The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
David Linhart, Associate—Real Estate
David Linhart is a land use attorney who counsels developers on achieving project approvals, including permitting strategies and timelines, site control matters, confidentiality agreements, and coordination with project consultants and governmental authorities. David enjoys teamwork with clients that are changing the built environment (particularly in Boston, MA) with innovative mixed-use and affordable housing development and redevelopment.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
In the Real Estate group at Goulston & Storrs, junior associates gain experience across various disciplines (such as approvals, environmental and tax matters, buying and selling, financing, and leasing), all of which are relevant to helping clients operate buildings. As a senior associate, I occasionally work on loan documents or purchase and sale agreements, although I’ve come to specialize in walking developers through the regulatory framework administered by governmental authorities. We typically start with a potential site and initial design plans. Over the course of a few months (or a few years), the goal is not just to achieve approvals, but also to position the project for a lender to accept it as collateral for a loan or for a buyer to add to its portfolio. Translating regulations into plain language to be actionable for business decisions and to guide efforts of the consultant team (such as planners, architects, and engineers) is important, as well as being a familiar face at City Hall and other governmental offices where decisions are being made about a project’s approval pathway.
What types of clients do you represent?
I work with commercial real estate developers. Some clients focus on a specific industry (such as retail centers, research laboratories, hotels, or apartment buildings). The City of Boston supports live-work-play redevelopment, which involves diverse real estate types within a neighborhood, allowing residents to choose among housing opportunities; to work with a minimal commute; and to find recreation, restaurants, and storefronts all within the same area. Running with this theme, some clients focus on phased master projects with multiple uses, often mixed within the buildings, and with extensive public realm improvements. These take time to come together. Once, at a public hearing for a phased mixed-use project, I recall the lead attorney expressing gratitude for the approval vote that was about to happen. An option agreement held the site for the project when his kids were entering grade school. Those same kids were about to enter college.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
The City of Boston has a hotel that hosted a birthday party for Shirley Temple on its roof deck in the early 1900s. This hotel has reinvented itself over the years, remaining a City of Boston signature asset. I helped with approvals for a recent renovation and rebranding, among other matters. For office buildings, a recent theme has been conversion into research laboratories. One of the challenges in achieving approvals is addressing the mechanical equipment that typically is added to the roof to operate life science space. This mechanical equipment is not an actual added floor on top of the building, yet it can be as tall as two or three floors. Does this mechanical equipment count as increased building height? That’s a fun question for a land use attorney.
How did you choose this practice area?
Real estate stood out in my 1L year because I had an amazing property law professor who understood that law school is both trade school and higher education. She taught us to reflect on the social impact of law. For example, we reflected on restrictive covenants that demonstrated plain-sight, nothing-to-hide racism with generational impact. At the time, I was living in affordable housing through the City of Boston’s Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP). My academic and personal experiences turned professional when I joined the firm and worked on a mitigation agreement that enclosed an “Affidavit of Eligibility for Affordable Units” under the IDP. I first saw this form before law school, when I filled it out with cautious optimism tied up in whether my application to live in IDP housing would be accepted. I also work on approvals for public housing replacement with privately financed, modern affordable housing that reserves the right to return for the original families. Having benefitted from IDP housing, I work to pay it forward.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
Review design plans. Prepare a permit analysis. Draft a confidentiality agreement to share project materials with a potential investor. Summarize recorded documents. Prepare to present at a public hearing. Coordinate with a consultant team. Set up staff meetings with jurisdictional agencies. Negotiate agreements that address project impacts and provide community benefits. Answer many, many questions.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Attorneys have their bios and contact information easily accessible online. Call attorneys that do interesting work and talk to them. Let law school be more than trade school. You will take a bar prep course that is not taught through the Socratic method. In the meanwhile, take Land Use and that seminar that’s definitely not a bar topic but seems interesting. And absolutely take Corporate Law.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
Goulston & Storrs is a mid-sized, full-service firm with about 200 attorneys. The ratio of directors to associates is close to 1:1, often resulting in associates being a primary point of contact for the client. Driving principles behind hiring associates include finding people who want to stay and providing support through a learning curve without competition between associates. This feels like a “small firm.” However, the size of the Real Estate group at Goulston & Storrs is on par with that of large, full-service firms that have multiple times as many attorneys and a relatively small real estate group. Participating in complex projects that show up in newspaper headlines and contribute to the growth and national profile of a city feels like a “large firm.” It’s the best of both.
What kinds of experience can summer associates gain in this practice area at your firm?
Among other things, summer associates in Land Use at Goulston & Storrs can attend community meetings and public hearings, assist with analyzing the permitting pathway for a site, review studies of project impacts and resulting mitigation agreements, and build relationships at the firm with future colleagues. Often, summer associates contribute value-adding, billable work that materially advances a project.
In what ways has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice? How have you adjusted to lawyering in the wake of COVID-19?
Zoom, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, and RingCentral, as well as generally seeing someone’s living space when you speak with them—the phenomenon of video conferencing may outlast the present time. As technology issues are resolved, there is the potential to expand participation in remote community meetings and public hearings beyond those who might otherwise attend in person. Presenting over a video conference platform is a new public speaking skill for us to add to our toolkits.
How important is collaboration in effectively practicing real estate law?
In my first response above, I mentioned that various disciplines within real estate law are relevant to helping clients operate buildings. The way for a project to have the benefit of expertise across various disciplines is through collaboration—working together with others and being part of something larger than myself. I was surprised to learn how compensation interviews are conducted at my firm. A Compensation Committee visits each director. I expected the committee to ask the director: “What value did you add to the firm?” Instead, the committee asks: “Who helped you among other directors?” Directors need to help each other and collaborate for their name to be mentioned to the Compensation Committee.