A change of mayor in New York has started a rush for law firms to secure the legal talent that went with Michael Bloomberg’s NYC administration. And one lawyer who secured a top spot on Wall Street was David Karnovsky, general counsel of New York City’s Department of City Planning for the past 15 years and who moves to Fried Frank Harris Schriver & Jacobson.
WSJ reports that Fried Frank’s real estate practice, built largely by Jonathan Mechanic, is the largest in the city with 50 attorneys and big-name clients such as Related Cos., Brookfield Office Properties BPO.T +0.58% and Park Tower Realty.
In the crucial area of land use and zoning, though, Fried Frank has had to share the spotlight. Other firms regularly tapped by developers to usher projects through the government labyrinth include Kramer Levin LLP, Bryan Cave LLP, and Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP.
Kramer Levin, which has 47 attorneys in its real estate group, also wooed Mr. Karnovsky.
“We did talk to him and were very disappointed when he didn’t come with us,” said Jay Neveloff, Kramer Levin’s real estate chair .
Huge fees have always been at stake in the competition for top talent. Mr. Neveloff said Kramer Levin’s land-use division generated more than 40% of the firm’s $50 million in total real estate billings in 2013. The firm’s clients include Gary Barnett, one of the city’s most active developers.
But recruiting the best and the brightest land-use attorneys is particularly important these days when the development business is expected to pick up. Land sales in the New York region rose 75% in 2013 from 2012, according to Real Capital Analytics.
There’s also a generational shift taking place in the real-estate legal world. Kramer Levin’s Samuel Lindenbaum, one of the top land-use lawyers in the city, died in 2012 at the age of 77. Other lawyers who have achieved the level of senior statesmen include Leonard Boxer at Stroock, Martin Edelman at Paul Hastings and Benjamin Needell at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom.
“There’s a generation that’s reached chronological maturity,” said Mr. Edelman. “We’re not fading out gracefully. We’re heavily engaged but in a quieter way.”
City government has traditionally been a breeding ground for top real-estate lawyers. But there are rules making sure that, once in private practice, lawyers don’t have undue influence.
Lawyers are barred for one year from doing any work with the agency where they last served. Also, they are barred for life from working on any issue that they were personally involved with during their time in government.
That hasn’t dimmed their appeal. Fried Frank also has Melanie Meyers, the planning department’s general counsel from 1994 to 1998, and Stephen Lefkowitz, who worked as an adviser to Nelson Rockefeller.