I had the pleasure of interviewing Ira Teicher. a partner in Stroock, Stroock and Lavan’s Real Estate Practice Group. He represents developers and institutional and non-institutional investors in the acquisition, disposition, development, financing and management of commercial and residential assets.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Like most law school graduates, I struggled with what area of law to pursue, though I did know I wanted to be a transactional attorney. I distinctly remember flying into LaGuardia one afternoon and looking at all of the different buildings dotting the Manhattan skyline and thinking how real estate affects so many aspects of our lives. It defines how we live, how we work and how we shop. The more I learned, the more engrossed I became. Understanding how a purchase agreement or loan documents worked interested me. Putting all the disparate pieces of a development together (e.g. acquisition, equity and debt financing, title and land use) intrigued me. I have been lucky enough to work on a broad array of transactions and over the last few years I have become more and more fascinated by the effects the changes in the retail world are having on real estate. We are watching long ingrained social behaviors change before our eyes and the real estate world is struggling to adapt to them. Gone are the days when teenagers pined for the parental free zone known as the suburban mall. That freedom has been replaced by Facebook and Instagram. Coupled with the rise of online shopping, the effect this dynamic is having on global real estate is irreversible.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
One of the benefits of being a real estate lawyer is getting to interact with a myriad of real estate developers and professionals on both sides of the table. I call this a benefit since the real estate industry is chock-full of brilliant, charismatic and fascinating figures. Years ago, I represented a client who was doing a deal with a noted high-net-worth individual who also happened to be a limited partner of one of Major League Baseball’s most storied franchises. The closing was an actual in-person sit down affair (a rarity in today’s real estate world). After the deal closed, being a life long baseball fan, I did not want to pass up the opportunity to strike up a conversation with this individual. We ended up talking for over an hour! We spoke about everything from what ownership really thought about the manager, to complaints about the way the team’s general partner treated its limited partners, to business advice from a self-made billionaire. I got more gossip, insights and guidance in that hour than I ever imagined possible.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The very first assignment I received as an associate was from the partner in charge of my group. He asked me to prepare an allonge, and I had no idea what an allonge was! I debated in my mind for a minute or two whether to own up to my ignorance, but my bravado got the better of me and I confidently said, “sure,” and left his office. I then spent a few hours trying to figure out exactly what I was being asked to do. I, of course, discovered that I had a number of questions that I had neglected to ask him, such as, who are the parties to the allonge and could I have the applicable note? I eventually slinked back into his office and sheepishly went through my list of questions. He looked up with extreme irritation and disgust and in salty language I will not repeat told me not to waste his time after he had already discussed this matter with me. Right then and there I learned two things. First, lawyers have very little patience. Second, when given a task, whether from a partner, client (or spouse) make sure that you have complete clarity as to what is being requested before you start trying to tackle it. While it wasn’t very funny at the time, I do smile every time I replay the story in my mind.
What do you think makes your firm stand out? Can you share a story?
I think what makes Stroock stand out is a culture marked by an understanding that the clients’ needs always come first, comradery and a true desire to help each other. When you mix these ingredients together, ego and selfishness fall by the wayside allowing Stroock to put together teams that truly service clients’ needs in the most efficient manner possible. The focal point is always the client, never the lawyer. One illustrative story happened to me when I was a senior associate. It was about 7 o’clock in the evening. I had a relatively slow day and was getting ready to leave when I got the dreaded call from one of our partners. He tells me that a client was just awarded a huge deal in South Florida. It was extremely complicated and one of the conditions to be being awarded the deal was delivering a draft agreement by 9 a.m., next morning. I was tasked with preparing an initial draft for partner review. Aside from the timing, the draft necessitated significant input from tax, ERISA and environmental counsel. We fielded a team within a half hour. Everyone instantly dropped everything they were doing to assist. We all worked through the night putting the draft document together. It was a remarkable and truly seamless team effort. I think this story best demonstrates who we are.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I think the only way to thrive in this industry is to feel personally invested in the success of your clients. Unfortunately, law has become somewhat of a commoditized industry. If you feel like you are a commodity, simply pushing paper, I think it’s easy to “burn out.” On the other hand, if you enjoy your relationships with your clients, want to add value to their transactions and ultimately do everything in your power to help them succeed, I think you will find deep and meaningful fulfillment in your career.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
When I was a junior year associate practicing in a big, white shoe, New York law firm, one of the senior partners, a wizened old school New York lawyer, the kind of man who never loosened his tie or removed his suit jacket, took a liking to me and gave me one piece of sage advice that really helped me develop as a lawyer: never let a piece of paper leave your desk unless you truly understand every single provision contained within its four corners. When you finish a document, he said, you are its author, and this title comes with responsibility for all of its contents. I used to think about this message often, especially during my years as an associate. It caused me to constantly ask senior attorneys questions (often to the point of their annoyance) but it certainly helped shape me as a lawyer.
Are you working on any exciting projects/cases now?
I actually just closed a really exciting project in Massachusetts. It involved the redevelopment of a somewhat obsolete big box retail mall. Like so many of its peers, this mall has more space than the market demands, but is located in a prime submarket. Like all big box malls, it has an abundance of undeveloped land disguised as parking lots. The client had the property rezoned for a mixed use project which it intends to construct in phases. What made the deal so interesting and complicated is that the property is structured as a horizontal condominium which surrounds other inline space located further within the mall that was already a horizontal condominium owned by a third party. These two pieces of the mall were joined by an old reciprocal easement agreement that never contemplated the project containing multi-family and office space. As such, we had to deal with restrictions and old agreements of record that effectively limited our client’s ability to redevelop the site as anything other than a retail mall. On top of this, my client’s partner retained development rights allowing it to construct a vertical residential condominium and hotel within the mall without my client’s participation, and which will share, at the condominium’s and hotel’s expense, common infrastructure and parking with the balance of the mall. Oh, and the hotel will sit atop a retail facility that the hotel developer will construct for my client and its joint venture partner. If that was not enough, we needed to get our client’s construction lender comfortable with this structure (including the fact that the plans for the later phases of this redevelopment were not yet agreed upon by the various parties), and then negotiate loan documents describing all this. All in all, we spent about six months working through the mountain of paper that this deal required.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
One of the truly amazing things about the legal profession is that it affords lawyers countless opportunities to help others. I, like so many of my peers, try to help local institutions as much as I can. This assistance has come in the form of volunteer legal work (I have had the opportunity to work on a number of leases, financing and other real estate related matters on a pro bono basis) and provide advice based on the varied experience my legal career has afforded me to date (e.g. being a member of the board of my children’s school and assisting in several building campaigns). I think the most rewarding pro bono project I was involved in was the Holocaust Ghetto Reparation program. The German government implemented a program whereby certain Holocaust survivors were eligible to receive reparations. I helped many such survivors complete the application and necessary paperwork, which involved detailing each applicant’s war time experience. It was an extremely moving and rewarding experience.
Can you share 5 examples of how retail companies and their commercial real estate needs will be adjusting over the next five years?
1) I think the Darwinism we have been witnessing in the retail industry for the past few years will continue for the foreseeable future with more middle market chains and stores going out of business, creating more vacancies that landlords will be under pressure to fill.
2) I think we will see more and more retail companies offering better and more interactive retail experiences (whether free cooking classes for kids while their parents shop, or malls morphing into indoor sporting complexes) in order to get consumers to come to their stores. The ease of online shopping demands that the retail industry create more incentive for people to get off their couches and actually leave their homes. This will obviously affect how retail space is designed and used.
3) I think stores that do survive the “retail apocalypse” will still downsize, as I envision a day when stores no longer need to maintain a constant inventory. Consumers will be able to walk into a store, try on a shirt or feel a comforter or linen set, order the product while standing inside that same store on a tablet or other device and have it delivered to his or her door within hours. The consumer will not have to lug heavy items around as they continue to shop and the retail store will be able to cut costs by no longer needing the space and personnel necessary to constantly turn over inventory. The upshot of this will be more vacancy as less space will be needed by retail tenants.
4) I think an interesting development in the world of retail real estate involves transportation. To the extent that self-driving cars become a reality and the vision of individuals trading in their cars for membership in a monthly, or annual car share service becomes a reality, retail malls will be awash in dozens of acres of parking spaces that no longer have much utilization value. It will be interesting to see the effect this will have on surviving retail assets as they will suddenly have an abundance of underutilized and possibly re-developable land.
5) Given the strength and logistical needs of online shopping, I think we will continue to see a migration by investors and developers to the industrial sector and a commensurate increase in value.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Tough question. We live in a time of unbelievable divisiveness and discord. I think I would want to create a movement that required open and public, but civil, debate and conversation. Call it mandatory, weekly national town hall meetings or debate clubs. One of the great benefits of the internet, satellite radio and cable television is that people can find content that appeals to their individual views and beliefs. The downside to this, of course, is that we tend to end up residing in a self imposed echo chamber. We need to be able to talk to each other and not past each other. We need to debate ideas and beliefs with open mindedness and acceptance. Rigid dogma created by television soundbites needs to be replaced with reasoned opinion resulting from true and honest introspection.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can find me on LinkedIn. Otherwise, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I do not have a Facebook or Twitter account. This does, however, give my children a license to make me feel old.
Thank you for joining us this was very enlightening !
Originally published at medium.com