule revision is below with the new language in italics.

RULE 4-7.13 DECEPTIVE AND INHERENTLY MISLEADING ADVERTISEMENTS

(b) Examples of Deceptive and Inherently Misleading Advertisements. Deceptive or inherently misleading advertisements include, but are not limited to advertisements that contain:

(11) a statement or implication that another lawyer or law firm is part of, is associated with, or affiliated with the advertising law firm when that is not the case, including contact or other information presented in a way that misleads a person searching for a particular lawyer or law firm, or for information regarding a particular lawyer or law firm, to unknowingly contact a different lawyer or law firm.

Bottom line:  This proposed revised advertisement rule revision would address a common digital advertising practice known as search engine optimization offered by Google AdWords which allows an advertiser to use a competitor’s name to drive search engine traffic to the advertiser’s website, which has been alleged to be a violation of the Florida Bar Rules.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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Florida Bar Board of Governors approves revised rule on qualifying provider fees and ethics opinion on “expert” and “specialist”

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss recent (October 12, 2018) vote of The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors to approve substantive revisions to Bar Rule 4-7.14 related to the use of “expert” and “specialist” and to approve proposed ethics advisory opinion 17-2, which addresses payment arrangements between lawyers and lawyer referral services (now called qualified providers).    The ethics opinion has been renumbered to 18-1 and the Bar’s notice of the approval of the opinion and requesting comments with a link to the opinion is here:  https://www.floridabar.org/ethics/etprop-advisory/

With regard to the proposed revised Bar Rule 4-7.14, the Board considered a new proposed amendment that is designed to remove the portions of the rule which were found unconstitutional by the federal court judge in 2015.  The proposed revised rule adds new subdivisions to comply to the federal court’s order and also to address the concerns of the Florida Supreme Court, which rejected the Bar’s previous proposed revised rule.

Revised Bar Rule 4-7.14 would allow non-certified attorneys to call themselves “expert” or “specialist” if they can objectively verify that claim based upon the lawyer’s education, training, experience, and “substantial involvement” in the area of practice. The amended rule would also allow law firms to call themselves “experts” or “specialists” if that claim can be objectively verified for at least one lawyer in the firm.  The law firm making the claim would be required to have a disclaimer stating that not all firm members meet the same standards, if there are lawyers who do not qualify.

With regard to Ethics Advisory Opinion 18-1,the Board considered an opinion drafted by the Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics provides that whether a particular payment method between lawyers and qualifying providers f/k/a lawyer referral services is permissible must be determined on a case-by-case basis.  The opinion sets out criteria for determining whether a payment plan is proper and ethical and the ethics opinion is discussed and summarized in the Bar News article here: https://www.floridabar.org/news/tfb-news/?durl=%2Fdivcom%2Fjn%2Fjnnews01.nsf%2F8c9f13012b96736985256aa900624829%2F06fb4fe9ad6425748525830f004fc60b

The Board considered and approved the ethics opinion at its meeting on October 12, 2018 and will consider any comments at its December 14, 2018 meeting in Naples, Florida.

Bottom line:  The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors has taken further steps to address the issues related to the use of “expert” and “specialist” (and the federal court’s ruling that its application was unconstitutional and issuing an injunction) and also the payment arrangements between lawyers and lawyer referral services/qualifying providers.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19, N., Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

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Florida Bar Board of Governors scheduled to review proposed revisions to Bar Rules related to referral services and lawyer “expert” advertising

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the scheduled review by the Florida Bar Board of Governors (BOG) of proposed amendments to the Florida Bar Rules related to private lawyer referral services/qualifying providers and lawyer advertising as expert/specialist when the lawyer is not certified at its July 27, 2018 meeting.  According to the Florida Bar:

“The Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics has on their agenda a question regarding how lawyers can be paid by lawyer referral services — or qualifying providers — including considering several arrangements that are currently banned by Bar rules. Here is an overview and a Q&A on the changes that went into effect on April 30. Overview and Q&A

“The committee may report on the requests of three lawyer referral companies on whether they are qualifying providers under revised Bar Rule 4-7.22. 411-Pain and 1-800-Ask-Gary said they primarily want to refer callers who need medical assistance to their affiliated clinics and will send those who request legal assistance to participating lawyers at no cost. LegalRFQ wants to create an online system where potential clients could post their legal problems online and participating lawyers could submit bids for handling those issues.”

“In addition, the agenda includes a discussion on an amendment to Bar Rule 4-7.14, which allows attorneys and law firms that are not certified to advertise they are experts or specialists. Experts and Specialists  This amendment is being presented to the board on first reading. Almost three years ago, a federal judge struck down the Bar’s rule prohibiting non-certified lawyers from saying they or their firms are experts or specialists. The Bar’s first attempt to redraft the rule — which said lawyers and law firms that substantially met certification standards could say they were experts or specialists — was rejected by the Florida Supreme Court. The court said the amendment ‘could lead to differing and inconsistent applications.’ The board has a December 17 deadline to refile the amendment with the court.”

Bottom line: The BOG will be considering proposed revisions to the lawyer referral/qualifying provider rules, including fee arrangements that are currently prohibited by the rules, and also an amendment to the certification rule which would address the federal court opinion which found that this rule was unconstitutional as applied and issued an injunction prohibiting its enforcement, which the Bar did not appeal.

Be careful out there.         

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

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Florida Supreme Court adopts substantial revisions to Bar rules related to private lawyer referral services

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert Update which will discuss the recent (March 8, 2018) Florida Supreme Court opinion approving amendments to Florida Bar Rule 4-7.22 related to private and for profit lawyer referrals.  The amendments substantially revise the current rule, including the broadening definitions, changing the name of the referral companies to “matching services” and “qualifying providers”, prohibiting fee splitting, and removing the previously required disclaimer that the entity is a lawyer referral service.  The Court’s opinion is here: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2018/sc16-1470.pdf  The rule amendments are effective April 30, 2018, at 12:01 a.m.

Amended Rule 4-7.22 specifically prohibits fee splitting between the referral entities and lawyers and prohibits deceptive, misleading, or false advertising by those entities.  Also, any private entities that connect consumers looking for legal services with lawyers will be called “qualifying providers” regardless of whether they are a “traditional” referral service (ASK-GARY, 411 PAIN) or a technology-based provider (AVVO, LegalZoom).

The Court rejected the Bar’s proposed referral rule amendments in 2015 stating that private referral service entities should only be owned by lawyers.  The Bar filed revised rules in 2016 and the Court issued an Order on May 3, 2017 rejecting the proposed rule revisions and dismissing the Bar’s Rules Petition without prejudice.  That Order stated that the revised rules failed to comply with the Court’s directive that lawyer referral services should be owned or operated only by a member of the Bar and sought to expand the scope of the rule to include “matching services” and other similar services not currently regulated by the Bar.

In its March 8, 2018 opinion, the Court implemented the Bar’s proposed rule amendments but stated that “(the amendments do not) resolve our concern with how some lawyer referral services operate in Florida, especially those that refer clients to other professionals and occupational disciplines for services arising from the same incident. The findings of the Special Committee (on Lawyer Referral Services) on this matter are troubling and we continue to believe additional measures are needed to ensure the public is not exposed to harm. We therefore direct the Bar to submit a petition within ninety days proposing amendments to rule 4-7.22, and any other rule necessary, to implement the Special Committee’s first recommendation.”

Bottom line:  The Florida Supreme Court has adopted the Bar’s revised referral rule, which will substantially change the current rule; however, the Court has indicated that it continues to believe that services which are owned by non-lawyers and make referrals of both lawyers and other professionals should be prohibited and directed the Bar “to submit a petition within ninety days proposing amendments to rule 4-7.22, and any other rule necessary, to implement the Special Committee (on Lawyer Referral Service)’s first recommendation.”

Lawyers who participates in referrals from a private entity (or is considering doing so), should carefully review the new rules, since the rule requires a lawyer who participates to insure that the private entity is in full compliance with the Bar rule.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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New York ethics opinion finds that fees paid to Avvo for legal services violate referral, fee splitting, and advertising Bar Rules

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss recent (August 8, 2017) New York Ethics Opinion 1132 which found that lawyers in New York are prohibited from participating in AVVO’s client referral services.  This opinion found that the referral services violate the Bar rules since they involve improper “vouching for” (and recommendation of) the lawyer, improper lawyer referral fees, and fee sharing with a non-lawyer.

The companion New York Ethics Opinion 1131 (August 8, 2017) sets forth the structures of various web-based services and attempts to explain how those services could comply with the New York Bar Rules.  Both New York State Bar Ethics Opinions are here: http://www.nysba.org/EthicsOpinion1132/ and here: http://www.nysba.org/EthicsOpinion1131/ .

NYSBA Ethics Opinion 1132 states that, since Avvo Legal Services provides ratings of lawyers using the service based on various qualifiers such as years in practice, information provided by the lawyers, volunteer bar work and other publicly available information, and offers to find a client “the right” lawyer with a money-back guarantee, there is an implied recommendation as to the lawyer’s “credentials, abilities, competence, character, or other professional qualities”; therefore, the marketing fee is “an improper payment for a recommendation in violation the New York  Bar Rules.

The opinion also states that since “the Avvo website also extols the benefits of being able to work with highly rated lawyers,” it creates a reasonable impression that it is recommending its top-rated lawyers. and the satisfaction guarantee “also contributes to this impression.”

“Avvo is giving potential clients the impression that a lawyer with a rating of ‘10’ is ‘superb,’ and is thus a better lawyer for the client’s matter than a lawyer with a lower rating. Avvo is also giving potential clients the impression that Avvo’s eligibility requirements for lawyers who participate in Avvo Legal Services assure that participating lawyers are ‘highly qualified.’” The opinion states that Avvo Legal Services’ “satisfaction guarantee” also contributes to the impression that Avvo is recommending its lawyers’ services “because it stands behind them to the extent of refunding payment if the client is not satisfied.”

According to the opinion, Comment 1 of New York Rule 7.2 prohibits a lead generator not only from stating that it is recommending a lawyer, but also from implying or creating a reasonable impression that it is making such a recommendation.

NYSBA Ethics Opinion 1132 concludes:

“This opinion does not preclude a lawyer from advertising bona fide professional ratings generated by third parties in advertisements, and we recognize that a lawyer may pay another party (such as a magazine or website) to include those bona fide ratings in the lawyer’s advertisements. But Avvo Legal Services is different.  It is not a third party, but rather the very party that will benefit financially if potential clients hire the lawyers rated by Avvo.  Avvo markets the lawyers participating in the service offered under the Avvo brand, generates Avvo ratings that it uses in the advertising for the lawyers who participate in Avvo Legal Services, and effectively ‘vouches for’ each participating lawyer’s credentials, abilities, and competence by offering a full refund if the client is not satisfied. As noted earlier, Avvo says: ‘We stand behind our services and expect our clients to be 100% satisfied with their experience’” Accordingly, we conclude that lawyers who pay Avvo’s marketing fee are paying for a recommendation, and are thus violating Rule 7.2(a).”

NYSBA Ethics Opinion 1131 sets forth the structures of various web-based services and attempts to explain how those services could potentially comply with the New York Bar Rules.  That opinion concludes:

“A lawyer may pay a for-profit service for leads to potential clients obtained via a website on which potential clients provide contact information and agree to be contacted by a participating lawyer, as long as (i) the lawyer who contacts the potential client has been selected by transparent and mechanical methods that do not purport to be based on an analysis of the potential client’s legal problem or the qualifications of the selected lawyer to handle that problem; (ii) the service does not explicitly or implicitly recommend any lawyer, and (iii) the website of the service complies with the requirements of Rule 7.1.  A lawyer who purchases such a lead to a potential client may ethically telephone that potential client if the potential client has invited the lawyer selected by the service to make contact by telephone.”

The opinions also briefly discuss the potential confidentiality issues related to AVVO’s “money back guarantee”.

Bottom line:  New York has now joined the list of jurisdictions finding that Avvo’s “marketing fee” taken from fees paid to lawyers using its client generation services violate ethics rules and are impermissible referral fees.  This New York ethics opinion (like all ethics opinions) is advisory only; however, it is the most recent finding that the fee charges in AVVO’s plan constitute improper referral fees and fee sharing.  Other jurisdictions (such as a pending North Carolina opinion) may also publish ethics opinions in the future.  Stay tuned…

…and be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19, N., Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

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