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Real estate lawyers work in a variety of areas, including purchases, sales, joint ventures, and financings for projects, as well as navigating the state and local land use regulations. Clients can include owners, developers, landlords, tenants, investors, REITs, and lenders involved in a real estate market. Real estate finance attorneys help to secure financing of residential and commercial buildings and complexes.  The practice can be similar to project finance but with different types of projects. Real estate finance attorneys are often drawn to the work because of the tangible result at the end of the day. Land use attorneys help developers get local and state approval for their projects. Attorneys will negotiate with various government entities and advise clients on regulations that affect their developments. Real estate law is practiced both in large and small law firms, and there are many in-house opportunities with the various players in commercial real estate markets.

Featured Q&A's
Get an insider's view on working in Real Estate from real lawyers in the practice area.
Jonathan L. Mechanic, Partner • Laurinda Martins, Partner
Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

Jonathan: My practice, and that of the department, encompasses all types of commercial real estate transactions, including purchases and sales of individual assets, real estate platforms, and real estate-related companies across all product types; joint ventures; borrower- and lender-side financings; development deals; and land use and zoning. We also regularly advise landlords and tenants on leasing matters, with an emphasis on large headquarters transactions. To name a few, we represented Condé Nast in its headquarters lease at One World Trade Center, Coach and WarnerMedia in their headquarters leases at Hudson Yards, and Ernst & Young in its headquarters lease at One Manhattan West.

Laurinda: As Jon mentioned above, our firm has one of the largest real estate practices, and it entails a broad range of complex commercial real estate transactions.

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 and across the country. Google, SL Green, RXR, Resnick, RFR, Tishman Speyer, Related Companies, and Vornado Realty 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 properties and development sites. Two of my largest clients are Brookfield and Blackstone. We also advise on financings where we work closely with sponsors, investors, and credit providers.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

Jonathan: We worked on a number of exciting deals and projects in 2020. We continue to do a variety of work for Related Companies at Hudson Yards and Brookfield at Manhattan West and have been on one side or another of virtually every deal for these developments. We are also representing JP Morgan in various aspects of its planned headquarters redevelopment at 270 Park Avenue.

We also advised Morgan Stanley in the sale-leaseback of 522 Fifth Avenue in New York City, where the multinational bank occupies all of the office space. We also advised Amazon in its US$1.15 billion acquisition and redevelopment of the former Lord & Taylor building for its New York headquarters and represented Broadstone Net Lease in its nearly US$570 million IPO and listing on the NYSE.

This year, we obtained a significant victory in one of several proceedings challenging the approvals of land use applications for three proposed developments in the Two Bridges neighborhood of Manhattan.

While we still acted on a number of marquee deals in 2020, it was certainly different from years past in that we saw many more restructurings and loan sales as well as loan workouts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Laurinda: We recently represented an institutional investor in its $1.6 billion acquisition and financing of a 19-property portfolio located across the United States. We also represented Brookfield in various financings for its Manhattan West project, including a $1.15 billion financing of 5 Manhattan West and the $1.8 billion refinancing of One Manhattan West. In addition, we worked on several large construction financings for residential and office properties throughout the United States.

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.

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, 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 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. Obviously, 2020 has been a bit different with Zoom calls, virtual meetings, and outdoor lunches with clients (which included heaters as it started getting cold). I also typically attend many industry and charity events, which all became virtual in 2020. Some of these, I am involved in directly and some I help support on behalf of our clients. I am on the Board of Trustees of NYU Law School, am Chairman of the Furman Institute of NYU, and am on the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors of REBNY.

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. Despite the challenges the industry has faced due to the pandemic, technology has played a huge part in my staying in constant contact with clients and colleagues to complete a number of high-profile transactions.

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, and Steve Cuozzo’s column “Realty Check” 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. 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. Often this requires that we think “outside the box.” We believe that we are very commercial, and that is why our clients say we bring a lot of “value add” to each transaction.

Laurinda: Each transaction is unique and, therefore, presents different problems. Generally, the common concern is to make sure that you are protecting your client’s interests while meeting their objectives in an efficient and effective manner. It becomes more difficult when you do not have a willing or sophisticated counterparty on the opposite side of the negotiation table.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

Jonathan: We have an incredibly talented, closely-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 and as we have worked through the pandemic. Our motto of “Stay Connected” is particularly apt today. 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. This enables us to pull from various sectors and experience and collaborate with a group of partners that are the very best in their disciplines. 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 sophisticated lending practice, and a vibrant REIT practice.

What are some typical career paths for lawyers in this practice area?

Jonathan: Real estate lawyers have various different career path options. I began my career at Fried Frank and then followed my mentor to a client, HRO International, where I was general counsel. Five years later, I had lunch with Joshua Mermelstein, my dear friend and a real estate partner at Fried Frank. He was looking to increase the size of the team, and I made the decision to return to Fried Frank as a partner. I 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. 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 rejoined the firm after taking a position with a long-time client, Brookfield, where I was a senior vice president and was involved with various complex transactions and investments. I loved it at Brookfield, but I am happy to be home at Fried Frank.

How important is collaboration in effectively practicing real estate law?

Jonathan: Collaboration is an important factor to effectively practice real estate law. 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.

Jonathan L. Mechanic, Partner & Chairman of the Real Estate Department; Laurinda Martins, Partner—Real Estate

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 serving as a member of the NYU Law Review. He earned his B.A. from Brandeis University, magna cum laude.

Laurinda Martins is a partner in Fried Frank’s 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.

David Linhart, Associate
Goulston & Storrs PC

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.

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.

Davis Coen, Partner • Danielle Jackson, Partner
Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

Davis: I represent private equity clients and their real estate funds in the acquisition, disposition, and financing of real estate investments. Unlike most other groups at the firm, our practice is a hybrid of M&A-type work—where we advise clients in acquiring, investing in, or disposing of real estate assets—and credit work, where we counsel in the financing or refinancing of real estate deals. Sometimes, our clients enter into joint ventures or partnerships in executing their transactions, and we advise on that as well.

Danielle: Like Davis, I represent primarily sponsor clients in a wide variety of deals concerning all types of real estate investments. My work runs the gamut and includes traditional asset sales, take-privates of public companies, minority investments, and joint ventures, as well as the financing related to these deals.

What types of clients do you represent?

Davis: Some of our larger private equity clients that are very active in real estate include Blackstone, KKR, Carlyle, Northwood, and Centerbridge. I also represent numerous smaller private equity clients.

Danielle: I represent those same PE firms, as well as some of their portfolio companies.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

Davis: Over the last 18 months, I’ve worked on a number of acquisitions, dispositions, financings and joint ventures involving industrial assets, manufactured housing, and multi-family housing portfolios, each of which remain attractive investments despite the pandemic. In addition, I’ve helped clients acquire life science buildings, which are typically geared toward the biotech/pharmaceutical industry.

Danielle: Last year, I worked on a massive, $18.7 billion deal for Blackstone that involved hundreds of industrial warehouse properties throughout the U.S. This was the largest-ever private real estate transaction globally. I was the senior associate on that transaction, and it took up most of my time; it also gave me a chance to run a deal in a way I hadn’t done before. Throughout my career, I’ve had many stretches where I’ve worked on four or five smaller deals simultaneously, and the work has included different types of transactions. I also usually spend about 25 percent of my time on the financing side, either helping a client acquire or refinance an asset.

How did you choose this practice area?

Davis: When I was starting out, someone gave me a really good piece of advice: Try to find a group of people you feel comfortable working with, who you can learn from, and who make you feel like you’re part of a team. Simpson’s Real Estate group checked all the boxes. I’ve always found it exciting to work on “front page” transactions led by clients who are leaders in this space, and I also love the “brick and mortar” aspect of our deals that involve buildings you can actually touch and feel and even show to your family and friends. Everything fit together for me—the people, the tangible assets, and the truly exceptional clients and work. It was a perfect match.

Danielle: I worked in real estate after college, so this practice area was high on my radar as a summer associate. It was also important to me to become part of a smaller, close-knit practice group. In addition, I enjoy the different types of work that we do in our practice area, which has made me a better lawyer and helped me develop a broad, robust skill set. The fact that our practice is busy also means that associates take on greater responsibilities earlier in their careers, which was also very appealing to me.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

Davis: We are a very collaborative group, so a typical day usually involves phone calls and Zoom meetings with the deal teams (in the old days, we met in person!) to run through workstreams and plan next steps. I’ve always found these times to be the best part of our practice, as they help each of us understand what the rest of the team is doing and give junior associates a good sense of the larger picture. Every day, I talk with clients and opposing counsel about the transactions and spend a chunk of my day reviewing, drafting, and editing the substantive legal documents. Our practice is transactional, so it’s all about moving the deal forward. I think our group does that in a very collaborative, team-oriented manner, which makes the work very rewarding.

Danielle: I recently became a partner and now play more of a leadership role on my deals and am involved in the transactions earlier on. Deals usually originate from a client phone call that describes a transaction in preliminary terms, so now my first job may be to draft the letter of intent. As the deal moves on, I’ll be responsible for whatever the main document is—the credit or loan agreement or joint venture. I am also involved in diligence, where my role has evolved over time. We’re pretty hands-on in terms of doing diligence, making sure the client understands the key issues from a legal perspective, and ensuring that we protect our client’s interests through contractual provisions.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

Davis: I don’t think you need to take any specific classes in law school. While it’s good to read The Wall Street Journal and trade papers, the best way to develop your skills is to work on different types of deals with a variety of lawyers and to tackle different work streams within those deals. I always tell junior associates to be proactive with assigning partners and senior people on the team. Ask questions and try to work on different aspects of each deal to get as well rounded an experience as possible.

Danielle: The best skill development comes from on-the-job training. At Simpson, senior lawyers make sure that younger associates are learning and are getting opportunities to try things they haven’t done before. Training is an integral part of our culture, and it makes everyone’s life easier because the sooner an associate learns a new skill, the more helpful that associate can be on future transactions. We recognize that there is a learning curve, and lawyers won’t be perfect at every task right from the start, and senior lawyers are there to help.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

Davis: I believe there is no real estate group like Simpson at any firm, anywhere. And that is because our clients are truly the best. They’re the most active and have the most capital at their disposal. They’re also the most creative and aggressive in this business, which gives us a great platform and puts us in a very valuable position in terms of understanding where real estate trends are going, what private equity clients are looking for in terms of investment opportunities, and what the cutting-edge investment strategies and related legal issues are. It’s hard to find a transactional practice where a lawyer can do all of this.

Danielle: Our deals are transformative and exciting and are often the biggest, most noteworthy transactions across different sectors. Our close client relationships extend well beyond real estate and include private equity, M&A, and basically every other area at the firm. As a result, we know our clients’ businesses inside and out, which makes our practice unparalleled.

What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?

Davis: The timeline of being a junior associate in our group is short, and by the end of their second year, associates are operating functionally as mid-levels. We pride ourselves on pushing junior associates to get as much experience as quickly as possible. They are often asked to draft the ancillary documents related to larger agreements and to engage in diligence—from nitty-gritty real estate diligence to the type of diligence an M&A lawyer typically performs. On financing workstreams, juniors will review loan documents, help lender’s counsel with diligence, and work with clients to properly disclose information to a lender. They also help clients structure operating partnerships with third parties, joint ventures, and management agreements. Junior lawyers are truly involved every step of the way.

What kinds of experience can summer associates gain in this practice area at your firm? 

Danielle: I loved my summer experience at the firm. Simpson Thacher has an “all-hands-on-deck” ethos and doesn’t let valuable labor go to waste. I’d say the experience of a summer associate is very similar to that of a first year. We try to ensure that our summers are integrated into the deals, including listening to calls and attending meetings, and we give summers meaningful roles on deals so they get an accurate sense of what practicing in the department will be like.

In what ways has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice? In what ways have you adjusted your lawyering in the wake of COVID-19?

Davis: Our clients have a lot of equity at their disposal, and we are well positioned to help them deploy that capital. Fortunately, we’re beginning to see the end of the COVID storm and are prepared to work aggressively and quickly, moving from defense to offense, to support our clients to the best of our abilities.

Danielle: We transitioned smoothly to a remote working environment and continued to provide excellent service throughout the pandemic. Our group has recently become much more active, and our clients are highly capitalized and ready to move. The financing markets are opening up, and we are poised for a significant uptick.

Davis Coen, Partner, and Danielle Jackson, Partner—Real Estate

Davis Coen is a partner in the Real Estate practice, where he represents private equity firms and portfolio companies in a wide range of domestic and international commercial real estate transactions, including acquisitions and dispositions, joint ventures, public-to-private transactions, and securitized and mezzanine financings. Davis’ recent transactions include representing Blackstone in its $18.7 billion acquisition of GLP’s logistics business—the largest private real estate transaction in history—and in its acquisition of two major office towers in Seattle as well as its purchase of Pure Industrial Real Estate Trust. Davis received his J.D., cum laude, from Cornell, and graduated from the University of Connecticut, magna cum laude, where he was a University Scholar and a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

Elevated to partner in the Real Estate practice in 2021, Danielle Jackson advises on a wide range of real estate matters, including sales and acquisitions of REITs, portfolios and individual assets, financings, and joint ventures. Danielle has advised on multiple acquisitions and dispositions, including Blackstone’s $6 billion acquisition of Strategic Hotels and Resorts and subsequent $6.5 billion sale, as well as its $1.2 billion purchase of a 20-million-square-foot industrial portfolio. She graduated from Spelman College, Phi Beta Kappa, and received her law degree from Yale.

Nathalia Bernardo, Partner • Dennis K. Heyman, Associate
Kramer Levin

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

Nathalia: I represent different types of real estate owners with respect to their investments in commercial real estate across multiple asset classes. Since I’m a transactional attorney, I draft and negotiate contracts and give my clients advice on their legal issues while taking into account their business goals. I guide clients through partnerships (when they own real estate with others); purchases and sales; and other special transactions, such as ground leases (when an owner leases the entire property to a tenant).

Dennis: My practice is a broad transactional “dirt” real estate practice covering all areas of commercial real estate and focusing on complex projects both in New York and nationwide.

What types of clients do you represent?

Nathalia: I represent private equity firms and public companies that invest in real estate. The public companies are real estate investment trusts (REITs) that receive beneficial tax treatment by structuring their investments and distributions to shareholders in an IRS-compliant manner. I also represent family offices (families who conduct their investments in real estate and other assets through a formal office); high-net-worth individuals; and other real estate owners, developers, and investors.

Dennis: I represent clients involved in a wide range of real estate transactions, including real estate developers, investors, operators, purchasers, sellers, borrowers, and lenders.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

Nathalia: Recently, I represented a client in a joint venture for the acquisition and development of an industrial warehouse, a landlord leasing space to an online grocery delivery company, and a landlord in a ground lease whereby the tenant will lease all the land underneath a convention center upon the landlord’s acquisition of the land.

Dennis: Some of my recent experience includes representing an experiential real estate investment trust (REIT) in connection with numerous acquisitions of casinos, hotels, and related properties throughout the United States and the simultaneous leasing of these gaming properties to operators under triple-net leases. I have also assisted a New York-based real estate investor and developer with the acquisition and financing of various multifamily buildings in New York.

How did you choose this practice area?

Nathalia: I started my legal career at a prior firm as a corporate attorney, right before the financial crisis of 2007-2008. At that time, there were more real estate deals than the department could handle, so I was loaned out to the Real Estate group to work on their transactions. I discovered a love of real estate deals, and I made the switch to that department so I could work on those deals full time.

Dennis: I started my legal career working as a lender-side finance attorney. While I learned a tremendous amount from the challenging work I was doing, the asset-class subject to my transactions always seemed a bit obscure to me, and I wanted a broader practice. Real estate provides me with the same challenging work, but I get a sense of satisfaction in seeing the projects I am working on actually impact our cityscape, which is enhanced all the more when I’ve been involved in multiple stages of the project, from the acquisition of a property to the financing of the development of the property—and everything in between.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

Nathalia: There’s really no such thing as a typical day! That said, I often spend my day reviewing and commenting on drafts of contracts, speaking to my team about issues in those drafts and potential solutions, and connecting with clients to determine how they would like to move forward on those various issues and solutions.

Dennis: A typical day for me is filled with drafting and reviewing various real estate transactional documents, including purchase and sale agreements, loan agreements, and ground leases and jumping on calls with clients and opposing counsel to discuss issues regarding the same. Every day is different, which keeps every day exciting in its own way.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

Nathalia: I always recommend two courses to students: Corporations/Business Organizations and Tax. If you want to be a transactional attorney, it’s critical to understand how corporations and other business organizations are structured and function (you’ll need this knowledge in order to properly advise your clients). Tax is another important course because tax considerations often drive the structure of transactional matters; you’ll need at least a basic understanding of the issues in order to understand the deal.

Dennis: I recommend taking Property and other real estate-related courses in law school. If no additional courses specifically relating to real estate are offered, take general transactional courses, as the knowledge is generally transferable to our practice group. Additionally, it is always helpful to keep up with large real estate transactions and clients and the industry generally by reading the news.

What do you like best about your practice area?

Nathalia: I really like the mental aerobics that I get to perform on my deals. My matters involve complex concepts that are even more fascinating when applied to high-profile commercial real estate in major cities, including New York. I get to be creative when coming up with solutions and recommendations for my clients, which is actually quite fun!

Dennis: I like that my practice area allows me to represent clients in all aspects of real estate transactions. I represent lenders and borrowers, sellers and purchasers, and landlords and tenants, so I am able to keep in mind the perspectives of both parties to a transaction in negotiating the best result for my clients.

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

Nathalia: Some people think that you either have to love your 1L property course (I did not) or that you have to be a “yeller.” (You know the type ... they scream and carry on during heated negotiations.) Neither is true. I approach negotiations with a collaborative mindset. While you do have to be firm and hold your ground on important points, I see negotiations as an opportunity to achieve a fair deal that accomplishes the client’s business goals without being “over-lawyered.”

Dennis: Some people view a real estate practice as a “support group” to other corporate groups at a law firm. That couldn’t be further from the truth at a firm like Kramer Levin. The large majority of the work in the Real Estate group at Kramer Levin is real estate based, which means we run our own deals and rely on support from other groups at the firm to provide input on certain specialist topics.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

Nathalia: At Kramer Levin, we are all laser focused on providing excellent client service and superior work product, but that doesn’t make us different than other law firms. What sets us apart is the way we practice law. No one in the department thinks they’re the smartest person in the room or thinks that the junior lawyers have nothing to add. We collaborate—constantly—and we are better lawyers for it.

Dennis: The Real Estate practice at Kramer Levin, like the other practice groups at Kramer Levin, comprises smart, creative, and genuinely kind people who work as a team to provide the best representation for our clients.

How important is collaboration in effectively practicing real estate law?

Nathalia: Collaboration is the key to success. You must effectively collaborate with your team, which includes the senior attorneys in your department as well as attorneys from other departments at the firm who have roles to play in your matters (tax attorneys are always critical). You must also collaborate with your clients to fully understand their business goals in order to effectively advocate for their positions, and you will even collaborate with opposing counsel—together, you will get the deal done for your clients.

Dennis: Collaboration is paramount in providing a well-rounded representation to our clients. Our real estate transactions are complex and often include wrinkles that require us to collaborate.

Nathalia Bernardo, Partner, and Dennis K. Heyman, Associate—Real Estate

Nathalia Bernardo represents clients in complex real estate transactions, including joint ventures, ground leases, acquisitions, dispositions, and development and management agreements for properties in multiple asset classes. Nathalia advises private equity firms; institutional real estate investment advisers; family offices; high-net-worth individuals; and closely held real estate owners, developers, and investors. Nathalia is an adjunct professor of law at Cornell University Law School and an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation. She is also a vice chair of the Mentor Program for the Urban Land Institute New York and serves on the Membership Committee for CREW New York.

Dennis K. Heyman assists developers, investors, operators, purchasers, sellers, borrowers, and lenders in the acquisition and disposition, leasing, financing, management, and development of single- and mixed-use commercial and residential properties, including multifamily apartments and condominiums, hotels, office buildings, and shopping centers. Dennis was named a Woodward White Inc.’s Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch, 2021. He graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in Economics in 2008 and earned his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2013.

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