Season 3, Episode 094: Karli Hiscock
Bates Wells | City Firm | July 20th 2020 | 35:24
Karli Hiscock is a Partner, Real State at Bates Wells, a full-service law firm established in 1970. They call themselves a city firm with a difference: they have a lot of positive impact. They have significantly evolved since 1970 and embedded a much more outward looking set of values.
Highlights of Karli Hiscock
- Bates Wells became a B Corp in 2015 which made a real difference within the firm.
- They work with many impact driven businesses.
- They do tailor advise on the law to their clients because "there are other issues that affect them". For impact businesses, their advice differs because "we're focused on what their aims are, and how to help them get there".
- Genuine transparency is their business superpower.
"I wonder if the world is apparently starting to move forward again and maybe people have had a chance to reflect about their businesses and where they live their lives, but you know, crucially, also the way they do business. Perhaps now is the chance".
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Will Richardson - 00:01
Karly, thank you so much for joining the green elements podcast. You work for Bates Wells and you're a law firm. Could you tell us a bit about you? And who Bates was, please?
Karli Hiscock - 00:14
Yeah, of course. And thanks for inviting me to part the podcast and say Bates Wells we established in 1970. And we are a full-service Law Firm. I'm a partner in the real estate team as well. And, and we're a bit unusual, really, and we call ourselves a city firm with a difference. And we refer a lot to having a positive impact, which isn't something that most law firms probably outwardly say. And but when we were established in 1970, there were a clear set of core principles that firm was founded on and it could be basically sort of summarised as doing good work for good people. And inevitably since 1970. We've evolved a lot and We embedded a much more kind of outward looking set of values and, and we live by our purpose and values. And when we're in the office together, we've got a lot of branding around our values around the firm so that we can see them all. And we remember them all. And, and as part of that journey, we became a B Corp in 2015. So that now embeds our values into what we do. And, and we really have a cut and we have a lot of synergy with our clients. We have a lot of impact driven businesses. That's kind of us in a nutshell, but we are a full-service law firm with a twist.
Will Richardson - 01:38
And do you think the fact that you're a B Corp has made any difference to you know, to you as a company as the people that work within it, and also how you work with clients?
Karli Hiscock - 01:55
Yeah, I think it has, um, I mean, the timing works brilliantly for me. Because I joined the firm in 2014. So I could as an as a new person at the time when we became equal, I think I could really see that transition that the firm I joined, was very enthusiastic, very purpose driven, very values driven, but by becoming a big corporate just brought it all to the forefront of everybody's mind. So, everybody in the entire firm, you know, we've got 250 Plus, people in our firm, everybody started talking more regularly and more confidently about our values. So, I think that made a real difference. And I think the accountability of being equal also makes a real difference that you become a lot more conscious of always living by those values that you've promised to uphold. And, and then I think there was a huge amount of synergies of several clients. So, we asked for more charities and another law firm, but that again, has evolved into social enterprises and then because of the B Corp movement, we have a huge impact of it. Bass now, I think it makes a lot more difference than a lot of difference. I should say that we, because we're being taught and we do, we are values driven firm, we're able to have those conversations with our clients and really understand what they're about. And there's a lot more synergy with our culture. So, I think, although our day job is providing legal advice, it makes a huge amount of difference to be able to really understand what our clients do in their own businesses and what they're seeking to achieve.
Will Richardson - 03:28
Do you think the advice you give clients changes is different if you're a purpose driven business or not?
Karli Hiscock - 03:38
That's a really interesting question. Because I think I mean, ultimately, the law is the law. We're advising on the law, but I think we do tailor our advice differently to all of our clients because there are other issues that affect them. And in the same way that when we're giving advice to corporate bodies that will be different to our charity clients because the legislation is different. But I think for impact businesses, our advice probably does differ because we're focused on what their aims are, and how to help them get there. I suppose a recent example would be real estate law, we always have a bit of a joke in the department that the law doesn't really have a change for us, because we're still working on 1925 Acts and 1954 Acts. And actually, we don't think that the law has caught up sufficiently with impact driven businesses and actually the way the world is now and what people need. So, we've had a look at our impact of and clients and with estate, and we've looked at putting together model form leases and precedent clauses and things. They're actually focused on those types of businesses. So particularly majoring on the landlord and tenant relationship and how buildings should become more sustainable and how you can embed things into your lives to make that happen.
Will Richardson- 04:57
That's interesting. So, because we've had a few clients that have only been allowed to move into their new buildings because they are sustainable. But what we have found interesting is it's all talk. So therefore, they've got all this stuff in their late in their lease. And they were they because they are genuinely being sustainable, they get really excited about moving into this new building. And we can't get hold of the electricity data. They're not actually monitoring the gas usage; they don't really think about the air conditioning when it turns on and off. And that cycle to work, the cycle storage and the cycle to work policy that they expected everyone to have, when they moved in that building actually doesn't make any difference at all. And so, and I guess I don't really know what I'm saying, but is there a way that you can it's really disheartening to a company if they move into a building that they think is going to be really environmental. And it turns out the landlord is just kind of betting people and going actually we can, we can command a higher price, if we ask for more sustainable company, whereas we don't actually care about sustainability anyway.
Karli Hiscock - 06:16
Will Richardson- 06:18
I guess it is a form of greenwashing, isn't it? But it's, it's the reverse greenwashing.
Karli Hiscock - 06:23
Yeah, I think that's really challenging. And I can see how frustrating that is, um, I think, just on a, not a legal point, but a general point that we've been hosting seminars and things on this area for years now. And I remember when we first started them, when we had tenant clients or tenant contacts in the room, they would be saying, well, this is expensive to be in a sustainable building. This is going to cost us more potentially, and we would be saying, Well, yeah, the market knowledge is saying that landlords may charge a premium for their tenants moving into business to buildings like that, which is about What you've just said. And also if landlords are having to manage the services in such a way, that they're really making an effort with green energy, and you know, better lighting, LED lighting or better air quality, that kind of thing, recycling schemes, inevitably their service charge might be higher. So, it was an always discussion with tenants of, well, this is a kind of longer term trade off that you're looking for. But if you really want to live by these principles, and you're going to be in the building for a long time, then actually the higher costs will hopefully be worth it, because actually, energy costs will eventually go down over the lifetime of your lease. And then landlords would say to us, what's in it for us? Why would we do this? If it's all going to be more costly to start with? Why would we do it? So again, the flip argument as well, you might be able to attract a higher premium. And actually, don't you want a better relationship with your tenants? And I think in our early conversations, there was always a little bit of a feeling in the room of this is quite interesting. We'd quite like to do it, but it's just too expensive. Thankfully, what we're seeing is actually the conversation is evolving, and landlords much what we've seen animals being much more collaborative with tenants and building a much longer term relationship. So, it's not a really quick flow of people. It's actually how we make the whole building work together almost as a community. But you will still find them to be some landlords saying they've done certain things when actually you get in there, and it isn't quite as you expect. If there's something in your lease that tells you it should be there, then you have a legal argument to resolve to try and resolve it with your landlord. But again, it's not necessarily that people will want to get into a dispute territory. It's always worth trying to have that conversation with the landlord or the building management. I think that's the key between the two is the building management and even if the land wants to achieve certain things, they need to make sure that they're building managers. And if they've got, say, a surveying firm, providing that service for them, they really understand what the aim is. Otherwise you get to disconnect.
Will Richardson - 09:00
Yeah, that makes sense. That makes complete sense. And what would you say your business superpower was?
Karli Hiscock - 09:10
Oh, ah, I'm not in charge of the firm. Massive lawyer caveat not Uncharted. And but I and again, I think I suppose I'm relatively new to the firm which I know sounds old give them I joined in 2014. But we have people saying a long time. And so, I'm still kind of a relative newbie. But I think that helps me to say that in my view the superpower is the transparency. And there is a genuine transparency throughout a firm that yes, we have a management board. Yes, we have people that are ultimately in charge of making decisions, but everything is very clearly communicated and a huge amount of work has gone into always improving the communication and I think that has helped us whether this particular period of time. incredibly well, we've all stayed connected. We all know what's going on. There isn't any need for, you know, rumors around what's going to happen when we're working through lockdown, very transparent. And I think that also embeds our values. So, I think that's our secret power. I think it’s transparency and values.
Will Richardson - 10:21
Okay. How would you say you engage with staff, suppliers, customers with your mission and purpose?
Karli Hiscock - 10:31
I think the communication channels I've mentioned a key so I'm on a really kind of, suppose basic level that we have the firm's intranet, which I know you know, most places have now, and that's always regularly updated. So, with key things about what's going on in the firm. And everybody's very motivated about driving forward the values and someone is always getting involved in various impacts. Driven initiatives. So that's kind of always publicised on the internet. And we often have, you know, the usual things like newsletters and snapshots type things I think with in terms of our internal communication, we try and keep things really snappy so that if there's something really, you know, exciting to report and exciting update, that might be a quick email, but also put it on the internet. We've got screens in the kitchen, you know, we're all together. And that can be used to publicise things, and, and people were already complying. So, everybody just talk about what's going on, and that that kind of conversation is just flowing throughout the firm. And I think with clients and other contacts, we do rely a lot on the newsletters, the kind of email, mailing shops, LinkedIn, Twitter, all of those communication channels, and I think because it's so regular, and because we really are in the impact space, we are just communicating this stuff all the time. I actually need to get a lot better LinkedIn; I need to engage with a lot more. But that's, yeah, those kinds of channels are the way we tend to do it.
Will Richardson - 12:08
I remember I first came across you guys years ago when we become a B Corp back in 2015. And I was worried about changing our m&a Memorandum of association. I didn't know how to do it. And I spoke to someone in your firm. And they basically said, it's really easy. This is what you do. We couldn't possibly charge you for that. And they told us I was like, Oh, that's amazing. What a cool firm. That's brilliant. And it was actually really easy.
Karli Hiscock - 12:41
Yeah, I think not on the vehicle. status. It's interesting because I've had people say to me for does it not change things for the worse in some in some senses, you know, there's a lot of work involved in and does it not change your whole business and I think, if your business is, is thinking about becoming a B Corp, and you're really already in that space, and you're already doing things in that way, and it's a lot of work, but it's worth it. And I think it's really motivating when it happens. But yeah, you're exactly what we support people on that journey. And at the moment, we're doing quite a lot of work around the reassessment. And how can we support clients through that? And, and as you said, you know, we don't charge a fortune sometimes not at all. You were lucky then.
Will Richardson - 13:28
I think I was; I think I was. When it comes to running an ethical and sustainable business, what would you say your biggest struggle so far have been and can you tell us a bit tell us a bit about how you've overcome it?
Karli Hiscock - 13:43
Yeah, I think I'm from the ethical side. I think there was a challenge in terms of our business is providing legal advice. You know, we're not marketing a product we're not manufacturing product or marketing project, which for but you can say, has a certain certification of this is ethical, this is ethically sourced, this is sustainable material. So, I think a challenge for us as a law firm is actually proving that we do live by these principles. And I think the B Corp status is fundamental to that. Because as you say, you have to change your governing documents to make sure that you do live by that. I think the other side of it is sometimes, you know, in terms of the ethical status, people could see a grey area that in terms of you knew, what cases do you take on, which clients who might act for but we have really rigorous processes in our firm to make sure that we have an ethics committee. You know, if there's anything that we think won't live by our standards, then we have to really rigorously assess it.
And in terms of sustainability, I think on a really basic level, one of the biggest challenges to start with is making sure that people use less paper, law firms are notorious having huge amounts of paper, particularly my department, and but we did a lot of work around becoming sustainable. And we've already I think we would use our carbon footprint by 50% in three years. And with your help, I believe. And so, we've done a lot of work around that. I think there's a challenge in terms of making sure that people are willing to adapt their working practices. And there's also a challenge and sustainability of when you are part of a multi tentative building, which we are that there are some difficulties about, you know, systems and processes that we might want something for our space, but actually, for it to work effectively. You have to have it in the whole building, which involves a lot of work and a lot of conversation, but we've got an amazing facilities team, so they're always on the case.
Will Richardson -15:53
If you could offer one piece of advice to our listeners that can help them with their purpose. What do you think that would be?
Karli Hiscock - 16:01
Um, I think Be brave and have conviction in your purpose and kind of regularly take a step back and remind yourself about what you are trying to achieve and why you first went into it. Because I think it's easy to kind of lose your way. And sometimes when you get bogged down in the day to day work, whatever your whatever your role is, and whatever your business is, so I think it's Yeah, reminding yourself what you want to achieve and then being brave enough to keep saying it and keep reminding yourself and keep telling everyone about it. Otherwise, no one's going to know.
Will Richardson - 16:40
When it comes to reducing your environmental impacts and the carbon footprint of your business, what would you say your biggest challenge or frustration is?
Karli Hiscock - 16:49
Um, I think getting everyone's buy in. I think that's changed hugely. I think people are really on board, I think coming over from plan made a huge difference, because you can just see how everybody's working. And, you know, it's weird to think it almost feels like a lifetime ago when I'm talking about being in the office. Because it's been so long since we were there. But I think in the early stages of moving into the new office, and that was when we already had a lot of initiatives in our old space, it was a very old building. And you couldn't really retrofit these things. And also, our landlord was about to drop the building and redevelop. So, there's only so much you can do. But when we moved into the new space, and that's when we made a huge effort around green energy and changing the lighting and things like that. That didn't require buy in from people because that was dealt with, you know, management level and like I said, the facilities team working with the landlord of building, but I think the more subtle things like recycling, that does require buying because if you've got bins around and people are in a hurry Then there is a risk, they might just drop it in and off, they go to the next meeting. So, I think a lot more around the communication about why we're doing it. And then what we've achieved, that helps hugely. Also, things are taken away from people's desks. So, everybody has to physically walk to one of the waste collection points. And then everything is categorised. We have so many bins, but it's worthwhile, and it's been properly communicated. And we now have stats on the internet that regularly updates us on what we've managed to achieve. And the fact that we're not sending things to landfill. So, I think that's really motivating. But I think initially, it's a bit of a challenge to get that amount of people to buy into it when everyone's very busy.
Yeah, I think I think it is and I think having worked in with law firms for numerous years now I think that it's, it's quite hard as well, with possibly not all right. Younger but possibly older generation lawyers. Changing the way of thinking is, is difficult. And yeah, it is quite hard.
Karli - 19:15
Yeah, I think it's about reminding people why, why it's important. And even if something might feel a little bit inconvenient to start with, then it's not the end of the world and we are walking is good. Why don't you get up from your desk and walk to the next bin? That's something I found more challenging. During lockdown, I don't have enough bins available to me to follow this. The council doesn't provide it.
Will - 19:43
You need to and it's also getting up isn't it? You need to get one of those things that remind you to get up and go for a walk every now and again. And what sort of if you've got any advice or learnings that you'd like to share with anyone listening to this podcast?
Karli - 20:04
Um, in terms of particularly focusing on the top status or being an in person?
Will - 20:11
Anything really, I think you as a partner in a very forward thinking, socially purpose driven law firm in the UK. You know, what if I was a, if I was a lawyer, or worked in a law firm in the UK or wider we've got our audience guys around the worlds. You know, what sort of if you got any advice to people to what to start to do or to look for or to push forward?
Karli - 20:42
Yeah, I think um, I mean, obviously, it depends on the size of the business as well and resources and things, but I think there's no harm in starting small. I would say that if an organisation is looking at really embedding a certain way of operating. But they don't want to maybe take a step next step of changing their articles or if they're not in a position resource wise to do lots of different initiatives and in their business, then I think just always focus on the small things. because inevitably, that evolves into something that's bigger. And I think, even in, you know, businesses with one person, you can remind yourself about your purpose and why you're doing what you're doing and make sure you communicate it. I think communication is always the key. And then I think as businesses grow, always making sure that your people are on board that you're bringing them along the journey and listening to their views. I don't think that it can be a kind of dictated mandate, almost, if this is the way we're doing it has to be genuine. If you aren't impacted in business, then that has to be genuine. It has to be authentic and has to be carried through your people and everything they do and Yeah, I think that's, I think that's probably my takeaway piece of advice.
Yeah, the other thing I was thinking of is the fact that because we're an alternative business structure, we don't have an only lawyers working in the firm we have it's not traditional law firm structure of partners, solicitors, and then support staff were an ABS which enables to have other advisors in firm. So historically, we've had people focusing on compliance we've to help clients. We're setting up financial businesses, financial services, we've had impact driven specialists and within our firm now, we have impact professionals. And so, they're not. They're not actually part of the legal teams, but they help us in making sure that we understand the sector that we're working in. And they also provide a different kind of service to our clients, including the support with the B Corp reassessment.
Will - 23:18
Oh, I see. So, I've named job and people like junction and adding Garfunkel from junction and people, people that help companies become more down the peacock journey. You have them in house. Is that what you're saying?
Yeah, so I mean, some of them are former lawyers. So, they have they have that really helpful background. Also, they know how we think, and they know therefore, how to communicate things to us every time something changes. But they're just they're really invaluable to work with because it I guess it comes back to when you're saying to me advice impactive and businesses differently. And I think having impact professionals and people who are really in embedded in the sector, more than probably lawyers will ever be in the sense of you know, you've got so much going on and advising lots of different clients. And I think having impact professionals with us means that we really stay on top of everything.
Will - 24:14
Yeah, I think I think one of the reasons why I thought of that was when we were looking at getting our contracts, or we had our contracts redrawn. One of the conversations I had with Katie. I can't remember lady's name. Sorry. That helped us. She said that. Interestingly, the more purpose driven businesses, you are purpose driven business you are, the more accountable you are, hmm. So, it kind of goes completely the opposite way that you think. So, a company that actually doesn't care about their staff treats them really badly, and then treats them really badly is very much more likely to get away with it. Someone that doesn't treat staff really badly, and does it tiny bit wrong, and not really badly at all, and actually probably really good on the lower side of things will still get into a lot of trouble and could actually be held accountable to because you're held on a pedestal as opposed to not.
Karli - 25:23
Yeah. And I think accountability is so important, because if you really want to run your business in this way, then then you should be held accountable. But it does, it does mean you have to make difficult choices sometimes. And you have to really think about what type of work you're doing and the sort of initiatives you're getting involved with. And I guess part of I mean, partly accountability for us or something might be legal sustainability Alliance. Actually a part of the reporting we can just put ourselves out there and you know, if someone's logging on to our website and saying, well, they're a B Corp and living by their values and their They have all this synergy with their clients, if they want to, you know, it's like, you know, if someone wanted to do digging and say, do they really mean this? Do they, then then we have all of the evidence there that yes, we are doing this every single day.
And I think that's, we have, we have not only proof of that, but we want to be held accountable. And this is the way we want to do business.
Yeah, it's interesting, isn't it, where we're seeing that in our business now with conversations that we're having with people about, say, carbon offsetting and stuff.
Will - 26:32
We, I think difficult decisions is going to start to happen more and more in sustainability. And I'm seeing it. And so, the previous meeting was with an industry and I've had this conversation a few times now of, it's great that you guys want to be more sustainable. But we've got to deal with the elephant in the room. The elephant is you need to change so Significantly, that you're not going to recognise your business in 10 years’ time. And if you're willing to do that, that's where you'll do well. And if you're not willing to do it, then you might as well just carry on as business as usual. Because really, all you are is greenwashing. Your sentiments are right, and you're going at it from the right values, and you're not doing it for the wrong reasons. But there's kind of no point doing it, if not whole, whole heartedly and doing it properly.
Karli - 27:32
Yeah, I wonder if you know, the world is apparently starting to move forward again, having been in lockdown. And when people talk about building back better. I think well, maybe people have had a chance to reflect about their businesses and where they live their lives, but you know, crucially, also the way they do business and perhaps now is the chance that we've seen all these reports with You know, effectively people on Paul's the fact that the environments had a chance to recover all these amazing videos I've seen online about, you know, nature making a an appearance into urban environments, maybe people will think about and you're actually I can probably change the way I do things. And I just find it really scary actually, that just before we went into lockdown, we were having a huge amount of information about climate change. And I other than the fact that there's some, you know, really positive signs in the environment as a result of lockdown. Other than those stories. I haven't heard anything about climate change since February. Yeah, I mean, I'd have to seek it out. I'm sure I could seek out articles but whereas they were coming across my desk, but my computer screen the whole time, and everybody was talking about animal loads, documentaries. They just don't really seem to be there. I just hope that actually that resurrected. After people waiting, take it seriously.
Will - 29:03
Yeah. Yeah, it will be it will be really interesting to see what happens on the back of it. But then we're talking to a group of companies about setting 2020 baseline year. And granted, you cannot, not all companies can set it as a baseline year. So, if you are a manufacturing, you can't, it's an impossibility. But you could potentially set it if you were to normalise it in such a way that, you know, through turnover or through the amount of products that you've produced, and so you could potentially do that. It's it’s obviously a lot easier to do it as a service-based industry, which both of us are in service based companies. And because in reality, we do need to set 2020 as a baseline year in order to get to 2030. Yeah, and beyond, but it's, it's the picture is just so it's just so it's not black and white. It's driven by clients and clients have to stand up for the same values as the people that are pitching for the work and that you know, the clients have to go right you do not fly to us. If you fly to us, you will be penalised. We, because they know that if they fly, they'll have a better rapport because they'll go out for dinner and get to know each other and then more likely to win the work. So, you almost have to put everyone on the backfoot. And we all have to work together. And then businesses have to work together to make sure they're on an on a level playing field. And it's, it's going to be really hard. It's going to be really messy, and it's going to be really tricky. And it's not going to be easy.
No, it's that accountability. Again, I think and being willing to make changes as you said, and, and there's lots of brilliant initiatives out there that you can sign up to and that helps you make those changes. We've signed up something that actually impacts on our annual leave policy, so people get more on your leave. If they are travelling on holiday and by train, and they're not using the plane so they get basically some extra holiday to take care of the fact it's going to take longer and people are signing up for it, which is great.
Will - 31:15
It's brilliant. It's brilliant. I can't wait. It's cold and the whole grain digital. The Guardian wrote a piece about it and used whole grain digital as a as a company that was doing it. If you know those guys, another B Corp.
I probably should name them.
I don't think it was there. I don't think it's done that way. There. We've got it through.
They are doing the same thing. Okay, yeah, they're doing it.
I suspect we've had conversations with them as a firm then about making sure we do these things. But I think that accountability is really important. I think Big movement is really interesting around that though, because I think what's brilliant about it is when you are working with and if you will be hoping you're working with another vehicle, it takes that pressure off of worrying about whether or not you have that synergy. Because you already know you do you already know that you've each had to go through the same assessment criteria and make these changes to your governance documents. So, you have that, that automatic accountability, right, okay, on a level playing field here.
Yeah. And actually, and, and mistakes happen in business. We've just joined forces with another vehicle, and I didn't realise that education doesn't have the 80 Hmm. And this company didn't realise that they didn't take put VAT on their invoices. So, the whole thing went completely wrong. When we submitted an invoice and there are literally like, we're going to lose money on this. How does that happen? And then they looked at and then when we don't charge for it and when we do, we can't not America are no. And we completely slashed the prices. And we worked together on it. But it was really, really easy. The minute it was very much like, oh, education doesn't have it Okay, fine. What can we do about it? Okay, we'll do this, this and this. And no one was annoyed not. And no one, no one walked away feeling as if they'd been hard done by. And that is such a healthy way to do business, because we'll definitely carry on work. I don't care if they made that mistake, as you know, stop. So, in the world, that happens, and you have to
Yeah. And coming back to why you're going into it in the first place. I mean, I've always said that as a lawyer, I have that. I mean, I love the practice that I'm in because I like to problem solve. I like to kind of look at everything Almost like a jigsaw puzzle, fit it all together. And so, for my work, it means that in theory, everybody is coming to the situation, wanting to go ahead. I'm not trying to unravel a problem I'm actually trying to; they've already agreed they want this to happen, and then I'll make it happen. And yeah, there's inevitably bumps along the way. But but you get there because you can always take a step back and say, what am I meant? Is this issue that's arisen a deal breaker, or do you want to go back to originally Why did you go into the sewer in the first place? And I guess it's the same kind of thing with your situation that you'll remember why you were doing in first place and
Okay, well, we'll find a way around it.
Yeah, exactly. I think that transparency and accountability
Will - 34:48
Thanks, Carly. Thank you so much for being on today. It's been really interesting listening to your thoughts around baseballs and yeah, working in a law firm with a such of forward-thinking law firm as well.
Thank you very much.
Will - 34:57
Today we've got Carly from Bates wells on the podcast. Carly is actually an advisory board member for company footprints, our carbon reporting software and a partner at bass wells. They are really, really cool company. We I mean, we came across them because we're a B Corp. And so they and you'll hear us talk about that and the difference it makes to be a social purpose driven law firm and the advice that they give it's fascinating conversation, and I really hope you enjoy as much as I did.
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