In Pursuit of the Infinity Properties the Inevitable Summer War: Phase I

We are at war. Today was the first battle negotiation in the summer program’s Mock Real Estate Negotiation. While this is something all of us looked forward to with great anticipation, I must admit that I looked towards this programing quite nervously. As law students, we seldom get an opportunity experience transactional practice. The prospect of early exposure to this world is thrilling, but the prospect of doing poorly, even in a simulated environment, is not (remember, I am a law student – the world must never learn that we do sometimes do things imperfectly). Fortunately, my fear was warrantless. You see, I have the great fortune of spending my summer with Bilzin Sumberg – they had us covered. We would learn what it means to live in the world of transactional practice through the Mock Real Estate Negotiation.

The exposure to transactional practice was not a weird version of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where I would deny the existence of anything outside of litigation focused law practice simply because that is all I have seen so far. To the contrary, we felt completely supported as the amazing brain trust that put this together (Jessica, Betsi, Adam, and Phil) showed us what the next few weeks would look like.

The first meeting was a general overview led by Adam and Phil of what a real estate transaction looks like from beginning to end, from developing the core business terms to preparing the closing binder. The next day, it was game time (Endgame time?). It was time to get into the conference room and negotiate to the death for an hour. The good news is that we were not alone. Sara and Ali coached either team STARK, LLC (the buyer) or team INEVITABLE, LLC (the seller). We first met with our coaches to discuss a game plan and then we executed that plan in our negotiation. After the negotiation, we changed from our superhero uniforms back into our work clothes (obviously) and began drafting the letter of intent.

While it is still early in the programming, I think it is worth expressing the value of this mock negotiation for us as summer associates. I walked away with three concepts from this exercise, (i) substantive exposure to a new area of the law; (ii) team building with my awesome summer class; and (iii) a reminder of how intentional Bilzin Sumberg is at equipping their team for success.

In law school, we get so little exposure to transactional work that it makes it hard for us to gauge where we think we would be a good fit. We can spend as much time as we want on Above the Law or Vault but the reality remains – nothing compares to doing the actual work. This is what the programing sets its sights on. The Real Estate Mock Negotiation exposes us to what is quite literally the other half of the entire profession. More importantly, we get the full experience.

The Mock Negotiation simulates an entire transaction from beginning to end. While it is true that some law students can get exposure to negotiations in their second or third year, it is rarely the case that a single course offers both multiple negotiations on the same transaction and the corresponding drafting exercises. In fact, even as a summer associate it is difficult to gain exposure to a deal from beginning to end. Bilzin Sumberg clearly saw this deficiency and mobilized towards filling this gap. Despite meeting only twice so far, I already feel better prepared to understand the core parts of a real estate transaction. The Mock Real Estate Negotiation: Phase I (Marvel reference) has given me a new point of reference to look to when reflecting on the type of practice I want to go into. The good news is that this summer I have an opportunity to rotate through Bilzin Sumberg‘s impressive transactional practice (Corporate; Environmental; Finance; Hospitality; International; Public-Private Partnerships; Real Estate; and Tax).

The mock negotiation not only exposes us transactional work, it also helps us come together as a group. Although we are technically on different teams, the goal is to work together to push this deal through. Unlike the movie (no spoilers, but seriously have you not seen how well this movie is doing?), there are no winners or losers during the Mock Negotiation. The only way we lose is by not being collaborative. This collaboration manifests itself not just in the negotiations but also in the post negotiation drafting.

After our hour long negotiation on the core business terms, all of us reunited in one office to record the deal in a letter of intent (Franco and I wondered why our office had six chairs). This exercise was valuable not just for the sake of producing a document evincing our hard work, but also for working closely with one another to produce something we are proud to call our own. Working as a team to draft the letter of intent was a genuinely fun time (and we learned that in an ideal world, nectarines are more readily available than peaches). One of the most enjoyable aspects of law school is learning from your peers, it is encouraging to know that Bilzin Sumberg is intentional in fostering that same level of collaboration for their summer associates.

This brings me to my final point; Bilzin Sumberg is intentional. The mock negotiation is yet another element in a reoccurring theme highlighting how intentional Bilzin Sumberg is about equipping us for success. It would have been very easy for the brain trust to pull a generic simulated negotiation from the internet, recirculate it throughout the each new summer, and call it good. This is not the Bilzin Sumberg way. It is abundantly clear that Jessica, Betsi, Adam, Phil, Sara, and Ali all worked very hard to create a tailored experience for us. And I am not just saying that because they put my face on Bruce Banner’s body – Bilzin Sumberg truly cares about people. This was not an exercise in repetition but rather a product of Bilzin Sumberg‘s intentional goal of preparing us for the future.

With that, all that’s left to say is that I am incredibly excited for the next few weeks of growth and development.

The summer associates take a picture with their mentors at the Welcome Reception.

After a week full of fun and informative orientation sessions, the Summer Associates are ready to delve into our assignments! However, I first wanted to reflect back on our first week at the firm. As Summer Associates, a main focus is to make sure that we meet all of the attorneys and staff at the firm as everyone is an integral part of the success of the firm. Despite being a mid-sized firm, Bilzin Sumberg has a small-firm feel in that everyone knows each other very well. The first event of the summer that allowed us a chance to mingle and introduce ourselves was the Annual Firm Diner which conveniently took place the Saturday before we began the summer program. This year’s Annual Firm Dinner took place at the Bass Art Museum. The night was filled with great food, adult beverages, and a beautiful venue with contemporary art exhibitions. Most importantly, this gave us an opportunity to meet various attorneys within the firm before we even began working! Being invited to such an important event for the firm really set the tone for the rest of the summer. That is, we were being welcomed into a firm that was just as excited to have us as we were to join the firm!

While the annual firm dinner was an amazing way for us to become acquainted with some of the attorneys at the firm, our first official welcome was the Wine and Cheese Happy Hour on Thursday (this was much needed after various orientation sessions).  At the Happy Hour, we were introduced to a room full of Partners, Associates, and staff by our mentors (thanks, Desiree!). It was so comforting to see how much of the firm came out to help welcome us for the summer!

Feeling so welcomed to the firm our first week is such an indescribable feeling. On behalf of my fellow Summer Associates and I, thank you to everyone at Bilzin Sumberg for such a warm welcome. As a Summer Associate, I really look forward to meeting everyone in the firm and working with as many attorneys from the different practice groups as possible. My first step in this endeavor is getting to know everyone on the 24th floor. Side note: this is harder than it seems as we have already gotten lost on the 24th floor alone!

 

 

 

 

Managing Partner, Al Dotson, has breakfast with the summer associates during orientation

The Summer Associates have officially arrived, and we are so excited to be here! As we wrap up our first week at the firm, I would like to reflect on some of the events we attended during our first few days.

On Monday morning, Jessica Buchsbaum and Betsi Cobas welcomed us to the firm and provided us with a detailed schedule for the week. Jay Sakalo then gave us our first “pep talk,” explaining the purpose of the summer program and offering valuable insights for success. To reinforce his advice, Jay gave each Summer Associate a book entitled Big Potential, which argues that success is not purely a function of individual traits, but instead depends on the success of others around us. While I have not read the book in its entirety yet (no pop quizzes, Jay!), I have skimmed the opening chapters, and I am confident that it will be an excellent and timely read!

Immediately following our meeting with Jay, we met with various department heads. Each one graciously demonstrated the ins and outs of working at the firm, and they assisted us with important clerical matters. Next, we went to lunch with our mentors. My mentor, the infamous Myles Burstein, took Kayla and me to Fi’lia where we discussed the exciting world of CMBS over fine Brickell cuisine.

On the second day, we had breakfast with Managing Partner Albert Dotson, who discussed the firm’s history and culture. While lightening the mood with the occasional joke, Al explained the importance of the “symbiotic relationship” between the firm and the community. He emphasized that the firm’s motto—proud to be judged by the company we keep—represents more than just a saying. He reiterated that it is a value the firm takes seriously, and judging from my interactions with everyone this week I could not agree more.

After breakfast, we went on our first office-wide tour, received our office assignments, and attended an informative seminar on ethics and managing conflicts. A few hours later, we shuffled into the library (which contrary to our initial belief is not on the 15th floor) where we were greeted by the friendly library staff for an informative happy hour presentation. While we indulged in sushi and wine, the librarians boasted about the firm’s impressive knowledge management system and demonstrated how we can use it to find documents and other valuable resources.

On the third day, we started bright and early with writing coach Susan McCloskey. Susan tailored the meeting to address our biggest concerns, highlight our most common strengths, and offer practical solutions for addressing our most glaring weaknesses. She provided extremely thorough feedback, and I know I am not the only Summer Associate who found it to be incredibly helpful. Immediately following this workshop, we eagerly accepted our new assignments and began to dive into our work!

Overall, it was an incredible first week. I learned a lot, met a number of amazing individuals, and started working on some exciting new projects. I would like to thank Jessica Buchsbaum, Jay Sakalo, and Betsi Cobas for all the work they have done to create an outstanding summer program! We are all very grateful for your efforts, and we cannot wait to see what our summer at Bilzin Sumberg has in store for us!

This week, we welcomed the 2019 Summer Associates to Bilzin Sumberg.  I know that you’ll enjoy hearing about our summer program through Sophia, Kayla, Franco, Jordan, Brian.

Over the next nine weeks, you’ll have the opportunity to hear from them about their experience at Bilzin Sumberg – from work assignments, tag alongs, training and mentors to social events.

Orientation is almost over and we have a lot planned.  We are all looking forward to next couple of months together!  The summer will be over before we know it. . .

The first year associates after they took their Oath of Attorney and became members of the Florida Bar!

We’ve wrapped up the 2018 Academy for Professional Development and we hope it was an experience that will resonate with the first year associates!  They were exposed to substantive areas of practice and professional skills, community needs and clients.  We were able to cap off an amazing Academy program with a motivational speech by Alonzo Mourning of the Mourning Family Foundation.  He spent time talking to our lawyers about the Power of One and how each of them has the ability to make a positive change in our community.

While Zo was a powerful speaker and so gracious with his time, the highlight of the day was a private swearing in ceremony for our first year associates and their loved ones, presided over by Judge Michael Hanzman, with a celebratory lunch following.  It was a nice opportunity to reflect on all that we accomplished during the program and celebrate our first year associates’ matriculation into practicing attorneys at the firm.  We hope we’ve equipped them in a way that will make their transition easier!  We are excited to see what they do as lawyers and members of this community.

 

The first week has really flown by and it is hard to believe it is already the end of our first week of the Academy. The morning started out with a firm-wide breakfast for Teach for America – an organization near and dear to both the firm and our clients.  

After the breakfast, Stacia Wells walked us through a session on understanding financial statements. As a firm catering to commercial clients, spotting potential legal issues in financial statements is a critical skill. I know we all appreciated Stacia’s engaging and straightforward approach to what can be an intimidatingly complex area for recent law school graduates.  

Oksana Esberard then led us through a mindfulness session. We learned that we can add value and increase productivity by simply giving everyone a moment to gather their thoughts before diving into business in meetings.  

We then headed over to the Design District for lunch at MC Kitchen, where we were joined by clients Steven Gretenstein (of Dacra, a real estate development company) and Lyle Chariff, Mauricio Zapata, and Luis Guevara (of Chariff Realty Group). After a delightful lunch, they took us on a tour of emerging neighborhoods – starting with the Design District. The Design District is home to cafés, restaurants, and art galleries, as well as to flagship stores for luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Louboutin. Our group was privileged to visit Dacra in the Design District and see their fascinating private art collection adorning the walls of the Dacra offices.  

After the Design District, we toured Wynwood (famous for the Wynwood Walls, as well as many excellent restaurants and breweries) and the emerging neighborhood of Allapattah. It was an eye-opening and inspiring experience to hear the stories of how these three neighborhoods have evolved and grown over the years. We felt truly privileged that Bilzin Sumberg’s deep and meaningful client relationships allowed us to benefit from these insights.

 

We started the day with a legal writing seminar taught by Ed Lintz of Legal Writing Pro—a resource to which I attribute much of my success in law school (Point Made, written by the company’s founder, was by my side at all times then and now). But the seminar was particularly helpful because we discussed not only writing for courts but for clients too. Us lawyers often indulge ourselves with legal ruminations in client letters when the client simply wants advice written in plain English. Though most of us know this, we still forget to write from the reader’s perspective.  

After lunch, Michael Moore, legal researcher extraordinaire, stopped by with Shalia Sakona from our litigation department to give us an overview of best practices when facing a research problem. Another thing clients don’t like—being billed for inefficient research. And who can blame them? 

 The next event of the day was perhaps my favorite. Jeff Levin and Mimi Klimberg of the Greater Miami-Dade Jewish Federation gave a fantastic non-denominational presentation on how to find a passion and pick a charity organization with similar values. We shared stories of how we’ve helped others, discussed the sense of fulfillment that came from it, and planned how we could make an impact going forward. 

 The last bit of training for the day was given by Scott Baena, the creator of this wonderful program. Can you guess what it was about? Here is a hint: we ultimately work in the service sector, and without clients we are nothing more than unemployed philosophers. I’m sure you guessed it—client satisfaction. I learned that oftentimes the best way to serve a client is simply by asking what his or her needs are. What are your goals in dealing with this matter? How would you like to be updated? Clients want us to know what they want; we just need to ask (and deliver).  

Last but not least was an experience that I will never forget. We had a wonderful dinner with Bilzin Sumberg’s founding partners and its next managing partner, Al Dotson. The discussion was moderated by Marshall Pasternack, who led us through a range of topics, from our firm culture and the importance of pro-bono work, to the mistakes partners made as young associates. People say it’s almost impossible to get a group of lawyers to coordinate a conference call, yet we had a three-hour-dinner with a group of partners who are likely busier than I can even fathom. What a testament to the firm’s development of its young lawyers!  

I am so proud to be a part of the Bilzin Sumberg family. The firm does not give mere lip service to serving the community; it walks the walks. And it true—you don’t just “fit in” here, you belong here. 

 

 

 

The Academy participants with Meg Daly, Founder of Friends of the Underline

It’s hard to believe, but we’re now more than halfway through the Academy.  We began the day by visiting with Oksana Esberard, who led us in our second mindfulness session.  Scott Baena and Jessica Buchsbaum joined us for this “heartful” session, in which Oksana directed us to close our eyes, lean back in our chairs, spread our arms, and focus on our hearts.  While we did breathing exercises, Oksana encouraged us to think about all the things that we felt grateful for in our lives.

My thoughts turned to my family and friends of course, but also to the present moment.  I felt lucky to be part of an organization that takes wellness seriously and gives each first year associate the tools needed to become successful young attorneys.  It was a powerful experience, and it’s an exercise I plan to do again on my own.  I left the session with a tremendous feeling of gratitude.

In the afternoon we visited Lotus House, a nonprofit homeless shelter dedicated to improving the lives of homeless women, youth and children.  Lotus House shelters approximately one quarter of the sheltered homeless population in Miami-Dade County, but receives little public funding.  As a result, support from the community is of paramount importance.

Program Director Isabella Dell’Oca gave us a tour of Lotus House’s new building, which was completed in December 2017.  The new facility can house over 400 individuals and includes a play zone for children, a full kitchen, a beauty salon, a second-floor garden, and an educational area.  Before we left we had the pleasure of meeting the founder and president of Lotus House, Constance Collins, in a section of the building that Bilzin Sumberg sponsored. We were proud to learn that Bilzin Sumberg had played a role in Lotus House’s successful move to the new building. Before heading back to the office we had lunch together and reflected on the impact that one person with a big idea can have on the community.

Back at the office we met with Meg Daly, the founder and president of Friends of the Underline. After falling and breaking both of her arms, she was riding the Metrorail to physical therapy a few years ago when she noticed the unused space underneath the train tracks.  That was how she got her big idea: the Underline, a proposed 10-mile linear park running under the Metrorail line from the Miami River to Dadeland.  Once completed, the Underline will incorporate a wide variety of amenities and activities, including recreation areas, dog parks, dining and gaming tables, and artist spaces.  Meg helped us understand her vision for the Underline and the positive impact it will have on the community, while Land Use associate Carly Grimm explained some unique zoning issues that are presented by such an ambitious project.

At the end of the day we spoke with Scott. He challenged each of us to think about what we could do to give back to the community and to help those around us. Fortunately, the Academy continues to provide excellent examples for us.

 

After practicing our meditation at home in the early morning, we started our second day of the Academy at Bilzin Sumberg with a presentation by Werten Bellamy, on the topic of the “Indispensable Associate.” Werten discussed the best ways for us, as new associates, to make ourselves valuable to the firm and to promote our personal growth as lawyers. What will our personal brands be as new associates? How will we learn the styles and communication preferences of the partners with whom we work? These are all questions we need to be asking ourselves as new attorneys, and I think that Werten provided us with truly useful tools to make these decisions.

After Werten’s presentation, we sat down for a roundtable discussion over lunch with representatives from Bilzin Sumberg’s five practice groups: Tax, Trusts and Estates, Land Use and Government Relations, Real Estate, Corporate, and Litigation. Each partner briefly discussed his or her group’s work and then filled us all in on a few recent projects. The firm has a ton of exciting cases and deals going on, many of which include several practice groups, so it was really interesting and useful to hear how the collaboration works. We also had the opportunity to ask questions about each practice.

Next, we heard from Eric Singer about best practices for billing our time and from Laura Galeano about leveraging and improving our social media presence before sitting down for a panel on effective networking. Elise Holtzman Gerson, Adrian Felix, Andrej Micovic, Scott Baena, and Brian Bilzin sat on the panel, with Sara Herald moderating. Their pointers and advice was different from what we heard from Werten, but echoed the idea that as junior lawyers we need to be taking initiative and looking for ways to distinguish ourselves. Even though we are only two days into the Academy, I am constantly reminded how lucky I am to be working at a firm that invests so much in its young associates and emphasizes our personal development to such a degree. Afterwards, we got to practice our new skills at a fun happy hour at Morton’s with the recruiting committee!

 

The first year associates, Jessica Buchsbaum & Scott Baena take a picture with Oksana Esberard after our Mindfulness Session

Thanks to the Academy, our first day as real attorneys was action-packed and eye-opening. Our long-waited reunions took place last night at the Welcome Dinner, so this morning we were able to dive right into the sessions. It started off with none other than John Sumberg and Al Dotson. John and Al welcomed us to the firm with words of wisdom and helpful insights into what we should be getting out of the week. Then, Scott Baena outlined the firm culture and emphasized how imperative cohesiveness of culture has been to the success of the firm. He also spoke about the value of collaboration and partnership. These remarks from some of the most senior partners at the firm dissolved feelings of nerves and replaced them with excitement for practicing law in such a thoughtful environment.

Next, we worked on our business development skills with Jim Cranston of Law Vision Group. Jim spoke about getting into the habit of maintaining relationships early on in our careers. After arming us with networking techniques, we role-played networking scenarios and learned how to properly approach developing business out of relationships.

Next, we had lunch with first and second year associates and spoke about the keys to success in those early years of working. We were able to ask candid questions and the associates spoke honestly about what they’ve done that has worked, what they’ve done that hasn’t worked, and what they wished they had known as entry-level associates.

We finished the day with a presentation on mindfulness. Oksana Esberard from SattvaMe gave us a crash course in how to identify and manage stress in the workplace. She spoke about body and breath awareness and the importance of remaining present in the moment. Finally, she led us through a meditation exercise. I left the session feeling rejuvenated, and with a newfound respect for mindfulness. I look forward to her other sessions throughout the week!

After a full day of training and information, I feel one step closer to being an effective attorney! I remain eternally grateful that Bilzin Sumberg emphasizes the importance of these ineffable aspects of the practice of law and doesn’t, as Al Dotson said, just “throw us into the ocean and tell us to swim.” I’m so excited to see what else the Academy has in store for us!