The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault’s Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Jonathan L. Mechanic, Partner & Chairman—Real Estate Department, and Valerie Kelly, Partner—Real Estate Department
Jonathan L. (“Jon”) Mechanic is a partner in, and chairman of, Fried Frank’s Real Estate department. He earned his B.A. from Brandeis University, magna cum laude, and his J.D. from New York University School of Law, graduating Order of the Coif. He is admitted to practice law in the State of New York.
Valerie Kelly is a partner in Fried Frank’s Real Estate department. She received her B.A. from University of Florida, magna cum laude, and her J.D. from University of Chicago Law School. She is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia, New York, and Florida.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
Jon: My practice, and that of the department, is broad and encompasses all types of commercial real estate transactions, including purchases and sales, joint ventures, borrower and lender-side financings, development deals, leasing on behalf of both landlords and tenants, and land use and zoning.
Valerie: Our department represents clients in all aspects of commercial real estate. My practice has a particular emphasis on acquisitions and dispositions and large commercial leases for both landlords and tenants in DC and NYC.
What types of clients do you represent?
Jon: We represent owners, developers, landlords, tenants, investors, REITs, and lenders, all of whom are active players in NYC’s real estate market. Brookfield, Google, SL Green Realty Corp., Resnick, RFR, Tishman Speyer, Related Companies, and Vornado Realty Trust are just a small sampling of the clients we represent.
Valerie: Our clients are some of the largest and most active players in the real estate market. I have worked on transactions for a number of landlords and developers—including RXR Realty, Carr Properties, and Tishman Speyer—and I have also worked with various tenants—including Ernst & Young, Evercore Partners, Broadcast Music Inc., and Legends.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
Jon: We worked on a number of exciting deals in 2018. We continue to do a variety of work for Related Companies at Hudson Yards and Brookfield at Manhattan West and are representing Related and Vornado Realty Trust on the redevelopment of the James A. Farley post office building as part of the redevelopment of Penn Station. We are representing JP Morgan in various aspects of its planned 2.5-million-square-foot headquarters redevelopment at its 270 Park Avenue location. We advised Google in its US$2.4 billion acquisition of Chelsea Market in NYC, represented Maefield Development in its acquisition of 20 Times Square for approximately US$1.6 billion, advised Brookfield in its acquisition of a 100 percent leasehold interest in 666 Fifth Avenue’s office, and represented RXR Realty in connection with JetBlue’s proposed US$2-3 billion terminal expansion at JFK Airport.
We also advised various clients in real estate finance transactions. One example is representing Blackstone in its US$1.8 billion financing for The Spiral, a 2.8-million-square-foot trophy office building located in the Hudson Yards district of NYC.
Valerie: In addition to the deals Jon mentioned, I worked on some exciting leases this year. I represented Carr Properties and National Real Estate Advisors, as landlords, in their approximately 510,000-square-foot lease for State Street Bank’s global headquarters at One Congress in Boston, MA; RXR Realty, as landlord, in a number of its leases throughout NYC, including to law firm Cahill Gordon & Reindel in its lease of more than 200,000 square feet at 32 Old Slip in NYC; and Evercore in its 350,000-square-foot lease expansion and extension for its global headquarters at Park Avenue Plaza.
How did you choose this practice area?
Jon: I have been interested in real estate since I was a teenager. My father was a “part-time” real estate developer in New Jersey. When I was about 12, he bought a ShopRite, which had gone out of business, and he decided to convert it to an office use. I walked the site with him as they were reconfiguring it into an upscale office building. I knew then that I wanted to be involved in the real estate industry. After law school, I started working at Fried Frank and was fortunate to work with some great people who acted as teachers and mentors, fostering my love of the industry and the practice.
Valerie: In a way, the practice area found me because I met my mentors, Jon Mechanic and Franz Rassman—a partner in the DC office. Ninety percent of any job is the people that you get to work with, and I truly enjoy working with the Fried Frank real estate team. We get the joy of negotiating complicated, high-stakes transactions with repeat players. At the end of many of our deals, both sides win, and I find that incredibly satisfying.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
Jon: My typical day is very busy, and I would not have it any other way. I carry a significant workload that requires me to juggle client and firm meetings, conference calls, and business development. I also attend many industry and charity events, some of which I am involved in directly and some of which I support on behalf of our clients. I am on the Board of Trustees of NYU Law School, Chairman of the Furman Institute of NYU, and on the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors of the Real Estate Board of New York. On Fridays during the spring, I teach a real estate transactions course at Harvard Law School.
Valerie: Sometimes, I work on one all-encompassing matter that requires most of my attention. Other times, I am managing multiple smaller matters. Most days include a lot of negotiating, drafting, counseling clients, and interacting with opposing counsel. I also devote a significant amount of time to training and advising junior attorneys. I am involved with pro bono work, including recently advising Sanctuary for Families on its relocation of its headquarters in NYC.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Jon: Students interested in New York real estate should read the real estate columns in the local papers—The Wall Street Journal’s “Property Report,” the real estate section in Sunday’s The New York Times, Steve Cuozzo’s column “Realty Check” in the New York Post, and Lois Weiss’s column “Between the Bricks” in the New York Post. Of course, an undergraduate degree in finance, economics, or urban planning doesn’t hurt either.
Valerie: I would recommend taking a course in negotiations during law school and the books Getting to Yes and Getting Past No. I also recommend taking real estate transactions courses that would give you a sampling of the different types of deals. A joint J.D./M.B.A. could also be beneficial if you want to eventually transition into the business side of real estate.
What is the most challenging aspect of your practice area?
Jon: Each deal is different and presents its own set of challenges. We all strive to balance protecting our client’s interests and addressing the other side’s legitimate concerns to end up with a deal that is consummated. The uniqueness of each deal is what makes the practice so exciting.
Valerie: Managing the needs and time constraints of clients and closing complex deals under pressure is one of the most challenging aspects of my work, but that is also what makes this practice so exciting.
What do you like best about your practice area?
Jon: The landscape of NYC is constantly changing. I can be in a car or walking down the street and see any number of buildings where we have been involved in the acquisition, development, leasing, financing, or some other aspect of the building’s history.
Among those buildings are the Westside Yards (including developments by Related, Brookfield, and Tishman Speyer), various buildings in Times Square, Penn Station, JFK Airport, Chelsea Market, the GM Building, The Plaza Hotel, Brookfield Place, One World Trade Center, 200 Park Avenue, 299 Park Avenue, 550 Madison Avenue (the SONY Building), the Empire State Building, and One New York Plaza—the location of our firm’s headquarters.
And, of course, we travel into Brooklyn to Metro-Tech, The Barclays Center, and Greenpoint Landing, as well as Long Island City in Queens, and so on. After being a part of this industry for so many years, it has made me feel totally connected to the city in a way that I never dreamed possible.
Valerie: I like that our practice area affects skylines, communities, and the streets of different cities around the country (and sometimes, the world). I enjoy that when I go around the corner from my office to get a sandwich at the Jimmy John’s, that I represented the landlord on the lease for that space; when I look at One World Trade Center, that I represented Legends in One World Observatory; or when I look at the Boston skyline after One Congress is constructed, that I helped my client change the Boston skyline.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
Jon: I think the biggest misconception about real estate is that the work may not be exciting. I never imagined that it would be such a vibrant and engaging practice. I love being able to walk around the city and see the many ways in which I have participated in changing its face. What could be more satisfying? To me, nothing.
Valerie: I think there is a misconception that real estate work can be repetitive and boring, but I have found that every deal has an interesting issue that requires me to be creative, use my problem-solving skills, and take a business-minded approach.
What is unique about this practice area at your firm?
Jon: We have an incredibly talented, close-knit group that feels more like an extended family. We enjoy each other’s company. That feeling has grown stronger with each year, even as the group has grown in size. We are capable of representing parties on any side of a transaction and in any type of deal. And we expanded—we now have the number one land use group in NYC, a highly sophisticated lending practice, and a vibrant REIT practice. I do not know of any other group that approaches the depth and breadth of our practice.
Valerie: We are a Fried Frank real estate family! Our group in DC has grown from two attorneys to seven attorneys, and we keep growing. Our department has more than 100 attorneys, and we work seamlessly across offices together. We have one of the largest real estate practices in the country, and that allows us to have expertise that is hard to find at other firms.