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2024 DIVERSITY DATABASE UNDERWRITER Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP

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 and Laurinda Martins, Partner—Real Estate (2022)

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 as general counsel and a managing director of HRO International Ltd. 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 over 10 years. Mr. Mechanic received his J.D. from New York University (NYU) 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 joined the firm in 2011 and became partner in 2015. She rejoined the firm as partner in 2019 after acting as a senior vice president at 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, portfolios, and companies; joint ventures; financings; development; and land use and zoning. We regularly advise landlords and tenants on leasing, with an emphasis on large headquarters transactions. To name a few, we represented Condé Nast in its lease at One World Trade Center, Moody’s in its lease at 7 World Trade Center, Coach and WarnerMedia in their leases at Hudson Yards, Ernst & Young in its lease at One Manhattan West, and Evercore in its 350,000-square-foot lease at Park Avenue Plaza. We also represented Related Companies in its over 1.5 million-square-foot lease to Facebook across three buildings at Hudson Yards.

Laurinda: As Jon mentioned above, our firm has one of the largest real estate practices in the country, and it entails a broad range of complex commercial real estate transactions. I particularly focus on single-asset and portfolio acquisitions, dispositions, financings, joint ventures, and development projects for institutional clients.

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 New York City and across the country. Google, SL Green, RXR, Resnick, RFR, Tishman Speyer, Related, and Vornado are a sampling of the clients we represent. 

Laurinda: We represent many of the industry’s most sophisticated clients, including large institutions, developers, and owners of 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 2021. We continue to do work for Related Companies at Hudson Yards, and are representing JPMorgan in various aspects of its headquarters redevelopment at 270 Park Avenue.

We advised Dajia Insurance Group in its $1.8 billion financing for a portfolio of luxury hotels, Exeter Property Group on its $7 billion industrial portfolio sale, and Vornado Realty Trust on its redevelopment of new commercial space surrounding Penn Station. We also advised Blackstone in the expansion and extension of its headquarters lease at 345 Park Avenue. In addition, we advised Richard Ravitch in the sale of Waterside Plaza, an apartment community on the East River in Manhattan.

Laurinda: We continue to represent Brookfield in the Manhattan West and Greenpoint projects, and have been on one side or another of virtually every deal for these developments. We recently represented an institutional investor in two large portfolio loans (one for approximately $1.3 billion for a portfolio of 20 properties and another for approximately $1.2 billion for a portfolio of 17 assets). We’re also representing Brookfield and Silverstein Partners in the acquisition of the leasehold interest for the planned development of a mixed-use tower at 5 World Trade Center. Additionally, we worked on several large portfolio and single-asset dispositions for Brookfield and several large construction and stabilized asset financings for properties throughout the country on behalf of Brookfield and Blackstone. 

How did you choose this practice area?

Jonathan: My father was a “part-time” developer in New Jersey. When I was 12, he bought a ShopRite that had gone out of business and converted it to office use. I walked the site with him as they were reconfiguring it into an upscale office property. I knew then that I wanted to be involved in real estate. After law school, I started working at Fried Frank and was fortunate to work with some great teachers and mentors, fostering my love of the industry. Everything is connected, especially in real estate. Early next year, my wife will break ground on a mixed-use residential and retail project on land in New Jersey that my family has owned for the last 60 years.

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 real estate. It’s 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 touch, and in many cases, our work changes the face of 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 meetings, calls, and business development. I also attend many industry and charity events, some of which I am involved in directly and some that I support on behalf of 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. For more than 12 years, I taught a real estate transactions course at Harvard Law School.

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 associates, and focusing on ways to continue to provide great service to our clients.

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—Wall Street Journal’s “Property Report,” the real estate section in Sunday’s New York Times, and Steve Cuozzo’s column “Realty Check” in New York Post. An undergraduate degree in finance, economics, or urban planning doesn’t hurt either.

Laurinda: Given the sophistication of our clients and their projects and the complexity of the real estate industry, I recommend taking 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: We all strive to balance protecting our client’s interests and addressing the other side’s legitimate concerns. Often this requires thinking “outside the box.” We’re very commercial, and that’s why our clients say we bring a lot of “value add” to every transaction.

Laurinda: Each transaction is unique and presents different problems. Generally, the common concern is to make sure that you’re protecting clients’ interests while meeting their objectives efficiently and effectively. It becomes difficult when you don’t have a willing or sophisticated counterparty on the opposite side of the negotiating 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 than a business enterprise. That feeling has grown stronger with each year, even as the group has grown and as we have worked through the pandemic. Our motto of “stay connected” is particularly apt today. I don’t know another group that approaches the depth and breadth of our practice or the “connectivity” amongst our people.

Laurinda: Our practice area is unique, as we have a broad range of expertise. This enables us to pull from various sectors and experiences and collaborate with partners that are the very best in their disciplines. We’re capable of representing parties on any side of a transaction in any type of deal, and we have expanded to include the top land use group in New York City, 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 became general counsel. Five years later, I had lunch with Joshua Mermelstein, my dear friend and real estate partner of 33 years who passed away in March 2021. He was looking to increase the size of the team, and I decided 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 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. Some have also become real estate investors, developers, and asset managers. I myself rejoined the firm after taking a position with a longtime client, where I was a senior vice president and was involved with various complex transactions, investments, and development projects. 

How important is collaboration in effectively practicing real estate law?

Jonathan: Collaboration is one of the most important factors to effectively practice real estate law. We collaborate amongst the department and with other departments at the firm, and are in dialogue with clients to address the issues most important to them. We’re strategic advisors, and we often provide creative solutions that get deals done. Real estate is a relationship-driven business, so collaboration is critical. I have one client who joked that “I was an investment banker masquerading as a lawyer.”

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.