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Anyone can “claim” anything about why their law firm is a wonderful place to work – and if you go to any website you are hardly going to hear anything negative. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so we asked the partners who had joined the Firm in the past few years to put their thoughts down below:

Stephen Land  started the Tax Practice Group on July 1, 2012.  
Before joining Duval & Stachenfeld, Mr. Land was 
Chair of the U.S. Tax Practice Group at Linklaters for 15 years. 
Stephen has the following to say:

When I was looking for a new practice home a couple of years ago, I knew there were two things I could not compromise on. First, there had to be integrity in the tax practice. By this I mean being given the freedom to be creative in finding sensible solutions to tax problems, but also having the support of the firm when I have to say no or give unwelcome advice. Clients deserve the best judgment I can offer, untainted by timidity or wishful thinking. I knew from my first meeting with Bruce Stachenfeld that having the highest standards of practice and professional ethics—always “doing the right thing”—was a core value of the firm,

Second, there had to be a compelling business case. Here again, Duval & Stachenfeld came through, offering a three legged stool: continuing to advise clients I brought with me from Linklaters, offering tax advice for existing real estate clients of Duval & Stachenfeld (who previously had to use other firms), and—most importantly for the long haul—developing new opportunities for the firm by having a tax practice with “big firm” sophistication that could attract blue chip clients and star recruits. As it turned out, all three legs of this stool have provided solid support. Clients from Linklaters were happy to move the relationship to Duval & Stachenfeld, a process aided by the arrival of a couple of my tax associates who followed me here. Over the course of my first year here, 100% of the firm’s real estate clients started using our tax team. Most gratifying of all, the firm has landed some valuable new clients and recruits, who had made it clear that a top-notch tax practice was essential for them.

But it gets even better. In an early interview, I asked Beth Turtz, the Chair of the firm’s Hedgehog Committee, what the Hedgehog Principle was. She said, quite simply, “Love.” I was floored. That was just not a word I was accustomed to hearing in a law firm environment. But it expressed exactly my own view of what it takes for a gratifying and successful law practice: you need to love your clients and your colleagues. I was—and am—delighted to see a whole firm built around that principle.

Coming to Duval & Stachenfeld meant a shift in the mix of my practice, which had focused on international corporate finance and M&A, but now includes a substantial real estate focus, since the Tax Practice is now an important part of the firm’s “pure play” in real estate. But the firm has also fully supported the continuing work of the Tax Practice in areas that go beyond the real estate “pure play,” most notably in the international tax arena.

A positive energy permeates the firm. This has translated into enthusiastic support for all kinds of initiatives, including starting a “Real Estate Tax Networking Group” for in-house finance and tax people, taking on a leadership position in the Tax Section of the New York State Bar Association, and getting some important pro bono work off the ground. 

I have the same affection and esteem for my colleagues that they have shown to me. The firm has shown that the Hedgehog Principle is not only consistent with having a demanding and sophisticated practice, but actually helps propel it forward. I am grateful to the founders of the firm for adopting the right values from the very start.

Thomas O'Connor  joined the Real Estate Practice Group on February 1, 2013.  
Prior to joining Duval & Stachenfeld LLP, Mr. O’Connor was Chair of the Real Estate 
Practice Group at Cooley LLP for 15 years.  
Tom has the following to say:

My name is Tom O’Connor.  I joined D&S in February of 2013.  I had a 25 year history as a real estate lawyer in NYC.  I thought highly of the Cooley firm but it was not focused on real estate, so I wanted to move to a place where real estate is the core of the firm.  

I had a great practice beforehand at the Cooley firm, but I was stunned at what happened at D&S.  First – the firm is all about real estate, real estate and more real estate – we call ourselves “the pure play in real estate law”.  Second, the entire real estate group (of about 50 attorneys) is the largest in NYC, yet despite its size we all work as a team and this team has gone “all out” to service my clients.  

By the way, I brought all of my clients along and they are extremely happy here.  Business has increased from all of them.  Part of the reason they are so happy is that the firm has a mission to build the business of our clients, and this is not just lip service – it is a way of life here.  

Bruce Stachenfeld – the managing partner– spearheads this mission.  He is incredibly “connected” in the real estate world and he creates excellent opportunities for the clients.  For example, one of my major clients was seeking a strategic investor.  Bruce and I brought the client to the firm to discuss this.  Based on that discussion 

Bruce recommended introductions to no less than 10 of the major funds he represents or has relationships with.  This resulted in 8 substantive meetings and ongoing discussions.  To say this client is happy is a severe understatement – no law firm does this.  

Moreover, Bruce, who meets clients and prospective clients every single day, connected me with two major lender clients, which I now do a lot of work for.  Bruce doesn’t do lending himself so he turned the clients over to me lock, stock and barrel.  I have origination and billing credit for these clients.  

And we are in the process of pitching numerous additional clients that Bruce has found and put me in front of.  My practice is on fire like it was before the recession, and no I am not exaggerating.  

Oh – and yes – I really like it here – people are really friendly and we all go out of our way to have a good time together.

Finally, the firm’s hedgehog principle (that we really “care” about our clients and our lawyers) is powerful in that it cements people to the firm and also cements clients.  I am really happy to be here.  I can’t imagine a better place for a real estate lawyer.  

Alan S. Cohen  joined the Real Estate Practice Group on February 1, 2013.  
Prior to joining the Firm, Mr. Cohen was a real estate partner at
Cooley LLP and an associate at Shearman & Sterling. 
Alan has the following to say:

When it came right down to it, my final decision of choosing a new firm could not have been easier. 

Having practiced at 2 National firms and a mid-size firm over the prior 25+ years – most recently at the NY office of a California based firm whose "core" practice was about as far from real estate as possible – I was confident that I knew what was important to my practice and me for the next stage of my career.  Namely, (i) I wanted a great platform to grow my practice and really smart attorneys to help service my clients; (ii) I wanted to practice at a firm where real estate was a “core” practice; (iii) I was, of course, only interested in firms with superior economics; and (iv) I wanted to join a firm where I could simply enjoy practicing law and feel like an owner of the business (not a mere employee, which is essentially the status of most partners in Big Law).

It was also clear to me that I had a practice which is National (and even International, as my practice includes the Caribbean and Central America) in scope, yet I rarely needed or utilized my colleagues in the firms’ other offices.  Rather, my clients insisted that I run their deals – wherever they may be – and retain local counsel in the relevant jurisdictions on a “best of breed” basis.  Accordingly, I had no need for a large firm or a National/Global firm.  I mean, what are the chances that a firm’s lawyers in a particular locale actually would be the best practitioners in the specific area in which I needed help?

I knew Bruce Stachenfeld for several years through the real estate “dirtlawyers” network and general networking (and an occasional breakfast to discuss business/client development and our shared love of movies!!) and soon met Terri Adler, the Real Estate Chair, and a number of the firm’s other partners.  I was most impressed with the quality of the lawyers at D&S, the broad scope and depth of the real estate practice, their commitment to client satisfaction and practice expansion and, most importantly, the unequivocal commitment to the firm’s clearly articulated values and culture.

It seemed like the best of both worlds – a highly sophisticated,  “large firm” type practice (with its core focus on real estate), yet possessing the great qualities and feel of a mid-sized firm.

The rest is, as they say, history.  My long-time partner at Cooley and Kronish Lieb, Tom O’Connor, and I moved to D&S in February 2013 along with several associates and counsel.

It was immediately clear that our move to D&S was a win-win for us and our clients.  We transitioned at the beginning of a few monster transactions and had the luxury of staffing our deals with over 20 attorneys at various levels of seniority.  Our clients were beyond thrilled and, frankly, I can’t imagine how we would have pulled this off at any of our prior firms.

The rest of our first year and a half at the firm has been more of the same.

During our first month or so, most of my clients came in to meet Bruce, Terri and a number of our other partners to discuss their respective business objectives and how we could assist in executing on their business plans.   Since then, we have made countless introductions for them to potential counterparties and relationships and have repeatedly demonstrated to them our commitment to being partners with them in their business strategies and efforts.  This has been a key differentiator for Tom and me – a clear value-add for our clients.

Despite our modest size, we have 2 full-time business development/client development professionals who devote their time and attention to helping lawyers grow their practices, assist clients in making connections and promote (through marketing, PR, etc.) each attorney at the firm.  Additionally, Bruce (the firm’s managing partner) spends a considerable amount of his time looking for ways to help attorneys grow their practices and our clients to grow their businesses.  

The partnership and culture here are truly unique.  There are absolutely no silos, cliques or prima donnas.  Everyone is committed to the same thing – practicing law at the highest level; complete devotion to our clients and our attorneys; and adherence to our core values.  

The past 18 months have been most exciting and fun.  My practice has grown considerably, my clients have never been more satisfied or appreciative of our legal and value-add services, and I feel very fortunate to be part of this partnership

Randy Eckers  joined the Real Estate Practice Group on April 25, 2013.  
Prior to joining Duval & Stachenfeld LLP, Mr. Eckers previously worked 
at Greenberg Traurig LLP and Thacher Proffitt & Wood LLP. 
Randy has the following to say:

When I was considering a move to a new firm, I was hoping to find a place that had what every lawyer is looking for in a new firm: a broad client base, sophisticated work, and intelligent, enthusiastic and generally "good" people.  But, most importantly, I was looking for a firm that would give me the best chance to grow my client base, and my career.

For me, I was at an interesting time in my career.  I had enough business to keep myself occupied about 70% of the time, but I needed a firm to supply the rest.  And, "the rest" had to consist of sophisticated lending work.  After a bit of interviewing, I was cautiously optimistic that D&S met all of these prerequisites.

One of the consistent messages I heard during my meetings with various partners at D&S was that the firm would make every effort to help me grow my practice.  This was exactly what I wanted to hear, but, honestly, I wasn't really sure what it meant.  I simply assumed that the firm would let me pursue prospective clients and provide me with a moderate marketing budget.  Once I started at the firm, I found out exactly what they meant – and it was much more than what I mistakenly though it meant when I accepted the job.  To my surprise, it meant weekly marketing meetings with the 
Managing Partner and Head of Client Development, brainstorming sessions with dedicated marketing personnel, and assembling subject matter experts from across the firm to demonstrate to prospective clients the best of what the firm could offer.

After working at D&S since April 2013 I can no longer say that I need the firm to occupy 30% of my time.  My book of business is roughly twice what it was when I started.  

Oh ... and the broad client base, sophisticated work and intelligent, enthusiastic and generally "good" people ... I underestimated those attributes by the same amount I underestimated the firm's ability to help me grow my practice!

Pejman Razavilar  joined the Real Estate Practice Group on June 10, 2013.  
Prior to joining the Firm, Mr. Razavilar was a member of the real estate department 
of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP for seven years.  
Pej has the following to say: 

Making the decision to join D&S ranks among the best choices I’ve made in my career so far.  To tell the truth, when I first interviewed with D&S, I wasn’t looking to leave my prior firm – and so it took me almost an entire year to make my final decision.  But something about Bruce and Terri’s message resonated with me.  

Bruce and Terri were clear about the fact that they wanted to create the very best real estate practice in NYC, and they wanted to do it with only the best people. Best not only because the department’s attorneys had to possess an exceptional skill set in real estate but “best” because D&S only made room for nice, caring and genuine people who happened to be exceptional real estate lawyers too.  That philosophy appealed to my core – and made making the move to D&S from a firm at which I was otherwise exceedingly satisfied, a risk worth taking!  

I can safely say after 15 months – I couldn’t be happier to have joined D&S.  D&S has offered me a unique platform to work on the most sophisticated real estate deals while surrounding myself with people that I like to be around and am proud to call my partners.  My practice is complicated and varied, and every transaction I work on is challenging and cutting-edge.  The breadth and depth of the expertise of my partners never ceases to amaze me.  At the same time, everyone here is friendly and genuinely cares about people.  As a result, I am proud to say that I respect my colleagues not only professionally but also personally.

Bruce and Terri have worked very hard to make D&S the place that it is today.  And I feel lucky that I have the privilege of being part of this family.

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