The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Nathalia Bernardo, Partner—Real Estate
Nathalia Bernardo is a partner in the Real Estate practice of Paul Hastings and is based in the firm’s New York office. She counsels a wide variety of clients in commercial real estate transactions, including joint ventures, acquisitions and dispositions, development, and management. Ms. Bernardo also advises nonprofit organizations regarding real estate and other transactional matters. Notably, she advised the Intrepid Museum Foundation in its acquisition of Space Shuttle Enterprise from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Ms. Bernardo is an adjunct professor at Cornell Law School and an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, where she teaches courses on transactional real estate.
Ms. Bernardo received her B.B.A. from The George Washington University, summa cum laude, in 2001. She received her J.D. from Boston College Law School, cum laude, in 2004. Ms. Bernardo is admitted to practice in New York and New Jersey.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
My practice focuses on the representation of capital providers and real estate developers, operators, and managers of real estate investments, with a particular focus on joint ventures (including all related transaction agreements, such as asset management, property management, and development agreements).
What types of clients do you represent?
I represent both “sides” of real estate transactions—real estate private equity funds, institutional investors, family offices, and other sophisticated investors, on the one hand, and real estate managers and developers, on the other hand. As examples, I have represented Fisher Brothers; The City Investment Fund, L.P.; and William Macklowe Company.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
I am fortunate to be in a position to work on complex, complicated, and really interesting real estate transactions, both domestic and foreign. I have represented a real estate fund in its sale of a 4,000-unit residential apartment portfolio in New York City, an institutional investor’s acquisition of unsold condominium units in Florida, a family office’s restructuring and acquisition of additional ownership interests in two New York City office buildings, a real estate fund’s acquisition of a tract of land for development in Africa, and a foreign investor’s acquisition of stakes in two residential buildings in Brooklyn, NY.
How did you choose this practice area?
I went to law school with the goal of becoming a corporate attorney. I started in Paul Hastings’ Corporate department, and I quickly started working with a partner who represented public company real estate clients in corporate transactions and also represented some private equity clients in real estate joint ventures. I found my love for joint venture work through these deals, and I eventually switched groups within the firm to join the Real Estate department.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
It completely varies day to day and week to week, and that’s the best part! I meet with clients, draft documents, negotiate with counterparties, work with junior attorneys, and consult with other departments within the firm on thorny issues. I rarely do the exact same thing two days in a row.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
I highly recommend a business organizations/corporations class, preferably before starting as a summer associate. It will help you to understand how decisions are made within your clients’ organizations, and you will begin to learn the “lingo” for corporate transactions, which will help you to participate early on in client conversations. I also recommend taking tax, which is often the driving force behind deal structuring.
What is the most challenging aspect of your practice area?
As with any aspect of law, there are attorneys that bluster, condescend, and put on a show in order to make a point. In my experience, the best antidote to these personalities is to negotiate forcefully but calmly, doing your best not to raise your voice or lower yourself to their level.
What do you like best about your practice area?
I love the fact that my deals are tangible. I can walk down streets in New York City and look up at the amazing buildings that my clients have built, bought, and sold. I also genuinely enjoy my clients—they are smart, creative, dynamic, nimble, and passionately engaged in their work.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
I’ve spoken to some people who think that real estate attorneys either read leases all day or just do residential closings. There certainly are attorneys whose practice areas focus on leasing and residential transactions, but the world of real estate is so much broader than that. I wish I had known that a commercial real estate practice is, in some ways, similar to a mergers & acquisitions corporate practice—I may have taken an interest much sooner, rather than starting in the Corporate department.
What is unique about this practice area at your firm?
What makes us unique is that we really, truly enjoy what we do every day. We also care for each other as human beings, not simply as mere colleagues. To be sure, there have been tough times during my tenure at the firm, but the attorneys in our group never lose sight of the ultimate goal of working together as a team to execute exciting and important deals for our clients.