Most Highly Regarded Firms: Illinois 2006 – Real Estate

Poet Carl Sandburg described Chicago as “City of the big shoulders” – referring to the ingenious high-rise solution to soaring urban real estate premiums in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Convenience as well as economy continues to drive properties ever skyward, with a recent emphasis on conversion and construction in the districts bordering ‘The Loop,’ or central financial and commercial zone. Since 2000, multistorey condominium developments have almost doubled in number in the South Loop area alone, as previously neglected inner-city zones are bought up for residential conversion. As home to the third highest concentration of businesses in the US (approximately 355,000), and with a recent state government statistical survey ranking the city very favourably according to business costs (only two major US metropolitan centres – Washington, DC and Miami – are cheaper), the city can have confidence in the health of its commercial real estate market. 

Perhaps predictably, size is not a factor in the market distribution of law firms for real estate work: large international firms compete on a relatively level playing field alongside smaller local outfits. That said, DLA Piper LLP has five nominees (more than any single firm in this chapter). Senior Counsel Charles Edwards is active at the policy level, chairing a working group engaged in the drafting of state legislative proposals to clarify the use of compound interest in commercial loan transactions; he is a member in a separate group drafting a non-judicial foreclosure statute for Illinois. His practice concentrates on complex commercial real estate transactions, leasing, mortgage financing, joint ventures and partnerships, cooperative housing and condominium development and conversion. Fellow Senior Counsel Portia Owen Morrison (“terrific”) focuses on structuring finance, mortgages, joint ventures, mezzanine loans and structured debt placements on behalf of investors, developers and lenders. Partner Robert Goldman “has built a great practice” in all aspects of commercial finance and development, including leasing, syndication, zoning, site selection and acquisition. Harold Pomerantz “is a very fine lawyer” with experience representing national manufacturers, consumer product corporations, franchisors and REITs. The final representative from DLA Piper is “one of the deans of the Chicago real estate bar”: Howard Kane, who is best known for his work in mixed-use urban developments, regional shopping centres and industrial parks. 

Katten Muchin Rosenman can also pride itself on its concentration of attorneys in the following pages. Among these, Senior Counsel Nina Matis was described as “a truly formidable talent”; several respondents remarked on her strong reputation in commercial development and acquisition, and her expertise advising and representing REITs. Representative clients include iStar Financial Incorporated and Blackacre Capital Partners LP. She has also taught real estate transactions at Northwestern University. Partner Kenneth Jacobson has a “stellar reputation” in the areas of investment and finance, and has been active in condominiums, resorts and community developments arising out of REITs. Past chair of the Chicago Bar Association’s real estate finance subcommittee Douglas Noren completes the line-up for Katten Muchin. He is acknowledged for his work in mezzanine finance, construction and securitised loans. 

At Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP, Mark Mehlman is “a well respected figure in the local real estate bar”, and a frequent speaker and lecturer in local circuits. He appears alongside partner Patrick Moran, who has particular expertise in multistate secured revolving credit loans (to REITs) and mortgage-backed securitisations involving real estate assets. Researchers were apprised of the “collective strength and broad practice capability” of the real estate finance group at Sonnenschein, as represented by these two nominees. 

Sidley Austin LLP is another firm with two successful nominees in this chapter. Virginia Aronson is head of the firm’s real estate practice. Her own work incorporates the full spectrum of real estate transactions, from mezzanine financings and portfolio disposition to troubled work-outs. According to one respondent, “she excels in complex transactions”. Partner Lee Smolen directs the Chicago practice group, and is recognised as “a real authority” on loan origination for virtually every type of real estate asset on behalf of institutional investors, commercial banks, investment banks and pension funds. 

This publication also recognises the contribution of several individuals who received significant support in the research. Richard Cremieux of Baker & McKenzie LLP was recommended to researchers as a “specialist in matters relating to hotel and resort properties”. He represents owners and managers in the structuring of complex design-build agreements, in the negotiation of management agreements, and in commercial leasing and condominium ownership. His broad practice also includes many aspects of real estate financing. Recently, Cremieux Represented the joint venture ownership in the sale of a US$105 million hotel complex located in the Chicago suburbs near O’Hare International Airport. 

Joel Rubin became a partner at Seyfarth Shaw LLP following its merger with D’Ancona & Pflaum in October 2003. According to one respondent, “he has brought an extra dimension to the firm’s real estate capabilities” with his combined experience in pension funds, corporate law and real estate. His practice includes acquisition and disposition of real estate assets, advising REITs and financing developments and redevelopments. 

Kirkland & Ellis LLP can call on “the technical genius” of Stephen Tomlinson, who specialises in complex real estate transactions and REITs. Past representative matters include representation of Transwestern Investment Company in the formation of Aslan Realty Partners II, LP, and representation of the Hyatt Corporation in the acquisition of the Amerisuites Hotel Chain. 

Arthur Pape has, in the words of one admiring respondent, “built his own little empire in the real estate market” based on “transactional expertise”. His practice at The Pape Law Firm covers the full range of development, financing, construction, leasing and operation of office buildings, shopping malls, hotels and multi-use projects, often involving partnerships, joint ventures and limited liability companies. 

Barack Ferazzano Kirschbaum Perlman & Nagelberg LLP is represented by Howard Nagelberg, a well-known figure in the academic community thanks to his teaching roles at the Northwestern University. He also has “considerable stature” in the field of REITs and in international real estate transactions, and has experience counselling developers, lenders, contractors, lessors, brokers, syndicators and investors. 

Fred Feinstein is the sole representative from McDermott Will & Emery LLP. Respondents drew our attention to “the impressive scope” of his practice, which includes general corporate, construction and real estate as well as litigation. Within real estate, Feinstein focuses on development, annexation, zoning and related environmental matters. He is a member of the Illinois State Bar, and has been admitted to serve before the US Supreme Court. 

James Hagy ensures the presence of Jones Day in this chapter. He has “a fine reputation for handling complex international transactions”, some of which have involved parties from several countries. Clients include several Fortune 500 and FT 500 companies, whom he counsels with regard to their real estate portfolios. 

Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw LLP appears courtesy of John Gearen, who advises clients in the commercial banking, national insurance and pension fund sectors with regard to the acquisition, financing and construction of real estate projects; his practice includes representation of developers, tenants and landlords. Researchers noted significant praise for his “flair as a negotiator and ability to secure favourable results for the client”. 

Thomas Homburger at Bell Boyd & Lloyd LLC is “a magnificent lawyer – very creative”, especially with regard to sale and leaseback transactions, and advanced financing techniques. Among other distinctions, he is adjunct professor at the John Marshall School of Law. 

Finally, we recognise Raymond Werner at Arnstein & Lehr LLP. Like many of his fellow nominees, Werner has a broad real estate practice, although he specialises in complex transactional negotiations and disputes, and representing lenders. He is the US president-elect of the Anglo American Real Property Institute, and is an active speaker and writer in his areas of expertise. One respondent spoke of a “richly deserved reputation for excellence”.

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Nominees have been selected based upon comprehensive, independent survey work with both general counsel and private practice lawyers worldwide. Only specialists who have met independent international research criteria are listed.

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