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[IMGCAP(1)]CENTURY CITY, CA-The law firm of Seyfarth Shaw LLP has added five real estate lawyers from the Downtown L.A. office of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP in an expansion that continues the nationwide growth of Seyfarth’s real estate law practice. In addition to expanding the firm’s overall real estate practice, the new attorneys will broaden and deepen Seyfarth’s capabilities in workouts, foreclosures and other specialties for which demand is expected to increase as a result of changing market and economic conditions.

Seyfarth real estate partner Maura O’Connor tells GlobeSt.com that the addition of the five new lawyers—three partners and two associates—is a further expansion of Seyfarth’s “strategic priority over the last several years to expand its real estate practice nationwide.” With the addition of the five new attorneys, Seyfarth will now have a seven-member real estate practice in Los Angeles. The firm now has about 100 real estate lawyers nationwide out of a total of 750 lawyers.

[IMGCAP(2)]Seyfarth’s new real estate partners are J. Dean Heller, Robert M. Johnson and Amadeo F. Cantu. In addition, Shirley E. Curfman and Harumi Hata of Sonnenschein have joined Seyfarth as corporate law partners. Four associates, two each in the real estate and corporate law practices, have also joined Seyfarth from Sonnenschein.

O’Connor says that Seyfarth’s management has focused on “expanding the real estate team in a way that will work both in up cycles and in down cycles.” Her own experience, for example, includes work on a significant expansion of an international retailer in the Southern California markets, as well as work on new industrial warehouse and distribution facilities. O’Connor’s background includes a considerable amount of experience in workout and foreclosures of distressed assets, and Jim Cochran, a Seyfarth real estate partner who joined the firm last year at the same time as O’Connor, is a specialist in mezzanine workouts, foreclosures and related matters.

Heller has specialized in hospitality deals over the past 10 years, including some of the industry’s largest, and also has done quite a bit in the workout arena over the years. “Workout work has been out of fashion until recently, but it’s about to take center stage again,” Heller observes. His experience in workouts dates to the 1970s, when he represented a large pension fund with a significant burden of troubled assets; he also was busy with workouts in periods of the 1980s and 1990s. O’Connor comments that, “One of the reasons that this group (from Sonnenschein) was very attractive to our firm is that we are, with the addition of Dean’s workout experience, adding to our firm’s ability to handle distressed asset transactions such as workouts, mezzanine workouts and foreclosures.”

In addition to his work in the hotel industry, Heller has been representing investors in mezzanine debt positions since about 1999, when, as he points out, “structured finance first became a significant factor in the market.” He notes that one of the differences between this down cycle and previous downturns is that, in earlier down cycles, “The loans that we were working out were pretty much straight mortgage loans with a single lender or a syndicate of lenders.” Today, however, the CMBS world and the many varieties of structured finance deals have created complex capital stacks that will make workouts significantly more complicated than in previous cycles, he says.

The nine Sonnenschein lawyers have joined Seyfarth’s Century City office for now, but they will eventually be moving to Downtown L.A. O’Connor says that Seyfarth has planned to open a Downtown office for some time and expects to expand there in 2009.

Mark A. Block, chair of Seyfarth Shaw’s Nationwide Real Estate PracticeGroup, comments that the new lawyers bring “strengths in everything from real estate investment funds to commercial property development and acquisition and disposition ofcommercial and industrial real estate portfolios.” The areas of expertise that the new team brings, he says, “complement those strengths that we’ve been developing in our real estate practice nationally.

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