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; 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.
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.