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|Legal education in the United States|
Other degrees that are awarded include the Master of Laws (LL.M.) and the Doctor of Juridical Science (J.S.D. or S.J.D.) degrees, which can be more international in scope. Most law schools are colleges, schools, or other units within a larger post-secondary institution, such as a university. Legal education is very different in the United States from that in many other parts of the world.
Until the late 19th century, law schools were uncommon in the United States. Most people entered the legal profession through reading law, a form of independent study or apprenticeship, often under the supervision of an experienced attorney. This practice usually consisted of reading classic legal texts, such as Edward Coke's Institutes of the Lawes of England and William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England.
In colonial America, as in Britain at the time, law schools did not exist. Within a few years following the American Revolution, some universities such as the College of William and Mary and the University of Pennsylvania established a "Chair in Law". Columbia College appointed its first Professor of Law, James Kent, in 1793. Those who held these positions were the sole purveyors of legal education (per se) for their institutions—though law was, of course, discussed in other academic areas as a matter of course—and gave lectures designed to supplement, rather than replace, an apprenticeship.
The first institution established for the sole purpose of teaching law was the Litchfield Law School, set up by Judge Tapping Reeve in 1784 to organize the large number of would-be apprentices or lecture attendees that he attracted. Despite the success of that institution, and of similar programs set up thereafter at Harvard University, Yale University (1843) and Columbia University (1858), law school attendance would remain a rare exception in the profession. Apprenticeship would be the norm until the 1890s, when the American Bar Association (which had been formed in 1878) began pressing states to limit admission to the bar to those who had satisfactorily completed several years of post-graduate instruction. In 1906, the Association of American Law Schools adopted a requirement that law school consist of a three year course of study.
In the United States, most law schools require a bachelor's degree, a satisfactory undergraduate grade point average, and a satisfactory score on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) as prerequisites for admission. Some states that have non-ABA-approved schools or state-accredited schools have equivalency requirements that usually equal 90 credits toward a bachelor's degree. Additional personal factors are evaluated through essays, short-answer questions, letters of recommendation, and other application materials. The standards for grades and LSAT scores vary from school to school. For actual admissions statistics, visit http://officialguide.lsac.org/.
Individual factors are also very important, although applicants are generally not asked to interview as part of the application process. Many law schools actively seek applicants from outside the traditional pool to boost racial, economic, and experiential diversity on campus. Most law schools now factor in extracurricular activities, work experience, and unique courses of study in their evaluation of applicants. A growing number of law school applicants have several years of work experience, and correspondingly fewer law students enter immediately after completing their undergraduate education.
Though it is not uncommon for law students to receive grants and scholarships, or, more rarely, complete tuition waivers, from their schools, law school tuition remains very high. In addition, many law students expecting to keep their scholarships throughout law school end up losing them because of the difficulty of maintaining a certain GPA. While each school's financial aid system operates differently, there is a rule of thumb relating to GPA and LSAT scores: a student whose grades and LSAT are higher than those of most students admitted to a given school—in other words, a student who could go to a "better" school—has a good chance of being offered some kind of scholarship by the lower-ranked school. Likewise, some law students choose lower ranked schools due to their inability to get into higher ranked schools because of low LSAT scores and GPA, and then transfer to the better schools after their first year of study, provided that they received good grades in the first year of law school. Many highly ranked schools do not accept many transfer applicants due to lack of space in the class, and transferring may make it more difficult for a student to participate in on-campus recruiting from potential employers.
In 2008 there were 142,922 students enrolled in JD programs at the 200 approved ABA law schools, 53% male and 47% female.
To sit for the bar exam, the vast majority of state bar associations requires that an applicant's law school be accredited by the American Bar Association. The ABA has promulgated detailed requirements covering every aspect of a law school, down to the precise contents of the law library and the minimum number of minutes of instruction required to receive a law degree. As of July 2008, there are 199 ABA-accredited law schools that award the J.D., divided between 193 with full accreditation and 6 with provisional accreditation. The Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School in Charlottesville, Virginia, a school operated by the United States Army that conducts a post-J.D. program for military attorneys, is also ABA-accredited. The ABA maintains a list of ABA approved law schools. For an explanation of ABA accreditation, see ABA Accreditation Process.
In addition, individual state legislatures or bar examiners may maintain a separate accreditation system, which is open to non-ABA accredited schools. If that is the case, graduates of these schools may generally sit for the bar exam only in the state in which their school is accredited. California is the most famous example of state-specific accreditation. The State Bar of California's Committee of Bar Examiners approves many schools that may not qualify for or request ABA accreditation. Graduates of such schools can sit for the bar exam in California, and once they have passed that exam, a large number of states allow those students to sit for their bars (after practicing for a certain number of years in California).
California is also the first state to allow graduates of distance legal education (online and correspondence) to take its bar exam. However, online and correspondence law schools are generally not accredited by the ABA or state bar examiners, and the eligibility of their graduates to sit for the bar exam may vary from state to state. Even in California, for instance, the State Bar deems certain online schools as "registered," meaning their graduates may take the bar exam, but also specifically says the "Committee of Bar Examiners does not approve nor accredit correspondence schools." Kentucky goes further by specifically disqualifying correspondence school graduates from admission to the bar. This applies even if the graduate has gained admission in another jurisdiction.
Law students are referred to as 1Ls, 2Ls, and 3Ls based on their year of study. In the United States, the American Bar Association does not mandate a particular curriculum for 1Ls. ABA Standard 302(a)(1) requires only the study of "substantive law" that will lead to "effective and responsible participation in the legal profession." However, most law schools have their own mandatory curriculum for 1Ls, which typically includes:
These basic courses are intended to provide an overview of the broad study of law. Not all ABA-approved law schools offer all of these courses in the 1L year; for example, many schools do not offer constitutional law and/or criminal law until the second and third years. Most schools also require Evidence but rarely offer the course to first year students. Some schools combine legal research and legal writing into a single year-long "lawyering skills" course, which may also include a small oral argument component.
Because the first year curriculum is always fixed, most schools do not allow 1L students to select their own course schedules, and instead hand them their schedules at new student orientation.
At most schools, the grade for an entire course depends upon the outcome of only one or two examinations, usually in essay form, which are administered via students' laptop computers in the classroom with the assistance of specialized software. Some professors may use multiple choice exams in part or in full if the course material is suitable for it (e.g., professional responsibility). Legal research and writing courses tend to have several major projects (some graded, some not) and a final exam in essay form. Most schools impose a mandatory grade curve (see below).
After the first year, law students are generally free to pursue different fields of legal study, such as administrative law, corporate law, international law, admiralty law, intellectual property law, and tax law.
Graduation is the assured outcome for the majority of students who pay their tuition, behave honorably and responsibly, maintain a minimum per-semester unit count and grade point average, take required upper-division courses, and successfully complete a certain number of units by the end of their sixth semester. Students unable to meet these requirements are ejected and forced to pursue other career options; very few law schools will admit a candidate involuntarily dismissed from another school.
The ABA also requires that all students at ABA-approved schools take an ethics course in professional responsibility. Typically, this is an upper-level course; most students take it in the 2L year. This requirement was added after the Watergate scandal, which seriously damaged the public image of the profession because President Richard Nixon and most of his alleged cohorts were lawyers. The ABA desired to demonstrate that the legal profession could regulate itself and hoped to prevent direct federal regulation of the profession.
As of 2004, to ensure that students' research and writing skills do not deteriorate, the ABA has added an upper division writing requirement. Law students must take at least one course, or complete an independent study project, as a 2L or 3L that requires the writing of a paper for credit.
Most law courses are less about doctrine and more about learning how to analyze legal problems, read cases, distill facts and apply law to facts. Legal education focuses on skill-learning, not law-learning.
Many of the top schools in the United States are much more interested in teaching students legal theory and analysis than they are in the specific doctrines or "black letter law". Top schools emphasize theory over practice for several reasons. First, these schools often train legal academics, who will be teaching future lawyers. Second, professors at these schools are often interested in questions of legal theory and legal reform, as they themselves are, and were, often not practitioners. Third, these schools often have the most prestigious journals, and students are encouraged to engage in scholarship to publish in these journals.
However, clinical education is very important, and many schools, such as Wisconsin Law School and University of Maryland School of Law, differentiate themselves with excellent clinical programs. Moreover, students often seek out clinical programs because doctrinal courses offer little in the way of practical training. On the other hand, clinical programs may be emphasized to the detriment of opportunities for more lucrative tracts such as corporate law.
In 1968, the Ford Foundation began disbursing $12 million to persuade law schools to make "law school clinics" part of their curriculum. Clinics were intended to give practical experience in law practice while providing pro bono representation to the poor. However, conservative critics charge that the clinics have been used instead as an avenue for the professors to engage in left-wing political activism. Critics cite the financial involvement of the Ford Foundation as the turning point when such clinics began to change from giving practical experience to engaging in advocacy.
Many law students participate in internship programs during their course of study. In some schools, such as Northeastern University School of Law and the Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University, students have the opportunity to pursue co-operative education programs during their legal education careers.
Finally, it should be noted that the emphasis in law schools is rarely on the law of the particular state in which the law school sits, but on the law generally throughout the country. Although this makes studying for the bar exam more difficult since one must learn state-specific law, the emphasis on legal skills over legal knowledge can benefit law students not intending to practice in the same state they attend law school.
Grades in law school are very competitive. Most schools grade on a curve. In most law schools, the first year curve (1L) is considerably lower than courses taken after the first year of law school.
Many schools use a "median" grading system, that can range from any from "B medians" to "C-minus medians". Professors are obliged to determine which exam or paper was the exact median in terms of quality (e.g., the 26th best out of 51), give that paper the relevant grade depending on the system used, and then grade the other exams based on how much better or worse they are than the median. A few schools, such as Yale Law School, Stanford Law School, Harvard Law School and University of California, Berkeley School of Law, and Northeastern University School of Law have alternate grading systems that put less emphasis (or no emphasis) on rank. Other schools, such as New York's Fordham Law School, use a much more demanding grading system in which precise percentages of students are to receive certain grades. For instance, such a system could oblige professors to award a minimum and maximum number of "A's" and "F's" (e.g., 3.5%/7% A's and 4.5%/10% F's). Many professors chafe against the lack of discretion provided by such systems, especially the required failing of a certain number of students whose performance may have been sub-par but not, in the professor's estimation, worthy of a failing grade. The "median" system seeks to provide some parity among teachers' grading scales while giving the teacher discretion to award a grade below the median only when deserved.
Even with curved grading, some law schools such as Syracuse University College of Law still have a policy of "Dismissal for Academic Deficiency", in which students failing to meet a minimum GPA are dismissed from the school.
One school that has deviated from the system of competitive grading common to most American law schools is Northeastern University School of Law. Northeastern does not have any system of grade point averages or class rank, Instead, the school uses a system of narrative evaluations to measure student performance.
A system of anonymous grading known as blind grading is used in many law schools in the United States. It is intended to counter bias by the grader. Examination booklets are randomly numbered and the score associated with the student only after grading is completed. General adoption of blind grading followed admission of significant numbers of minority students to law schools.
Most law school education in the United States is based on standards developed by Christopher Columbus Langdell and James Barr Ames at Harvard Law School during the 1870s. Professors generally lead in-class debates over the issues in selected court cases, compiled into "casebooks" for each course. Traditionally, law professors chose not to lecture extensively, and instead used the Socratic method to force students to teach each other based on their individual understanding of legal theory and the facts of the case at hand.
Many law schools continue to use the Socratic method--consisting of calling on a student at random, asking him or her about an argument made in an assigned case, asking the student whether he or she agrees with the argument, and then using a series of questions designed to expose logical flaws in the student's argument. Examinations usually entail interpreting the facts of a hypothetical case, determining how legal theories apply to the case, and then writing an essay. This process is intended to train students in the reasoning methods necessary to interpret theories, statutes, and precedents correctly, and argue their validity, both orally and in writing. In contrast, most civil law countries base their legal education on professorial lectures and oral examinations, which are more suited for the mastery of complicated civil codes.
This style of teaching is often disorienting to first-year law students who are more accustomed to taking notes from professors' lectures. Most casebooks do not clearly outline the law; instead, they force the student to interpret the cases and draw the basic legal concepts from the cases themselves. As a result, many publishers market law school outlines that concisely summarize the basic concepts of each area of law, and good outlines are highly sought after by many students, although some professors discourage their use.
Legal pedagogy has also been criticized by scholars like Alan Watson in his book, The Shame of Legal Education.
For purposes of passing state bar examinations, some law school graduates find law school instruction inadequate, and resort to specialized bar review courses from private course providers. These bar reviews typically consist of lectures, often video recorded.
Within each U.S. law school, key credentials include:
On the basis of a student's credentials, as well as favorable faculty recommendations, some students obtain a one or two-year clerkship with a judge after graduation. It is becoming more common for clerkships to begin after a few years in private practice. Clerkships may be with state or federal judges.
Clerkships are meant to provide the recent law school graduate with experience working for a judge. Often, clerks engage in significant legal research and writing for the judge, writing memos to assist a judge in coming to a legal conclusion in some cases, and writing drafts of opinions based on the judge's decisions. Appellate court clerkships, although generally more prestigious, do not necessarily give one a great deal of practical experience in the day-to-day life of a lawyer in private practice. The average litigator might get much more out of a clerkship at the trial court level, where he or she will be learning about motions practices, dealing with lawyers, and generally learning how a trial court works on the inside. What a lawyer might lose in prestige he or she might gain in experience.
By and large, though, clerkships provide other valuable assets to a young lawyer. Judges often become mentors to young clerks, providing the young attorney with an experienced individual to whom he or she can go for advice. Fellow clerks can also become lifelong friends and/or professional connections. Those contemplating academia do well to obtain an appellate court clerkship at the federal level, since those clerkships provide a great opportunity to think at a very high level about the law.
Clerkships are great experiences for the new lawyers, and law schools encourage graduates to engage in a clerkship to broaden their professional experiences. However, there simply are not enough clerkships to accommodate all the academically eligible graduates.
Some law school graduates are able to clerk for one of the Justices on the Supreme Court (each Justice takes two to four clerks per year). Often, these clerks are graduates of elite law schools, with Harvard, Yale, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, Columbia, the University of Virginia, and Stanford being among the most highly represented schools. Justice Clarence Thomas is the major exception to the rule that Justices hire clerks from elite schools; he takes pride in selecting clerks from non-top-tier schools, and publicly noted that his clerks have been attacked on the Internet as "third tier trash." Most Supreme Court clerks have clerked in a lower court, often for a year with a highly selective federal circuit court judge (such as Judges Alex Kozinski, Michael Luttig, J. Harvie Wilkinson, David Tatel, Richard Posner, to name a few). It is perhaps the most highly selective and prestigious position a recently graduated lawyer can have, and Supreme Court clerks are often highly sought after by law firms, the government, and law schools. Law firms give Supreme Court clerks as much as a $250,000 bonus for signing with their firm. The vast majority of Supreme Court clerks either become academics at elite law schools, enter private practice as appellate attorneys, or take highly selective government positions.
||This article may be unbalanced towards certain viewpoints. Please improve the article by adding information on neglected viewpoints, or discuss the issue on the talk page. (April 2012)|
Critics charge that the Socratic Method has fallen into disuse, and little debate occurs in law school classrooms, which are mostly lectures. The faculty at American law schools do not have to answer to the needs of students since their career advancement rests solely on publishing and peer review. Rare is the school where the ability to teach students, and the students' input into the professor's classroom experience, is given enough consideration as to determine the tenure status of a professor."In fact, law students learn their subjects on their own. With few exceptions, students avoid faculty as faculty avoid students. The wonderful opportunity to use the classroom as a laboratory to debate and review in an atmosphere that encourages critical thinking is lost."
Law schools generally portray law school as a good investment, citing high salaries and employment rates. The National Association for Legal Career Professionals produces an annual report summarizing the employment data of law schools in the United States that suggests otherwise. As of the 2009 report, out of 44,000 law school graduates, less than 80 percent (35,002) reported any form of employment (full or part time) within 9 months of graduation. Over 25 percent of all employed respondents were employed in a temporary position, bringing the number of graduates employed in non temp jobs of any kind (legal or otherwise) to under 60 percent. Only 45 percent of graduates were employed in non temporary attorney jobs and less than 40 percent of all graduates were employed as full time non temporary attorneys.
Critics question the forthrightness of some law schools in providing prospective students with accurate information on alumni job placement and compensation rates, suggesting that law schools may distort their statistics to attract students.
Some law school graduates suggest that their schools use misleading statistics to attract students. An example of this would be schools citing a relatively high number of its graduates being "gainfully employed" after a certain period, ranging anywhere from 6 months to 24 months after graduation. This is misleading because the school does not differentiate between employment in legal and non-legal fields; therefore, a graduate who is waiting tables or working in a big-box retailer would be considered "gainfully employed", even though a law degree was not a requirement for employment. Another example would be of schools citing a relatively high employment rate of students who responded to their employment survey without disclosing the percentage of students that responded. This is misleading because unemployed graduates tend not to respond to employment surveys until they gain employment, and some schools even explicitly tell graduates not to respond unless they are employed. In addition, schools cite the mean graduate salary, instead of the median; while the median salary of law graduates is approximately $62,000, the mean could be inflated somewhat by a relatively small concentration of graduates earning starting salaries well above the median. For example, the starting salary at mega law firms in several cities across the country in 2008 is US$160,000.[not in citation given] It is likely that median salary statistics are incorrect, because students who are unemployed, working temporary jobs or have a low salary may be less likely to submit a salary report to the school.
A common response to this criticism is that it simply reflects the reality of competitiveness in legal education and in the legal market. With a limited number of top positions available, prospective law students should be circumspect about the employment opportunities that will await them after graduation—especially if they plan on attending a lower-ranked school.
Students at prestigious, highly regarded institutions have a variety of options available. This discrepancy can be seen as a function of supply and demand, with the number of newer (and thus lower-ranked) law schools proliferating in recent years. A similar difficulty may be encountered by graduate students in other fields, although the aforementioned lack of accurate information about post-graduate employment may exacerbate the problem for law students.
In 2008 Makau Mutua, the interim dean of the State University of New York's only law school, said there was a "glut" of law schools, with a total of 15 in the state (Albany, Brooklyn, Cardozo, Columbia, Cornell, Fordham, Hofstra, New York Law School, NYU, Pace, St. John's, Syracuse, Touro (Fuchsberg), and public SUNY Buffalo and CUNY Queens College).
According to the National Law Journal, 40% of law school graduates default on their student loans, incurring collection fees of 29% when the loans are turned over to collection agencies. Law school graduates default more often than doctors, engineers, and business school graduates.
According to the 2009 annual report of the Association for Legal Career Professionals, 55% of graduates responded to employment statistics requests. Of 19,513 respondents, 88% reported that they were working, or approximately 45% of all graduates assuming those not responding are not employed. Of the respondents, 39% reported that they were not practicing law but were in the military, public interest, business or the same job as was held before law school. Of the remaining 61% of respondents (34% of the graduating class), the reported salaries for first-year lawyers congregated in two camps: those who earn about $30,000 to $65,000 a year (representing about 34% of reported lawyer salaries), and those who earn about $160,000 a year (representing about 25 percent of reported lawyer salaries). Few lawyers actually receive “average” or even median pay. Additionally, 86% of lawyers reported start dates pushed more than 6 months after passing the bar.
Thus according to the NALP, of the responding lawyers salaries for those earn around $160,000 they represent only 8% of the entire graduating class. This mirrors the top 10% observation of "super lawyers" which has been cited elsewhere. Super lawyers are the top 10% of top 10 law schools who go on to earn $160,000. Of the remaining 90% with a law school debt that can exceed $200,000 the return on investment is very poor and can significantly affect quality of life.
As of 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the expected number of new lawyer positions is to be fewer than 60% of the number of graduates out of law schools. However, employment statistics vary by race, ethnicity, gender, age, location, and school rankings. For instance in the last recession in Los Angeles the public sector employment for lawyers was frozen for 5 years (as of 2010 it has been frozen for 1 year). In the private sector in California approximately 3,500 attorneys were terminated in 2009. In one day alone nationwide 800 law firm jobs were terminated. Attrition among graduates of law schools are also very high, with 39% reporting not practicing law after 1 year. After 10 years in lower tier schools it approaches 90%.
In order to pay for law school, many law students assume debt obligations in the form of student loans. Many graduate with well over $100,000 in student loan debt. Currently the maximum a student may borrow under the federal loan borrowing program is $20,500 per year. Tuition charged by instutitions above $20,500 per year must be covered by private education loans that are not eligible for deferment and forgiveness programs available for federally backed educational loans. The New York Times has recently published an article questioning the propriety of the Chairman of the Board of Access Group, Richard Matasar, also serving as the Dean of New York Law School. Unlike most other types of debt including gambling debt, student loan debt is generally not discharged in bankruptcy proceedings.
A 2005 study found that liberals were significantly overrepresented among elite law schools professors. This has been criticized since law professors may significantly influence legal issues and courts by their submissions. A 2010 study of hiring initial, tenure-track professors made during the years 2005, 2007 and 2009 at law schools found that 52% of those hired were openly liberal compared to 8% openly conservative. There was no statistical relationship between law school prestige and tendency to hire liberals or conservatives. The authors wrote that "the extreme discrepancy between the proportion of new professors who can be clearly identified as liberal or conservative indicates either unequal hiring patterns or environments less conducive to openness and debate in the law school setting,"
||This section's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. Please help improve the article by updating it. There may be additional information on the talk page. (January 2012)|
Four lawsuits were filed in 2011 involving various law schools. One was filed by the Thomas Cooley Law School against a law firm and four anonymous internet bloggers and seeks to recover damages for defamation. A separate lawsuit was filed by a graduate of the Thomas Jefferson School of Law against her school, seeking damages for misrepresentation and fraud regarding the school's published employment statistics and salary information. The third and fourth lawsuits were filed by The Kurzon Strauss law firm against New York Law School and Thomas Cooley Law School.
The U.S. News and World Report's regularly publishes a list of the "Top 100 Law Schools" based on various quantitative factors, e.g., faculty publishing statistics, entering student LSAT scores, percentage of alumni contributing money. Also, Professor Brian Leiter complies a regular series of evaluations called "Brian Leiter's Law School Reports" in which he and other commentators discuss law schools. More recently, Vault, famous for developing a listing of the prestigious "Vault 100" law firms, has developed a ranking system based on "a unique emphasis on employability". In general, these rankings are controversial, not universally accepted as authoritative, and frequently used for a variety of purposes, i.e., alumni contribution appeals.
In contrast, a utilitarian approach to law school ranking looks at the relative employment prospects of graduates of the various tiers. Typically, the most prestigious opportunities in the country (e.g., U.S. Supreme Court clerkships) are filled by graduates of elite law schools.
Most law schools outside the top tier are more regional in scope and often have very strong regional connections to these post-graduation opportunities. For example, a student graduating from a lower-tier law school may find opportunities in that school's "home market": the legal market containing many of that school's alumni, where most of the school's networking and career development energies are focused. In contrast, an upper-tier law school may be limited in terms of employment opportunities to the broad geographic region that the law school feeds.
A handful of law schools outside the top tiers are national in scope, mainly those that cater to a unique student niche—such as law schools operated by historically black colleges and universities, or schools with a strong conservative Christian orientation, among them Liberty University School of Law (Baptist), Ave Maria School of Law (Catholic), and the law school at Regent University (Protestant). For example, the class that entered Ave Maria Law in fall 2006 had students from 37 states and the class that entered Regent Law at the same time had students from 39 states. Also, only 21% of the students who entered Regent Law in 2006 were residents of the school's home state of Virginia.
Many schools are authorized or accredited by a state and some have been in continuous operation for over 95 years. Most are located in Alabama, Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, and in Puerto Rico. Some state authorized law schools are maintained to offer a non-ABA option eliminating costly ABA requirements seen as unnecessary by many of these states.
Some schools are not accredited by a state or the American Bar Association. Most are located in California. Such schools in California are registered and licensed to operate by The State Bar of California Committee of Bar Examiners (CBE), but are not accredited by the CBE. Their first year students are required to take the First-Year Law Students' Examination ("Baby Bar"), which then authorizes them to continue their studies in years following. Graduates of these schools may then take the California Bar Examination. Once they pass the Bar, they are licensed to practice law in California. However, many other jurisdictions do not allow graduates of unaccredited law schools to sit for their bar examination.
Law schools are listed from the dates from when they were first established to 1850.
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