The Real Deal New York

Photo by STUDIO SCRIVO
Photo by STUDIO SCRIVO

Stuart Saft

By Lauren Elkies

Stuart Saft is a partner at law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf and chair of the firm’s global real estate department. One of the country’s leading commercial and residential real estate lawyers, he’s been elected to the American College of Real Estate Lawyers and listed in “Who’s Who in America,” “Who’s Who in American Law” and “Who’s Who in the World.” Handling financial syndication, sale-leasebacks and the acquisition and sale of residential, commercial and hospitality properties, he has represented developers like Swig Equities at the Sheffield, the Feil Organization at the Apthorp and the Moinian Group at the W Downtown Hotel and Residences.

What is your full name?
Stuart Mark Saft.

What’s your date of birth?
February 17, 1947.

Where did you grow up?
In Brooklyn, and then I moved to Rosedale, Queens.

How did you meet your wife, Stephanie?
We met at the beginning of our freshman year in college and got married while I was in law school.

When did you know you wanted to be an attorney?
I didn’t. When I was in college [at Hofstra University], I didn’t spend a great deal of time focusing on my studies, but I was very involved in student government and the anti-war movement. This was as Vietnam was heating up. I had been elected president of the student senate around the time that all the college campuses were being shut down due to protestors. I went to the president of the university and I said, “Why don’t we look into the causes of the war and what can be done about it?” We had a conference at Hofstra. Governor Rockefeller came, Fulbright came, Jacob Javits was there. Shortly after that, I was talking to the president of the university and he said “Maybe you should go to law school.”

If you were anti-war, why did you join the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps as a freshman in college?
Because it was an easy way to pay my tuition. Little did I know there was going to be a war. I also believed that I could protest the war, but I had an obligation to serve my country if I was required to do so. I know that sounds crazy, but I have always believed that you have to separate your right to disagree with your government from your obligation as a citizen to serve. … [But when I was] accepted at Columbia Law School, I got a three-year deferment. While I was waiting to go on to active duty, I developed hepatitis from bad seafood. The Army then wouldn’t take me for a year until I was fully healed. By the time I went on to active duty, I was a captain, because I got promotions [in ROTC].

You got promotions without having to do anything?
It’s funny you should say that. My father enlisted in the Army right after Pearl Harbor, and landed on Normandy beach on D-Day, liberated concentration camps, was at the Battle of the Bulge and they made him bury his dog tags because they had a J on it for Jew and the Germans killed the Jewish soldiers. So, he comes down to [an Army base in Virginia] to visit me, and I go to the airport to meet him. By the time he left the Army, he was a master sergeant and he had all of these medals. But I was a [higher-ranking] captain. So we’re walking through the airport and this old sergeant comes walking past me and salutes me and I salute him back and my father just stopped, looked at the sergeant, looked at me, and you knew he was thinking, “That’s the end of the United States as a world power. Either that or everything I ever thought about officers has to be true.”

Where do you live?
1040 Park.

Who are the top three attorneys in the city?
Jay Neveloff at Kramer Levin, Leonard Boxer at Stroock and Jonathan Mechanic at Fried Frank.

How much do you charge an hour?
My standard rate is $925 an hour.

On March 19, you responded to news reports of financial and personnel trouble at your firm by assuring clients that the real estate practice was largely unaffected. Is that still the case?
The real estate practice was never affected by either the partners who were asked to leave or the partners who left on their own. There was more of a hubbub in the press than in our offices. I don’t understand why an internal dispute among partners in a privately owned partnership caused such press.

Are you on Facebook or Twitter?
I don’t Twit. I don’t Face.

You took home the trophy for Best Overall Debate Performance at The Real Deal’s forum last year. What was the experience like for you?
I thought it might be interesting to do, and then as we got closer to it, I said, “I must be out of my mind debating Adam Leitman Bailey” — who is a litigator. I’m a transactional lawyer. So I was in complete and utter panic because I figured that Adam was just going to tear me apart. But backstage I watched the other debates so I could get an understanding of what was going to happen. … I’m going to give away my big secret now: I saw what the moderator was doing. He would pick one person in each debate and give him a really hard time. I figured he was going to come after me because I was defending the developers. So by the time I walked out onstage, I was very calm. And I knew that I had to deal with that up front and directly, and I did. I was very pleased with my performance because I had such low expectations going into it.

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