Expand Your Practice into New Regions Using Contract Lawyers and a Virtual Client Enrollment, Intake, and Management System
We are really excited to share this episode with you. This is an interview with Alex Keenan who’s one of our provider attorneys out of Dutchess County, New York, Poughkeepsie. He also services Albany and the general Albany metro.
He’s working on potentially expanding to handle Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, New York and some other regions as well. How’s that possible? Well, one of the things that Alex has been working really closely with us on and has been executing really effectively on is bringing on contract lawyers in his practice and also developing a streamlined technology enabled process for intaking and rolling, acquiring and then interfacing with his clients. He’s got the full suite. He’s got obviously our unbundled attorney service for lead generation, which we now have integration with Lexicata for sales and intake, management doing that all electronically with a click of a button, intake forms.
He’s got LawPay, which allows clients to pay his retainer agreement or an automated billing layaway type of option or a payment plan with the click of a button and also sign a retainer agreement with a click of a button. He has Clio, which obviously manages his cases for the ones that he’s converted. He’s able to assign individual cases to individual contract lawyers that he works with at his whim based on what he feels is best for the clients. It’s a beautiful streamline process. He’s doing almost 100% of enrollments right over the phone. Handles all the lead calls himself and then assigns the clients to attorneys based upon their local region. They always have a local provider attorney even though he’s in Poughkeepsie, an hour and a half, sometimes three hours away from Saratoga.
He’s got a local provider attorney that handles that client for him. Really, just the boundaries as far as how far and how wide attorneys can grow a practice fueled by lead generation and then also enabled by technology are completely being blown away. For attorneys that are ambitious and want to expand and have always been limited to the pool of clients that happen to be an hour, an hour and a half in your office, this is a perfect example and an illustration of how this has been made possible. Let’s get right into it. This interview with Alex Keenan. Again, our provider attorney out of Dutchess County and Albany and soon potentially the entire rest field of New York.
Dave Aarons: All right, Alex. Welcome to the show.
Alex Keenan: Thanks for having me.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, man. Like I was just saying, this is a long time coming here. We’ve been talking about having you on the show for a while but there’s been so many things that you wanted to accomplish in the mean time that we just felt like I wanted to find the right timing so that you’ve executed on so many of your masterful plans. I’m excited the day has finally come. Looking forward to sharing with everyone what you’ve been able to accomplish in just a few short months of us working together. Thanks for taking the time today.
Alex Keenan: All right. Sounds good. My pleasure.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Yeah. Alex, if you’d give them a little bit of background, maybe your personal background. Where you come from, how you got your start in the practice of law and the regions and areas of law that your practice serves now.
Alex Keenan: All right. Yeah, sure. I’m a lawyer in New York outside of the city, about an hour north right up the Hudson River. I actually went to law school in Florida and then I did an LLM in Maritime Law in London. When I came back to the states, I went and I got my MBA with a focus in Maritime. I’m actually an Admiral 2 lawyer. When I came back to the states, there’s not a whole lot of Admiral 2 work unfortunately. I opened up my own practice. Shortly thereafter, I found you guys, which has been just a great supplement to the commercial and real estate stuff that I was doing at that time. At this point, if a few short months we’ve been working together, family law has taken over my practice. That’s my focus at this point.
Dave Aarons: What was the initial draw to Admiralty Law or did you just grow up on the ocean and had an interest in it? What was your original thrust in that direction?
Alex Keenan: We used to take trips to the beach, which was always awesome. We used to go once a week down to Long Island which is about two and a half hours from where I grew up. When I was a teenager, my brother and I got a little boat. We headed out in the river. It was the best thing ever. It was something like we just discovered it. In law school, actually, even before I’m in college, I started volunteering with the Coast Guard. Just got wrapped up into it and became my passion in life.
Dave Aarons: For those that aren’t so familiar, what does Admiralty Law encompass? What was your initial thinking around practicing in that area?
Alex Keenan: Yeah. It encompasses a whole lot. Anything from criminal law to contracting, just anything that has to do with the ocean, you can probably find some form of law that touches admiralty. It’s just a very old body of law. It doesn’t change a whole lot. After I went to school, I obviously figured out a lot more about it since my law school didn’t have any Admiralty courses. It’s a lot of a commercial law basically. International trade. There’s the thing called charter parties, which is renting a ship and then there’s entire lawyers who just do charter parties. It’s very specialized. It becomes very complex very quickly.
Dave Aarons: Okay. Did you say that you got your license to practice law first and then an MBA? Did you just do it the other way around?
Alex Keenan: I actually took the New York Bar during my MBA. It was a year and a half program. I got it in the summer.
Dave Aarons: What was the draw for you to take an MBA that would say that seems probably of a more unusual side for attorneys. The folks of the practice of law but don’t necessarily have the background in business and business administration. How did that combination, how’s that helped in building out your practice so far?
Alex Keenan: I initially did it because when I went to London and did the LLM, a lot of my classmates had already been working in Admiralty law firms or for shipping companies. They had a business background. They did that first. I was behind a little bit. I had to catch up on the maritime business side of things. When I came back, I went to SUNY Maritime, which is in the Bronx. It was a specialist MBA. Just because Admiralty Law is so commercial, they play out pretty well. Luckily though, the principles readily transfer between maritime business and a law practice business, just keeping track of my ROI and things like that, they don’t teach you that in law school. It’s actually come in pretty handy.
Dave Aarons: Okay. Out of law school, you started pretty much. How long was it when you graduated law school that you started your own practice?
Alex Keenan: Okay. That would have been, we’re looking at … I graduated in 2013. I started in January 2017 so three and a half years.
Dave Aarons: Okay. Did you work for a firm in between? What was the transition period between when you graduated and decided to start your solo practice?
Alex Keenan: I graduated from the MBA. I had my law license and I went right into solo practice.
Dave Aarons: Wow. Okay. That was what I thought. Yeah. It seemed like it was not much time between when you graduated and you just said, “You know what? I’m going all in.”
Alex Keenan: Right. I’ve spent the six months between getting my law license and graduating, looking at the admiralty market. It just wasn’t there. Shortly before graduation, I made the decision. We’re going to go solo.
Dave Aarons: What was it for you that gave you the confidence or had you so convicted in going the direction of being a solo practitioner and starting your own practice in today’s age right off the bat?
Alex Keenan: I’ve been to it briefly. I guess summer of the second year in law school with a friend. We had considered, “Let’s graduate and open up a practice, just the two of us. We’ll kill it.” We looked into it pretty seriously but it just never came to fruition. We were just I think a little immature at the time. Then after I had these other two degrees on top of that and I am very confident with the computer, and all that goes with it. I said, “Well, I can do this.” One day, I started designing a logo. I thought, “Well, you know, this will give me the flexibility to do the kind of cases that I want to do. I can pick and choose the clients, pick and choose the areas of the law I want to practice in.” I mean, pretty good.
Dave Aarons: Okay. Let me jump right into the genesis story of our relationship and how things started growing pretty rapidly. The Hudson River is relatively small population area compared to for example, New York City or Albany. Your primary office or headquarters is Poughkeepsie. Correct?
Alex Keenan: Yes, Poughkeepsie. It’s about an hour, hour and a half south of Albany.
Dave Aarons: Okay. Maybe you could walk us through how we initially started. If I recall, you had started not only your own region but also another region, Albany, which was about an hour and a half north of you. Correct?
Alex Keenan: Right. I actually standardized to LawPay. I started researching them because I wanted to accept credit cards and was worried about the whole trust account versus operating account. Ethical issues with that and you guys popped up. Got in touch with Graham and we started talking about the region where I was living, the Hudson River Valley. You’re right. It’s just not super populous. He said, “Well, what about doing a satellite office, a day office or something in Albany?” I said, “Okay.” We started with the Hudson River Valley. I did a little research in Albany. I found an executive suites. They set me to have the day off, which was I just paid for by the hour. Then I called you guys back to set up Albany and it took off from there.
Dave Aarons: Okay. That was it ridges or it was a virtual office where you could reserve time by the hour?
Alex Keenan: It’s like ridges. They’re a private company. As far as I know, they’re only in Albany but yeah. They have this floor of a skyscraper and they just rent it out by the hour.
Dave Aarons: How has that been helpful for you in starting a practice in a new region to have the virtual office to bridge the gap?
Alex Keenan: Well, it’s definitely helpful because actually, that’s a different area code as well. You need something for the clients to trust that you’re not some far away guy who’s just going to take their money and disappear overnight. We set up a new phone number with the right area code. We had an address in Albany now. For me, it was just, “Okay. Well, I’ve got seven leads who came through and want a consultation. Let’s get them all scheduled one right after the other on a Thursday.” I’ll drive up to Albany and I’ll meet with them all. That’s fine. That paid for itself. That was great.
Dave Aarons: From your first batch of leads in Albany, you got a number of appointments and just booked them all. You basically batched the appointments per se to one day so you could optimize the travel time in order to meet with the clients up in Albany?
Alex Keenan: Exactly. As much as I could, I would batch them together. Sometimes, you wouldn’t have a full day so you try to batch them in the afternoon. That way, you’re not traveling as much and you’re not paying the hourly rate to wait for clients to show up. They’re all in the afternoon, you can just do one right after the other.
Dave Aarons: Just for those that are curious and interested in doing the same, how was it that you’d set up the local phone number? Do you use Google Voice for that? How did you get a local phone number? That is something that some clients have concerns about if they see a number from outside the region, they automatically assume, “Well, this person is not local.” It raises issues of trust. How did you get that local number set up so that when you were calling clients that they were calling you, it was the 518 area code?
Alex Keenan: Right. Originally, I did it actually through the office. They had a service where the clients would call the receptionist at the office. The receptionist would forward it to me. However, I don’t do that anymore. Right now, I switched finally over to Vonage. I have two numbers. They both come right to my phone. One’s Albany area code. One’s a Poughkeepsie area code.
Dave Aarons: Okay. You have the 518 Vonage phone number and that Vonage number just rolls over to your Poughkeepsie phone number or whatever, your cell or home office line?
Alex Keenan: Right. It’s just my normal main line, the 845 number. The 518 is pretty much just forwarded right to. No matter who calls, I answer the same way.
Dave Aarons: Do you show the 518 number on your profile page? Would you use the most popular number on the profile page? Do you use your private office line?
Alex Keenan: I use my primary office line. However, I will sometimes call people back from the 518 number if I know they’re pretty far upstate. We’ve expanded from Albany into Saratoga, which is another 45, 50 minutes away. The farther out they are, I’ll call from the 518. Yeah.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. That’s a Vonage box you’re using through voice over internet? Do you have the Vonage extensions app on your phone? How have you been using that so far?
Alex Keenan: I’ve got a desk phone here that’s plugged into my internet. I also have the app on the phone. When I’m on the road or something, I can make it look like I’m calling from the office. Yeah. Actually, it’s synced up with Clio as well. Any time talking to a client or something like that, it’s actually recording the time and puts it directly into Clio so I don’t have to cut down on the recording time.
Dave Aarons: That’s right. I did reminder her that Vonage has an integration. It basically tracks the length of each call and so, if you’re doing billable time over the phone or you just want to keep track of how long you’ve been spending on each client, it basically makes a record for each matter you have in Clio. It’s synced up?
Alex Keenan: Right. You put in the client’s information or they give you their information, their phone number in Clio. Whenever you call that number, or they call you from that number, Clio recognizes it and starts recording the time. Then it gives you the option to note to it or something like that. It also records whether it’s inbound or outbound, the time, just useful stuff like that.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Yeah. Awesome. It just does it automatically. I’ll make a note about Vonage. We’ve been using Vonage in our company for a very long time. What’s really useful of Vonage especially for those that might want to travel internationally is any time you call from Vonage like you said, you can have your Vonage extensions app, which basically just makes calls through either your 4G LTE connection on your phone. You can make calls through Wi-Fi assuming your phone is connected to a Wi-Fi. You can be making calls from Italy or from Croatia or South America or wherever you are on vacation and the phone number will still say your local office line, your 518 number.
Any clients that want to call you to your office line if you have that set up as your office line, even if you’re in Italy or Hawaii or Croatia or South America and they call that number, it rings right to your phone. It’s a local call for the client and rings your phone wherever you are internationally.
Alex Keenan: That’s a nice selling feature.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Yeah. From a location dependence, for cultivating worldwide travel, for being able to take a vacation and if you wanted to still work remotely, we have a lot of attorneys and I’ll just plan to see. We have a lot of attorneys that focus their time on fielding the lead calls or doing a lot of virtual work. They have contractors, which we’re going to get into in just a minute that make a lot of the appearances in court and do the in person time. When you start to look at how Vonage can allow you to work remotely in such a way and internationally without even appearing like you’re outside of Albany, it starts to get the wheels turning in ways in which you can even practice remotely part time out of the year for example.
Alex Keenan: Right. Yeah. That’s awesome.
Dave Aarons: Why not, huh?
Alex Keenan: Yeah. It makes taking a vacation that much easier.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Well, if you can even keep the practice running without you skipping a beat from a beach in Brazil, I think that might be an interesting idea or interesting experiment for some attorneys. I don’t know if that would have been possible five, 10 years ago.
Alex Keenan: Right, absolutely.
Dave Aarons: Okay. Let’s switch gears here. You were making the trip up to Albany. You’re 100% solo practice. I think to some degree, still solo but at one stage, you started getting to the point where you wanted to hire some help. Hire contract lawyers to start supporting you in working with these clients in Albany. Obviously, you’re working on some other regions as well. Walk us through that process. At what point you decided to start making the transition to hiring a contract lawyer to assist you and take us through how that’s gone so far.
Alex Keenan: Yeah. Batching clients into a certain afternoon or a certain day is not too bad. Batching court appearances does not work though. Basically, I would be driving to Saratoga, which is about three hours away from me for an hour court appearance. I’d spend six hours in the car and only get to bill for an hour, which the economics just don’t work out after a while. I was talking with Graham about this and listened to the podcast last month. People had done it. I wound up putting an ad on Craigslist and an ad on Indeed. It cost about I think 75 bucks for both. I got plenty of responses. I had asked for somebody who was experienced with family law. I got the gamut of people with zero experience, people that have been doing it for 20 years.
I wound up hiring a great guy who had worked in the area for other family attorneys. He was in transition so this was a great temporary gig for him. It worked out so well that now, I’m up to a total of three contract attorneys all over the regions that I handle.
Dave Aarons: Okay. What was the best source of inquiries of lawyers? Was it Craigslist, Indeed? Was it just even combination? What did you find when you were posting ads for contract lawyers?
Alex Keenan: I posted the exact same ad on both sides. Indeed got me the most responses. However, I hired all three I believe on Craigslist. Yeah. It’s weird. It’s more what I was looking for.
Dave Aarons: They seem to be more aligned to the type of work you were looking for. Can you compare and contrast it to or isolate why that was different for you?
Alex Keenan: I’m not really sure. The Indeed, I asked for an experienced family attorney. Somebody with at least a year of experience in family law. I got a lot of new graduates from the Indeed’s. I got people who had experience in other kinds of law, which I guess wouldn’t have been so bad. I have to do a little training but at least it would have courtroom experience. Whereas with Craigslist, the three attorneys I have now all have at least a year of experience in family law. The first guy I hired had 20 years experience in family law. It was perfect. I’m not sure why that’s the case. Indeed claims to have a good algorithm for that. Yeah. I’m not sure why that popped up that way.
Dave Aarons: Okay. Can you walk us through how you structured the relationship with the contract lawyers? Maybe we can start diving into your workflow as far as calling the leads and then reassigning and so forth. What does the relationship look like from a financial standpoint? Is it an hourly split? How does that work? How did you initially create those relationships? Maybe you can walk us through that.
Alex Keenan: Sure. Financially speaking, it’s an even split at this point. I try to keep them as local as possible. If I have a case in Saratoga, I try to give it to the attorney who lives closest to Saratoga. At this point, I let them run their own sub practice, I guess is how I would call it. We do a weekly or bi-weekly check in where we check in on the client’s trust account and make sure I have money to pay them essentially. That has the client’s case progressed? Has it closed? Just status update. For the most part, once I’ve gained the client’s trust, they take over from there. They are in charge of the client with the exception of anything billing related which I still handle.
Dave Aarons: Okay. Even split that means on the hourly rate? What’s your hourly rate that you typically bill? What’s the split? I think it was 250 and then 125, 125?
Alex Keenan: The hourly rate is 200 and we’re splitting it 100, 100.
Dave Aarons: Okay. Just for clarification for attorneys that are new to this, the billable rate for the attorney on the books for the client is $200 an hour. Because they’re a contractor of yours, you get 100 of each hour that’s billed by the contract lawyer and then the contract lawyer gets 100 an hour. Is that right?
Alex Keenan: That’s right.
Dave Aarons: Okay. Great. Did you have an intent independent contractor relationship between you and the contract lawyer? If so, how did you put that together? Is there a resource online you can suggest for putting together initial agreement with the contract lawyer?
Alex Keenan: I definitely want to keep it as an independent contractor because I’m not set up to do payroll and whatnot. I have it set up where they are required to send me an invoice. That’s got to bill the client. That’s also how they get paid. I did formalize that with everybody with the exception of the first contract lawyer I hired. I found a couple of things online and coupled together a new contract, which actually I can send you guys if you want. I don’t mind if you have other clients who are interested in using it. It’s quick and easy. It’s three pages.
It basically says, “Hey, you’re independent contractor. You’re responsible for the everyday expenses, your phone bill whatever. These are the things that we can charge the client for. These are the things that you’re responsible for. You’re required to send me an invoice and to check in with me every now and again to make sure that we’re not doing too much work for the client that they’re not going to be able to pay for. If we get to that point, then I need to make sure I’m in touch with the client and following up for that money.” That’s basically all it says.
Dave Aarons: Okay. Fair enough. When you were initially bringing on each of these contract lawyers, obviously we have a very unique type of service relative to say most attorneys might be familiar with that says, offering unbundled legal services, providing payment plans and more structured pays. You go types of options. We can maybe talk about the options you offer but was there some initial? Let me start there. What types of options do you find because you still take some leads and handle the cases yourself, right? You don’t always have a contract lawyer take it over?
Alex Keenan: Right. For family law right now, I think I have three or four open cases. I’m going to court this week for one. Basically, I take the ones that are closer to me. Nobody is in the same county as me. If I get a case within the county where I am, I usually take it. Otherwise, I’ll hand it off.
Dave Aarons: Okay. We want to get into the types of options you offer. One of the things I want to touch on is just your initial training and vetting and working with the attorneys. Just how that went for you and ensuring that they are offering the types of options that you’re committed to offering. What are the types of things that you do for your clients? Do you offer some forms of unbundled services? do you do the payment plans with the clients? Maybe you can do a quick overview of how you’ve been obviously very successful at converting clients that you work personally into paying customers and then we can maybe talk about how you’ve been able to duplicate that or share that or train that with the contract lawyers you’ve worked with so far.
Alex Keenan: Okay. Yeah. I got you. The whole philosophy here that worked for you guys is we’re taking on people who are working families. They don’t have $5,000 retainers. They have a few hundred bucks maybe. They need some help but they’re working. We can work with that. We do payment plans, layaway options. I try to keep the retainers as low as I can. I try to play with the retainers as I’m talking with the client, see what they can afford. We’ve occasionally taken 300 bucks for a retainer just to get things going. Sometimes, we get a call they report tomorrow. Well, let’s see what we can do for you. I’ve rarely gotten burned on that. It’s not a huge deal.
When I go to hire a contractor and we’re going to interview, I try to be as open as I can with them. This may not be your typical experience with family law where people are asking for 3500 or $5,000 for a retainer and then hoping for the best. We have to have some empathy for these clients. That’s a big hurdle for me because I have interviewed people before who just aren’t super into that. The people that are working for me now really liked that concept. They seem to value being able to help somebody in their time of need. That’s nice. Those are the people I want to work with who can body into the whole premise here. There’s a whole lot of training that has to go on because usually, by the time they’re meeting the clients, I’ve already explained to the client what’s going on with the payments.
I’m still handling the payments for all my contractors. They don’t really ever have to follow up with the client. I like to keep it separated. They can just concentrate on the legal side, on winning their case really. If I have to, I’ll chase the clients to have the money.
Dave Aarons: Okay. Yeah. Fair enough. You mentioned that you had a lot of attorneys that were not and this is probably very similar to our process for finding attorneys is that mix between attorneys that want to do things the traditional route and wanted to take you up for a retainer. There’s a difference in the philosophy like you said have attorneys that really are interested in cultivating empathy and working with clients on a more affordable basis. What’s been your experience on identifying attorneys that want to do both? What have you found to be the consistent qualities of the attorneys that you’ve ended up moving forward with that these attorneys have that made you seem like you were a good fit to work with them?
Alex Keenan: When I initially posted the job, I actually put in there, must have empathy for the client. Just to give them the heads up that this is something that we’re going to discuss either during our initial phone call or at the interview. It does. It does come up. I want to know what experiences they’ve had where they’ve had to be flexible on this kind of thing. I also want to know at their last job doing family law, what was that policy? What did they not like about it? I had one candidate tell me that, “We used to charge for organizing the file. Once a month, we’d go to all the files and the client would get charged for that.” I say, “Okay. Well, we’re not going to charge that because our clients really can’t afford that and we should be keeping our files together anyway.”
I see their reaction to that. If they’re like, “Oh, yeah. No. I totally agree. That’s crazy to charge the client for that.” Great. You move on to the next step. If they’re a little more hesitant, you got to wonder why. You dig a little deeper. The other thing I do is I do the first. Usually, I’ll get a lead on the phone, get them converted and hired. After that, we set up a meeting with the attorney who’s actually going to handle their case. For the first couple of those meetings, I sit in with the new contractor. That way, I can guide the meeting to make sure that we hit all the points and answer all the questions the client has as I would answer them.
Then I give some feedback to the contractor afterwards just so that there’s consistency throughout the firm. That we’re not making new policies for each contractor. That’s worked out really well so far.
Dave Aarons: For the contract lawyers that haven’t worked out, at what point have you found that you’ve been deciding to go, to say, “Hey. I really don’t think this is going to work out.” Is it at the interview stage? Have you gone to the point with a couple of contract lawyers where you sit there with the clients having to go on, “Well, this guy or girl doesn’t have empathy. It doesn’t seem like he’s actually a good fit once I’ve met with this person.” What stage do you get to the point where you’re really comfortable with the attorney? Where do you find that if it ain’t going to work out, you’re going to find out?
Alex Keenan: Well, so far knock on wood, I have not had a contractor make it pass interview stage who I didn’t wind up hiring. Any contractor that I’ve actually sat down with for a client interview has wound up becoming a contractor for me. So far so good on that front.
Dave Aarons: Okay. Great. You’re pretty clear. You’re pretty good at getting a good sense for whether they’re going to be a good fit to work together through the initial phone interview. Once you get to the phone interview, by the time you’re meeting with them, you’re usually pretty comfortable with the fact that it’s going to work out.
Alex Keenan: Yeah. By the end of the interview, I’m pretty certain that this is going to work out fine.
Dave Aarons: Okay. Got you. Walk us through Alex, so far I want to make sure this is clear. You still field all the lead calls in every region where they come in and handle that initial consultation and that conversion. It’s a hand off to the contract lawyers in there. I really like to get specific on how that works because again, there’s a lot of attorneys I think that are interested in opening up other regions either because they’re in a smaller populous zone and wanted to get into a bigger metro. They’re already doing one metro and they want to open up another metro for example, which I know we could talk about your goals and what you’re working on in New York. Maybe let’s walk through where the leads are coming in.
Obviously, they’re coming in to you. How do you handle the initial call? How do you do the hand off from there?
Alex Keenan: Okay. Yeah. Yeah. All the regions, they come to me. They’re funneled to me. I get them by email, by text and then I get a notification from Lexicata, which is my CRM. That’s actually been valuable. We’ve spoken about that before. It’s great because it links up with all the other programs that I’m using. Essentially, in Lexicata, there’s an inbox. It’s got all the leads that are coming in. Basically, in real time. As soon as I get a text message, they’re there in Lexicata as well. I can click on that and see all the same information that I would see if I was on unbundled site and looking at the leads. From there, usually if I’m at my desk, there’s a button that I can just click and it connects to my Vonage phone. I pick up the call and the person’s on the other line.
I have to leave them a voicemail, then I’ll email them and go to the whole process of getting in contact with that lead initially. From there, if I can get them on the phone, or set up a time to get them on the phone, I basically just sit and listen to them. I wanted to take the trouble for them to tell me about their case. Some people just say, “I need an uncontested divorce. I’m pulling to you for information.” Other people, they think they’re on the phone with a therapist maybe. They just want to tell you their whole life story. That’s fine because those are people who usually wound up getting converted. I got something cathartic about being able to just get it out and having somebody listen to them and ask them the right questions.
When they actually talk to you, you ask the right questions, they’re the ones who wound up converting. They feel comfortable I suppose. I know when I first started with you guys, Graham and I were talking about it. We spent 15 minutes on the phone with the client. As it progressed through last month, that’s changed a bit. Usually, I wind up spending at least a half hour on the phone with a client. The kind of trade off for that is a lot of them I never have to meet in person. I can actually sign them up right over the phone and have them sign the retainer agreement and send me their retainer payment as well.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. I found that to be when we’ve interviewed attorneys, the attorneys that enroll clients over the phone and do that really effectively, a very common thread has been that they took the approach as spending more time with each client on the initial call. In the 30-minute range as opposed to the 10 to 15 minutes, which is the 10 to 15 minutes is more like, “Let’s touch base. Make sure it’s a case we can handle.” Build a little bit of a rapport. Hear about your situation and then set up the in office meeting. That can be done at a very, very high conversion rate and so forth. For someone to be able to do it over the phone, it seems like it really does take a bit of time for the client to feel comfortable with you enough to be pulling the trigger and ready to get started. Is it not?
Alex Keenan: Yeah, exactly. I think there’s something about meeting somebody in person where there’s just instantly more trust. When you’re on the phone with somebody, you have to go over that hurdle of you’re an anonymous person on the other end of the wire. That just takes a little bit of time and actively listening to the person who’s talking and making sure that you understand what their problem is and showing it.
Dave Aarons: Right. Yeah, exactly. Maybe you could just take us briefly because you’ve done obviously really well, Alex with handling those initial calls really effectively and converting clients consistently. I don’t know if you could share, if you know off the top of your head roughly what your conversion is. Out of 10, how many leads roughly you convert out of 10. Of those, how many are usually right over the phone?
Alex Keenan: I would say out of 10, in the beginning, it was low. Now, it’s gotten higher. Probably an average of four. Four out of 10 gets converted. I would say at least three or four are done entirely over the phone, which actually worked out well. When I was doing it in the beginning, batching clients together, or batching leads at that point, you’d have to schedule them out a week to get its work effectively. You’d always get somebody who don’t show up or who need to reschedule or something like that, which again, the economics didn’t work driving all the way up to Albany to meet with these guys.
Doing it over the phone makes things way easier because even if they’re not interested or they don’t have the money or something that you can figure that out all right from your desk. It’s so worth the extra time spending on the phone versus having to drive to meet these people.
Dave Aarons: Is there a point in the call where you just ask the client? When you explained the enrollment, we can either do this over the phone. I can do it in the office. How do you isolate or determine whether it’s a client that really feels like they need to meet with you in order to feel comfortable with moving forward or is someone that will be open and willing to just enrolls it over the phone at that time. Does the client just tell you?
Alex Keenan: They just tell you. They tell you straight up. I want to meet this person before I commit anything. That’s fine. I respect that. If I was hiring a lawyer, it’s probably what I would do. That’s fine. Basically, what we’ll do is instead of them coming down to meet me or me going up to meet them, what I usually do is I call up my contractor who is in there region. I say, “Listen, what does your schedule look like for this week? Can you meet this potential client? I’ll send you all the background on them that I have from this phone call.” They’re totally fine with that because they’re nearby.
I tell the lead that, “Hey, listen. I’m going to set you up with a meeting with the person who’s actually going to be handling your case.” They love that. That’s fine. I have them throw up intake form before that meeting just so we have all that information. I send them the retainer agreement and the payment length. Which they also appreciate because it gives them time to read about it. Usually, I can have them in a meeting with the contractor that week so there’s less time for them to either think, “Well, maybe I don’t need help.” Go hire some other attorney or something like that. They also see that the retainer agreement is reasonable. We’re not trying to pull the law over their eyes or anything like that.
Often times, right after the meeting with the contractor, I get a notification from LawPay saying they’ve paid their retainer agreement. It works out fine. Other times, we get to the point in the phone call where we have to discuss the payment arrangement which it just would end once they’ve told me all about their case. I tell them. I would listen. These are the three things I’m going to send you in an email right after we get off the phone. Give them a question about the. Give me a call but this is intake form at the doctor’s office. This is like paying for something on Amazon. You just type in your credit card number and it’s good go to. Usually, within the half hour of me sending that, I find that they’ve got the retainer payment sitting there in LawPay as well.
Dave Aarons: Let’s just go through that initial call, more of this 30-minute type of enrollment call. Are there some things that you do early, early on in the call just to make sure you have someone that is among the working families? Do you ask them are they working? What’s your income? Do you have some initial qualifiers? Because inevitably, as someone that’s done a lot of lead calls myself, it could be a bit frustrating if it happens repeatedly overtime and especially three, four, five times in a row for example, which sometimes when you call leads, they go on flows. Where you would spend 20, 30 minutes on the phone only to determine that the person has no income whatsoever and doesn’t even have support. Really is going to be struggling to come up with $100.
I love the fact that you actually have an option you offer to that person. We’re going to unpack later in just a minute. Maybe you can start with is there anything initially that you asked just to have some layer of qualification of the client early on in the call just to make sure that you have someone that’s going to be in some form of position to work with you?
Alex Keenan: Yeah. Usually, what I do is I introduce myself. “This is why I’m calling. Do you have a couple of minutes to discuss your case? What’s going on?” It’s very open ended question. It lets them get out what they’ve been holding back. I pretty much let them go on for five minutes. Within that five minutes, a lot of times they don’t tell me whether they’re working or not and what they do. Some, I didn’t have to ask. After the five minutes, that’s a great question for me to ask them is, “Okay. What do you do for a living?” Especially because we’re talking about usually visitation time or custody, they’re perfectly willing to tell me exactly what they’re doing and how much they make. They go and tell me what their ex-spouse does and what they make.
They’re not usually very defensive about that at that point. Even if they’re not working, a lot of times, what I found is they’ve got a relative who’s going to help them out. Just this week, I had somebody who said, “My aunt is going to give me a break on the rent. I’ll be able to pay your retainer.” “Okay. Great. However you make it work.” At the end of the call, that’s how I say it to them is that, “Look, we’re not looking to put you into the poor house. We’re very flexible about it but at the end of the day, we’re doing some work for you. We need to get paid for it.” I would say nine and a half times out of 10, they go, “Oh, no. No. I totally get that. I’m the same way. I drive a truck. I expect to get paid, too. Not a big deal.”
They figure out a way to do it. They really appreciate the fact that we’re flexible in how we get paid.
Dave Aarons: Okay. Great. Even if you have someone that maybe doesn’t have an income, you make a mental note of that. Okay. That’s going to be something we’ll have to work out later on but you still will spend the time, the 20, 30 minutes or so getting into the details of the situation and letting them vent about their problem regardless. Correct?
Alex Keenan: Yeah, for the most part. I’m more looking for how reasonable this person is. Occasionally, I get a call where they want to get the judge to recluse themselves and they’re going to appeal to Supreme Court. Just crazy stuff like that but we’re not going to take on. That’s more of the filter that I’m there for is to initially make sure that it’s something we can actually and are willing to help them with and then after that, get into the whole payment and financial side of things.
Dave Aarons: I love that, Alex. I love that your filter more. It has almost exclusively to do with is this person reasonable? Is something they’re trying to do legally able to be done? Is it realistic? That your filter really doesn’t have much to do with their finances at all. Not to say that it is important. It is and you have to work that out at the end of the day. Your options are so flexible that it really and maybe you can just share this from your own personal feelings experience. It doesn’t seem like finance is a really a barrier anymore. You can just focus on okay. Can we help this person?
Alex Keenan: That’s just it. I’ve gotten burned so few times on not taking a giant retainer upfront. At this point, I was just talking with Graham last week about even offering some more flexibility, flat rates and things like that. It’s not such a big deal. If we can help the person, the next step is to figure out can we do it and make a little bit of money at the same time? Yeah. It shouldn’t be a barrier to decently go help and if we can help them, then we will.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. That’s awesome. Okay. Let’s fast forward to the end of the call here. I want to get into some of the practicality of how you communicate to the client that you’re going to be assigning them to a contract lawyer that you work with in the firm. I don’t know if you use the word contract lawyer or I’m going to be assigning you to this attorney. He’s right there in this county and he’s helping you. Can you maybe share a little bit of the languaging of okay. We want to cover two things here. Number one. How you enroll the client and talk about the fees and so forth. Second of all, how you communicate to them that you’re going to be assigning them an attorney in their local county that’s going to be so and so that’s going to be handling the case from here.
Alex Keenan: Right. I don’t use the word contract attorney just because I find it creates confusion. Immediately when you say contract attorney, people think of an actual contract. They want a family lawyer attorney so it doesn’t really add up for them.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. It makes no sense. Right.
Alex Keenan: Instead, what I say is, “Okay. You’re in Saratoga. I was in Dutchess County which is about three hours away. My attorney X, Y and Z lives in Saratoga. I’m going to assign him to your case. He’s free on that day.” Because usually, they come with a court date. “To handle your case. How about we set up a phone call between the two of you? What do your week look like?” That way, they can tell me. “Oh, I work from 9:00 to 6:00. I need a night time phone call.” “Okay. No problem.” They don’t usually question it. Occasionally, I get somebody who says, “Oh, okay. Do they have a law experience with that kind of thing?”
I’ll go through and I know that attorney X, Y and Z has some tenure off for this many years and has been successful with our firm, etc. Usually, I don’t get too much of a pushback from it.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. It makes sense when you say, “Hey. I’m in Dutchess, two, three hours away but our attorney so and so. He’s right there in Saratoga. He’d be a really good fit to work with you.” That makes sense in the client’s mind. They’re going to want to work with someone local. That the fact that you offer someone that is right there in their county or in their local region is something that’s a benefit to them. Is it not?
Alex Keenan: It is. I’m thinking about another time when somebody questioned. “Why aren’t you the person who’s going to work for me on my case?” I said, “Well, I’d be happy to but you’re this many hours away. I’d have to charge you for that travel time. Maybe you can afford that but this is going to be a much better option for you in terms of overall financial.” They go, “Oh, yeah. You’re right. He’s only 20 minutes from the courthouse or whatever.” Instantly, it’s “Oh, okay. No problem.”
Dave Aarons: Exactly. Right. Can you talk about just your network of contract lawyers. You set up a phone call with the contract lawyer. By that time, have you already enrolled them into your services of your firm? Sometimes, do you do introductory call and then the enrollment takes place? How does that tend to work?
Alex Keenan: Usually, they’re already enrolled. I try to make sure that I’ve taken care of that before they meet the contractor because I have to pay the contractor whether or not we’ve got them enrolled. Ideally, I’d like to get them enrolled and given them free consultation with me. By the time they go to see the contractor, we’re already putting together a plan for this case. We’re already doing some real substantial work. Occasionally, the client will specifically ask to meet the contract lawyer before they will enroll. That’s fine. I tell them that they get a half hour with the contractor on me. I set up a call with the contractor so that they can arrange a time and a place to meet. That’s worked out well so far.
Dave Aarons: Okay. Great. Can you talk about just briefly. Your enrollment process is 100% digital online or you just take a card over the phone. I would assume certain scenarios but can you talk about how Lexicata, LawPay, Clio, just having these tools available to you. I believe you’re using all three has made it a lot easier for you to be able to complete that enrollment right over the phone or have a client be able to do it from their computer or smart phone with a few clicks of a button.
Alex Keenan: Yeah. Yeah. This is really cool. I love the fact that everything I use syncs with each other. It’s something I’ve built from the time I was working with nothing back in January. I started with Clio and LawPay, which work really well together. Again, LawPay solved the ethical issue of where does the credit processing fee get pulled from the trusted operating? I use Clio for all of my active and closed cases. Unbundled has option to either import the lead into Clio or I use Lexicata as well for my CRM, my customer relations management software. I have Unbundled leads go into Lexicata. I use that solely to keep track of my pipeline. Meaning, what stage before we do that? Have I called them yet? If I called them, do I need to follow up? Are they interested?
Are they waiting for money? Are they hired? Whatever. I also use Lexicata to do all the paper work prior to taking on their case. The intake form is totally automated in Lexicata. I send them out a pre populated form. I have one for custody disputes. I have one for divorce. The questions are a little different for each one. It pulls all that information in once the client is sorted out and it populates Lexicata and Clio for me. Their name, their address, their phone number, there’s no typing errors. It just all gets done automatically. The other thing I do is I send out the retainer agreements to Lexicata. They’re all automated as well.
I have a standard retainer agreement that need to be filled out to your client but automatically puts in their name. It allows them to put in the retainer amount because that varies based on who I’m talking to. Then allows me to sign it electronically. At that point, I can send it out to the client or clients. It does for multiple clients, too. They can sign it electronically either from their computer or their smart phone and it gets sent back to me and it timestamped. I have that. Once that’s done, I mark them as hired in Lexicata and I export the whole thing to Clio. It automatically creates a new matter. All of their information like the name and address is there, all of their notes that I’ve taken while I’ve been on phone calls with them become notes in Clio.
Their intake form and retainer agreement also transfer over. Now, I’ve got a ready to go matter in Clio, which I can then share with the contractor if it’s a case I’m keeping, I have it for me. From that point, we’re good to go. The other side of it is the LawPay side of it with recurring payments and whatnot. I send them a link from LawPay so they can make their initial retainer payment and then I have a form that goes out to them in Lexicata which they can also sign electronically if they’re on a recurring payment plan. From there, I just upload that into LawPay and they get charged on a regular basis. I let them choose. I tell them this is how much it’s going to be per month. If you get paid weekly, cool. Let’s do it weekly.
If you get paid bi-weekly, fine. Let’s do it bi-weekly. That makes them feel good that they have a choice over what day they get billed. Everything in LawPay that comes in gets recorded in Clio so I can keep track of who’s got what kind of money in their trust account.
Dave Aarons: Wow. Yeah. Can you just talk about how having all these, share for yourself and your own experience having all these systems integrated and also being able to interface with the client electronically from their smart phone and so forth has impacted your practice and just your ability to do everything you do virtually?
Alex Keenan: Well, I’d say one word that comes to mind is just streamlined things. Having everything integrated is huge because I have the client really doing a lot of the work. The intake form, I don’t have to write down what their address is or their spouse’s name. They’re filling it out because they’re most familiar with it. That information stays from the time that they’re a lead all the way until their case is closed and the information they provided. It seamlessly just bounces from one program to another and stays with the file. Paper files, I still have to keep them because the court likes to fax things or whatnot. For the most part, I can get all of the client’s information at home, on a laptop or even on my phone. I can instantly share it with the contractors.
Clio has this Clio Connect, which is like a private Cloud I guess. Lets me show both the client and the contractor the entire file of what we got going on. I can send bills to the client. I can send trust requests to the client if their account is low. I just let them know. I send them out a link and they take care of the payment. I don’t have to take it over the phone or anything like that. They’re doing it on their schedule. It cuts down the time really that I spend doing the more menial tasks.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, exactly. From the contract standpoint, in Clio, are you assigning the clients to that specific contractor in Clio so that then that contractor gets access to the file from there?
Alex Keenan: Exactly. I have a list of matters that are currently open. The new matter comes in to Lexicata. I click on it. I can actually share that whole file with the particular contractor. They get a link in their email that says Alexander has opened Clio Connect for this particular matter. They’ve got all the documents, all the intake forms, all the notes from the phone call that I’ve made. They could see all that.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. To be able to have each client individually assigned because that contract lawyer can only see the cases that they have been assigned by you in Clio. Correct?
Alex Keenan: Exactly. I don’t need my contractors seeing all the other cases or the firm’s financials or anything like that. They just get to see the client that they’re working on and the relevant documents for that client.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. It’s really a beautiful thing, Alex for you to be working with you for the time that we have, helping you get Lexicata set up. For anyone that wants access to these templates, as far as the emails that go out, each of these emails are pre written. Our templates in Lexicata and so like you said, you update bi-weekly or weekly for the payment. Maybe update their name and then click a button and send. It makes all these forms already pre created so that like you said, it’s streamlined each step in the process is available. We have these template emails in maybe Alex as we work with you a little bit more on getting the recurring agreements or some of these things together.
If you’d be open to it so that attorneys can start to utilize some of the more aspects of this streamline to be able to again, just every step of the process isn’t being duplicated. The clients completing the intake themselves. You don’t have to do that yourself. It auto populates and translates directly from Lexicata to Clio right into the documents. Are you using any form of document automation software on the backend to help with getting some initial paperwork done if you’re the one to do the case? You haven’t gone to that point yet?
Alex Keenan: Not necessarily document automation. I do use some Cloud services. I have Microsoft One Drive and Google Cloud or Google Drive I think they’re calling it now. I have some templates and things that I share with the contractors, letterhead, things like that so everybody’s on the same page and it looks uniform. We haven’t necessarily explored automation with the documentation yet. I see it coming within the next few months.
Dave Aarons: Okay. Great. Yeah. Also, by the way for those attorneys who are interested in asking questions about individual episodes, we’re going to start launching a blog post on our website, unbundledattorney.com/blog or you just click on the blog. We’re going to launch entire transcriptions of each episode. There’ll be places where you can leave comments, ask questions, which either we can respond or Alex, I’ll give you the opportunity to respond any questions as well if you’d be open to doing that?
Alex Keenan: Yeah, definitely.
Dave Aarons: Attorneys that are curious about this stuff or want more clarification, how it works, we can also put some links to some of the documents and templates that we put together and give you more of a medium in order to interact both with Unbundled Attorney, us, Alex and get some more additional support or suggestions on some of the things that we’re talking about here. That’s going to be coming here by the time this episode is launched, we’ll have show the blog ready to go. Final thing here, Alex. I’d love to touch on is just obviously you’re working virtually from a smaller town in New York. You’ve got three contract lawyers surrounding Albany and New York. You’re working almost 100% virtually, working and enrolling clients over the phone virtually.
You’ve got streamlined online intake systems. You’ve got a phone system that you could work from the Bahamas if you wanted to. What are some of your goals or maybe you could share a little bit of your vision for what you think is possible with your expansion and growth over the months and years to come throughout New York or whatever might be?
Alex Keenan: Well, yeah. Ideally, we’d move from one metropolitan area. In our case, Albany and get the next adjacent one. Just grow across New York. I think New York city is its own separate entity. There are other metropolitan areas in New York, Syracuse, Rochester, even Buffalo is out there, which I think would be great for the system. I think it’s partly in the immediate future, it’s getting the system tightened up to where it’s just works no matter who’s in control of it. Maybe that means I have to hire a paralegal or somebody to help me make calls in real time when I’m in court or something like that. I think for the years to come, certainly it’s about growth and adding some more areas and building out that way. If we can do it virtually, why not?
Dave Aarons: Yeah. It really takes away all the barriers that used to limit attorneys in their ability to handle a very specific pool of clients, which is clients that happen to reside within one hour of your office. As soon as it starts to get beyond that, then you start to run into logistical challenges or economic challenges of just your travel time like you mentioned earlier in the episode of having to travel four to six hours for one hour of court time.
Alex Keenan: Right.
Dave Aarons: That really starts to make a huge difference. Just the long term potential, hang on one second.
Alex Keenan: Sure.
Dave Aarons: That really starts to make a huge difference in long term growth potential of attorneys and firms that are ambitious. For attorneys that want to expand and want to grow. They want to open up new offices and be able to reach into pools of clients and growth that otherwise was impossible. They didn’t have the ability to work virtually, do enrollments, do these contract lawyers. It’s really exciting to me because as a company, I’m 100% support of, of you Alex, attorneys like yourself that are offering such affordable services. One thing we didn’t get a chance to talk about is layaway. Maybe hit that really briefly at the very end here but such affordable services. A very fair hourly rate, clients are really happy.
Obviously, you’re extremely flexible at the retainer agreement. Your conversion rate shows that you’re able to help four out of every 10 clients that were sending you at least and I’m sure you’re continuing to work on improving that. There’s always potential for growth and improvement on those levels. We’re 100% in support of you being able to build your organization within an organization. Because we know that at the helm, your philosophy is right. You’re committed to serving these clients in the best way possible in the most affordably as possible. I would love to support you and continue to grow your practice and your reach and the amount of clients that you can serve as far as you like to grow it.
Alex Keenan: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, you guys have been incredibly supportive. Even just these podcasts are a wealth of great ideas that I’ve been able to incorporate. Graham has been super helpful as well. Yeah. The layaway works really great for clients who are coming to you and they want to institute a case. They want to bring a case. Because you have more time with them. You can set up, “Okay. Let’s bring your case three months from now. Between now and then, let’s set up a payment plan prior to us working.” What I do is on their first payment, let’s say it’s 100 bucks. I will reserve a date for them and an attorney who could help them.
Once we’ve reached that threshold of whatever the retainer is, then we actually start doing substantial work on the case. That’s worked for a few clients who have had time. They’ve been really appreciative of it.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. You said for petitioning clients, clients that don’t have a deadline coming up. Let’s say it’s going to take $1,000 or $1,500 for the work you need to get done for them even if they only have $100 on their pocket, they can actually start investing and making payments whether it be $100 a week, $100 a month, $100 every two weeks towards and all that money goes into the trust account and they’re working towards their balance. Right?
Alex Keenan: Exactly. For clients who aren’t petitioners who they’re respondents, we’ve done it where, “Okay. Well, you’ve got 500 now. That’s fine. Why don’t you give us the 500 now. We’ll get the things together that we need to get together. The next 500 will be due before we walk into court with you.” That’s worked out really well, too. They still reach their thousand dollar retainer. We’re certain that we’re going to get paid. They get somebody to go with them into court. They’re not a thousand dollars out of pocket right then and there.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. You have to have a little bit more of a barrier into this. There’s a difference in how you have to offer layaway for clients that are responding to this petition because they just don’t have as much time to make the payments towards the threshold. Right?
Alex Keenan: Exactly.
Dave Aarons: It’s important I think that attorneys here that there’s still barriers. There’s still boundaries for the types of options you offer. Layaway is really great but they need to have some time to make the payments because obviously, you don’t want to get really far behind in doing work for a client and then having not paid you. I know you said that you haven’t been burned that much but that’s just common sense of running a practice is just making sure that you’re keeping your billables up to date. Right? You wouldn’t layaway a $2500 contested huge case from day one that needs to be filed next week. Right?
Alex Keenan: Exactly. Like I said, you can work with the initial retainer amount as well. If it’s something huge and it’s going to be next week, the retainer amount is probably going to have to be a little bit higher because it’s going to require more initial work. If it’s something simpler, well then I don’t mind taking a smaller retainer.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. If it’s simple or complex, if they have more time to make payments towards the retainer on a layaway model or whether it be a threshold or a payment plan, it can give you the buffer regardless. For the client, it gives them a little bit of structure so they know they’re moving forward and making payments towards getting their case done as opposed to just saying, “Hey. Well, we want you to have this an this money together. Give me a call.”
Alex Keenan: Absolutely. It keeps them with you, they’re not spending that. There’s four months between now and their case looking for somebody else who’s going to do it slightly cheaper or for some other reason. They’ve committed to you. You’ve committed to them. It’s just a matter of them making the payments on time.
Dave Aarons: Exactly. Alex, thank you so much again for coming on the show and sharing the systems that you’ve developed and we’ve also developed together working with Lexicata. It’s really, really a great feeling to just hear about how the whole streamline of Unbundled Attorney lead generating posting into Lexicata, the Celsior RAM really automating and streamlining your intake process and your retainer agreements. Then you’ve got LawPay powering the ease and flexibility of being able to have them click a button to make a payment. Click a button to set up their automatic recorded billing and then you’ve got Clio to manage the cases.
Assign accordingly to contract lawyers so that contract lawyers are only seeing the cases that have been assigned to them. Appreciate you breaking down that process. It really is a beautiful thing. I can’t be more excited about your future as far as the growth of your firm. Like I said, we’re really on board with supporting you and growing it as far and as wide in New York. That you feel confident and really looking forward to the coming months and years of working together. Thanks again for being willing to come on and share.
Alex Keenan: My pleasure. Looking forward to what comes next.
Dave Aarons: All right. Awesome. With that, we’ll go ahead and wrap up. For those of you who are listening, I really appreciate you coming on and listening to this episodes and constantly honing your craft, improving your practice, finding more affordable ways, more creative ways to work with clients. That’s how we close the access to justice gap. You’re an active member in that process one client at a time, one piece of technology at a time, one new option or adaptation to the way you’re working with your clients. I appreciate you for that. We will see you all on the next episode.
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