The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Jonathan L. Mechanic, Partner & Chairman of the Real Estate Department, and Laurinda Martins, Partner in the Real Estate Department
Jonathan L. Mechanic is a partner in, and chairman of, Fried Frank’s Real Estate department. He became a partner in 1987 when he rejoined the firm after serving for five years as general counsel and a managing director of HRO International Ltd., a real estate development organization.
Mr. Mechanic routinely counsels developers, owners, investors, REITs, and lenders in all aspects of commercial real estate transactions. He has taught the real estate transactions course at Harvard Law School for more than 10 years. Mr. Mechanic received his J.D. from New York University School of Law, graduating Order of the Coif, and his B.A. from Brandeis University, magna cum laude.
Laurinda Martins is a partner in the Real Estate department. She first joined the firm in 2011 and became partner in 2015. She rejoined the firm as partner in 2019 after having acted as senior vice president of Brookfield Property Group for three years.
Ms. Martins has extensive experience with sophisticated commercial real estate transactions, including large-scale acquisitions, joint ventures, financings, and development. She received her J.D., magna cum laude, from University of Miami School of Law and her B.A. and B.S., with honors, from University of Florida.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
Jonathan: 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.
Laurinda: Our firm has one of the largest real estate practices, and it entails a broad range of complex commercial real estate transactions, including land use, acquisitions, dispositions, joint ventures, leasing, and financings, where we work closely with sophisticated sponsors, investors, and credit providers.
What types of clients do you represent?
Jonathan: 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.
Laurinda: We represent many of the industry’s most sophisticated clients, including large institutions, developers, and owners of many iconic commercial properties and development sites. Two of my largest clients are Brookfield Properties and The Blackstone Group.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
Jonathan: We worked on a number of exciting deals and projects in 2019. We continue to do a variety of work for Related Companies at Hudson Yards and Brookfield at Manhattan West. We are representing JP Morgan in various aspects of its planned 2.5-million-square-foot headquarters redevelopment at its 270 Park Avenue location.
In addition, we advised Blackstone in its acquisition of a 65 percent controlling interest in Great Wolf Resorts. Fried Frank also advised WarnerMedia in its US$2.2 billion sale-leaseback of its 1.5 million-square-foot headquarters at 30 Hudson Yards.
Those were just a few of the projects we worked on this year.
Laurinda: We have recently represented the borrower on several financing transactions, including a US$1.45 billion construction loan for a large office tower development project located in New York City. I am also currently working on construction financing for a multifaceted hotel development in Manhattan. I have been involved in several acquisitions, including several multifamily projects located in California and several large portfolio CMBS loans.
How did you choose this practice area?
Jonathan: 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 that had gone out of business, and he decided to convert it to office use. I walked the site with him as they were tearing out the guts of the building and reconfiguring it into an upscale office property. 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 be able to work with some great people who acted as teachers and mentors, fostering my love of the industry and the practice.
Laurinda: I originally thought I would be involved in the finance industry, utilizing my degrees in Finance and Economics. I debated between bankruptcy and real estate when I started practicing, but I truly enjoyed transactional work, which set me on my path to the real estate world. It is very rewarding to see a project take shape from start to finish, especially on large, complex development projects. There are tangible results that you can see, and you can feel proud that you played a role in their completions. In many cases, our work changes entire city skylines.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
Jonathan: 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 help 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.
Laurinda: While no day is the same, with each presenting new challenges, my typical day involves being actively engaged in various transactions, managing the teams working with me on those matters, mentoring the associates, and focusing on ways to continue to provide great service to our clients.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Jonathan: 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.
Laurinda: Given the sophistication of our clients and their projects, as well as the complexity of the real estate industry, I would recommend anyone wanting to pursue a career in real estate law take classes in property law, tax, and bankruptcy. Incorporating strong research skills into the practice is also incredibly important. Real estate is heavily structured, so having a firm understanding of tax laws and issues as well as potential litigation risks is key to success.
What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?
Jonathan: 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.
Laurinda: Each transaction is unique and, therefore, presents different challenges. Generally, the common challenge is making sure that you are protecting your client’s interests while meeting their objectives. It becomes more difficult when you do not have a willing counterparty.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
Jonathan: We have an incredibly talented, close-knit group that feels more like an extended family. 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 to include 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.
Laurinda: Our practice area is unique in the industry, as we have a broad range of expertise in various practice areas—land use, finance, bankruptcy, tax, and litigation. This really enables us to pull from various sectors and expertise and collaborate with a group of partners that are the very best in their disciplines.
What are some typical career paths for lawyers in this practice area?
Jonathan: Real estate lawyers have a variety of different career path options. For me, I began my career as an associate at Fried Frank and then followed my mentor to a client of ours, HRO International, where I was general counsel. Five years later, I had lunch with Joshua Mermelstein, my dear friend and a partner in Fried Frank’s Real Estate group. He was looking to increase the size of the team, and I knew I wanted to return to private practice. I made the decision to return to Fried Frank as partner and have not looked back since.
Many former Fried Frank attorneys wind up working in-house at clients, either in legal or business roles. We love our alumni and stay in close contact with almost all of them!
Laurinda: Real estate attorneys have a broad range of career paths they can take. Associates at our firm have graduated to partner positions and have remained lifelong attorneys. Many of them have also transitioned to in-house positions and become clients of the firm. Some have also become real estate investors, developers, and asset managers. I recently rejoined the firm after taking a position with a long-time client, Brookfield Property Group, where I was senior vice president and was involved with a variety of complex transactions and investments.
How important is collaboration in effectively practicing real estate law?
Jonathan: Collaboration is an important factor to effectively practicing real estate law. Internally, we collaborate amongst the department, including across seniority levels and with other departments at the firm. We are in dialogue with our clients to ensure we are addressing the issues that are most important to them. Our clients view us as strategic advisors, and we are often able to provide creative solutions that get deals done. Real estate is a relationship-driven business, so collaboration is critical.
Laurinda: Collaboration is key to our practice. Being able to tap into the unique expertise our colleagues bring to the table has made us the go-to practice in the industry and has garnered our group numerous awards and accolades.