Q&A with Practical Law Real Estate Advisory Board member Stuart M. Saft of Holland & Knight LLP.
Education: 1971: J.D., Columbia Law School; 1968: B.A., Hofstra University.
Career in Brief: 2012–present: Holland & Knight LLP (Partner; New York Real Estate Practice Group Leader; Co-chair, Hospitality, Resort and Timeshare Group; Co-chair, Condominium Development & Conversion Team); 2007–2012: Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP (2009–2012: Global Head of Real Estate; 2007–2012: Partner); 1988–2007: Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz LLP, Partner and Chair of Real Estate Practice; 1981–1988: Goldschmidt & Saft, Managing Partner; 1973–1981: Brauner Baron Rosenzweig Kligler & Sparber (1978–1981: Partner; 1973–1977: Associate); 1972–1973: US Army.
What do you think is currently the biggest challenge facing real estate attorneys? The biggest challenge is avoiding contradictions and ambiguities due to the size and complexity of our deal documents, which frequently exceed 1,000 pages.
Have any recent legal or market developments had a significant impact on your practice? The Great Recession caused real estate finance to evolve into a more complex but sustainable form of lending. The entry of private equity funds, hedge funds, offshore banks, and sovereign wealth funds into the lending market has meant that we no longer have to worry about a regulator forcing a lender to stop funding a loan because of the lender’s risk ratings and capital requirements. Lenders are now able to consider the long term when analyzing deals and addressing problems.
Are there any changes on the horizon that you think will significantly affect real estate practice? It depends on the unintended consequences of future regulations and legislation. Regulators and legislators often rush to judgment after a crisis without taking time to examine the cause of the problem and the impact of the proposed solution. Examples include the passage of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, which led to a massive real estate recession and the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, as well as the Dodd-Frank Act, parts of which handicapped the recovery.
If not an attorney, what would you wish to be? An architect. I enjoy reviewing building plans before working on offering plans and construction documents. I want to understand how the space is going to be utilized so the documents I prepare reflect the building that is being built.
What was your first job? During the summers starting in my sophomore year in high school, I was first a busboy and then a waiter at hotels in the Catskills. My days started at 5:00 a.m. and continued until 10:00 p.m. In college, I worked in a warehouse loading and unloading trucks. In law school, I was a laborer in the construction of the World Trade Center. I have a great deal of respect for people who do those jobs every day, while I sit at a desk in a heated and air-conditioned office.
What is the best career advice you have ever received? In my first job, I was asked to review an agreement and I returned to the partner with pages of comments, but I was told that I missed the most important point. The agreement was not signed. I learned that a negotiation is about getting the agreement signed and the transaction closed, not about attorneys’ egos.
Additionally, when Dewey & LeBoeuf was collapsing, Steve Simkin of Paul Weiss told me that what was going to happen was going to be very painful and very expensive. However, he wanted me to remember what I expected to earn as an attorney when I was in law school (when the going rate for first year associates from Ivy League law schools was $15,000 per year) and what I had actually earned and would continue to earn practicing law. He said that the cost to me of Dewey’s collapse was really the top layer of icing on the top of the cake. His advice put everything in perspective, and enabled me to “speed date” law firms and move my team to a better firm.
What advice would you give to a junior attorney considering specializing in real estate law? I tell every junior associate the following:
You will never get in trouble for making a mistake if you tell me as soon as you realize it because you will make things worse by trying to cover it up.
You are not being paid to be abused. If anyone attempts to abuse you, let me know and I will deal with it.
You are going to be seeing everything we do with a fresh set of eyes. Never assume that I am always right. If you disagree with what I am doing tell me. I will either tell you why I am taking a course of action, or I will consider doing it your way.
Never fall in love with a strategy because few strategies survive the commencement of a negotiation or litigation.