Cox, Castle & Nicholson Named Top 10 Mightiest Real Estate Practice Groups

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By Natalie Rodriguez

Law360, New York (November 17, 2015, 8:04 PM ET) -- Amid a globe-spanning real estate deal boom, 10 firms boasting the largest number of real estate partners are primed to grab the industry's growing cross-border deal work.

The 10 firms dominating the Real Estate Law360 100 have the largest practice groups as measured by the number of global partners spending a majority of their time working on real estate matters, according to data provided for the Law360 2015 Largest Practice Groups Report. And many have been strategically plugging market holes with new hires and acquisitions this year, building vast attorney infrastructures to meet the needs of international institutional clients.

Eight of the 10 firms also topped last year's real estate rankings, with the exceptions of Squire Patton

Boggs LLP and Cox Castle & Nicholson LLP. For California-based Cox Castle, which is the only boutique in the top 10, this is the first year that the firm submitted data for the ranking list.

Among the repeat list leaders, nearly all saw growth in their partner numbers, but several still slipped in their rankings due to Dentons' blockbuster expansion.

Boosted by its merger with McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP and strategic additions overseas, Dentons rocketed from fourth place to the top of the list in the span of a year. As of Aug. 31, the cutoff for Law360's global head counting, the firm had 200.5 real estate partners, close to double its size from last year's 108.5 partners.

The McKenna tie-up that closed this summer bolstered Dentons' presence in several key U.S. markets, including California's Bay Area and Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York and Washington, D.C., noted David Hall, co-chairman of Dentons' U.S. real estate practice. And the West Coast additions have already helped garner new market share for the firm, which has traditionally had a stronger presence on the East Coast.

"In all candor, we were missing the West Coast for a long time," Hall said. "When international clients want to come to the U.S., they want to look at New York, the East Coast and certainly the West Coast. [The new additions] are tremendously valuable for us."

Meanwhile, the opportunistic addition in April of a former White & Case LLP group in Budapest has further bolstered its presence in the region, Hall noted.

The firm's vast growth in such a short period of time — which also includes the firm's recent

merger with Chinese law firm Dacheng and addition of a Milan office, both of which were not included in these ranking numbers due to the cutoff — does bring challenges with integrating the various real estate teams. But Dentons is working on "lots of different techniques to try to get people communicating," according to Hall, including partner meetings, conferences, miniretreats, global calls and newsletters.

While Dentons had the largest growth spurt, it is far from alone among the top 10 in having to deal with the challenges of bringing in large numbers of new attorneys. Many of the groups saw double-digit increases, including Akerman LLP, which jumped from 89.5 partners to 100.5 partners, and Norton Rose Fulbright, which saw its partner size grow from 76 to 111.

Greenberg Traurig LLP's real estate group held onto its No. 2 slot for the second year by growing its partner base from 159 to 170.

Much of that is tied to the May 2015 acquisition of a group of Warsaw, Poland-based lawyers. Historically, there has been one top-tier firm dominating real estate activity in Warsaw, and Greenberg Traurig saw the hires as an opportunity to become a strong competitor for that deal work, according to Robert J. Ivanhoe, chairman of the firm's global real estate practice.

The rest of the growth, meanwhile, was mostly in the U.S. and was well spread out geographically, Ivanhoe noted.

"Part of our goal is to be able to serve clients in this area wherever they do business. Clients have become more global ... and in order to serve them the way they need to be served, we need to be in many more places," he said.

Norton Rose Fulbright also saw a mix of partner additions spread out across the U.S., Europe and Australia, noted Jane Snoddy Smith, head of the firm's U.S. real estate practice.

Smith pointed out that having a more expansive partner network puts the firm in a good position to guide clients into new jurisdictions. Already, recent hire Mitchell Lubart, a New York-based real estate partner that came on board in June, has introduced some of his U.S.-backed clients to Asia and Australia, Smith noted.

And Norton Rose Fulbright, as well as several of its top 10 colleagues, is already planning to further its growth in the coming months.

"Real estate is really thriving for us — it's a key segment in our business group ... I'm doing a great deal of recruiting," Smith said.

Methodology: Rankings are based on partner head count data from 283 U.S.-based law firms, including 197 of the largest 200 firms in the country. Data is as of Aug. 31. Only U.S.-based firms and vereins with a U.S. component were eligible for the rankings. Partners counted for a practice group in the rankings had to spend at least 50 percent of their time on matters related to that practice. For partners who split their time evenly between two different practice groups, firms were allowed to count those partners as "0.5" in each of the two practices.

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