The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Yuanshu Deng—Associate, Real Estate
Yuanshu counsels developers and office and shopping center owners in connection with commercial real estate leasing, financing, acquisitions and dispositions.
Prior to becoming an Associate in the firm’s Real Estate group, Yuanshu was a summer associate in the Boston office of Goulston & Storrs. Before attending law school, Yuanshu interned at Innovations in Civic Participation in Washington, DC, a non-profit organization supporting the development of innovative youth civic engagement policies and programs in the US and around the world.
Please provide an overview of what, substantively, your practice area entails.
As an associate in Goulston’s real estate group, I have worked on a wide range of real estate matters, but my focus is primarily in the transactional and lending practices.
What types of clients do you represent?
I mostly work with commercial real estate developers and investors on U.S. real estate projects, such as WS Development, New England Development and Tricon American Homes, as well as the commercial real estate divisions of institutional lenders, such as Bank of America and PNC Bank.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
I have represented commercial real estate developers and investors in acquiring, financing, refinancing and selling commercial and mixed-use properties and components thereof. Lately I have worked on several such transactions in the Seaport Square development in Boston, Massachusetts, and the University Station development in Westwood, Massachusetts. Sometimes I am on the other side of the table representing commercial real estate lenders in making loans to other developers and investors who are purchasing, constructing or refinancing properties, at various locations nationwide.
How did you decide to practice in your area?
I knew I wanted to do transactional work. Even though my practice involves a great deal of negotiation, which is adversarial to varying degrees, ultimately opposing parties want to be part of an exciting project, and I find that cooperation satisfying. I was also fascinated by the way land development changes the way people live, work and play.
What is a typical day or week like in your practice area?
At any given point in time, I am juggling several deals. My days and weeks are dictated by where we are in the life cycle of my deals. I could be in the negotiation or diligence stage of one deal (e.g., figuring out the terms of a purchase contract or loan agreement, or reviewing information regarding a property to be acquired) and the closing mechanics stage of another (e.g., generating and gathering final documents and coordinating with title insurance companies who typically serve as escrow agents). It’s ideal when deals are at different points in their respective life cycles, so that each day, I am comfortably juggling different tasks. Work life can become hectic when my deals are progressing on the same time frame, but that’s just part of the real estate transactional practice that attorneys learn to manage.
What is the best thing about your practice area?
The best thing about my practice area is that as a result of my work, I feel a closer connection to the changing skyline of the city in which I have decided to build my life and raise my family.
What is the most challenging aspect of your practice area?
The hardest part of my practice area is no different from what many other professionals encounter: the need to be an effective project manager of many projects that usually need to be completed on a short time frame.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
The two basic strengths that successful real estate attorneys (or any attorney) have are being highly organized and effective communicators and educators. Much of what we do is educating our clients on the meaning of provisions in complex legal documents. In law school, it would be worthwhile to take a class on corporations and business associations and also class on partnership tax, since many real estate investments are done through joint ventures that are taxed as partnerships.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area? What do you wish you had known before joining your practice area?
I think many people are surprised by the breadth of real estate law. On one end of the spectrum there are land use attorneys who are very much involved in the “dirt” of real estate, and on the other end of the spectrum there are attorneys representing investors of real estate portfolios who only see the real estate from a 10,000 foot view. I wish I had more of a business background before joining the real estate group of Goulston, since this would have helped me understand our client’s viewpoints better earlier in my career.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm, and how has it evolved since you have been at the firm?
This is related to my answer to the question above—my practice area is unique in the degree of collaboration among attorneys doing a wide variety of real estate work. The fact that we have attorneys covering the full spectrum of real estate law truly allows our practice group to provide comprehensive representation to our clients.
What activities do you enjoy when you are not in the office, and how do you make time for them?
When I’m not in the office, my primarily job title becomes parent to a preschooler. The autonomy and flexibility afforded to attorneys at the firm (as well as technological improvements and an amazing spouse) allow me to take that other job seriously. On weekends I enjoy hitting the museums or one of the new commercial districts in the Boston area.