The Real Deal New York

Day in the life of: Janice Mac Avoy

The power litigator on family real estate disputes, her Diet Coke obsession and fighting for reproductive rights
By Mark Maurer | May 01, 2017 11:00AM

Janice Mac Avoy (Photo by Michael McWeeney)

Janice Mac Avoy is a partner and head of the real estate litigation group at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. Her client roster includes major real estate investors such as Blackstone Group, Kushner Companies and RFR Realty. She recently represented Normandy Real Estate Partners in its $100 million purchase of a majority stake in 175 Pearl Street, an office conversion in the Dumbo Heights complex in Brooklyn. While Mac Avoy, 54, has negotiated more than $10 billion in transactions in her roughly 30-year legal career, she specializes in family and joint venture disputes. One current case involves the three children of a real estate owner looking to divide assets without having to sue each other or incur significant taxes. Mac Avoy grew up in Seattle and St. Louis. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Washington University in St. Louis in 1985 and her J.D. from Columbia Law School in 1988. She now lives in Bronxville, New York, with her husband and their 18-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son.

6:30 a.m. Twice a week, I turn off my alarm and go to sleep for another hour. If I do get up, the first thing I do is check emails. My intention is to ride my exercise bike, but it depends on what’s happening with the emails.

8:15 a.m. As soon as I get on the Metro-North train, I put away my phone and pull out the New York Times. I read the front page, and then I do the crossword. It’s a little sad that my “me” time is on
the train.

9:00 a.m. I’m in a cab from Grand Central down to our office at 1 New York Plaza. I feel guilty about taking a cab from an environmental perspective, but I need to make calls and check emails.

9:30 a.m. I’m in the office. I’m not a breakfast person — I don’t eat it, and I don’t like breakfast meetings. I have half a cup of coffee in the morning, and I go through four or five Diet Cokes in a day. I’m a Diet Coke fanatic.

10:00 a.m. The typical day starts with calls. Sometimes I have a few court appearances in the morning. Right now, I have 23 cases, including three active arbitrations and a case I’ve been working on since 2011 that’s
likely to go to trial at the end of the year. We’re defending Richard Cohen of Capital Properties in a claim under a bad-boy guarantee. The suit relates to a $110 million loan extended by Bear Stearns in 2007, which funded Cohen’s acquisition of Rincon Towers in San Francisco. The loan went into default, and Carmel Partners, the “loan-to-own” purchaser of the debt, foreclosed on the property and sought to sue Cohen.

11:00 a.m. If I have meetings, they’re in our Midtown office at the Seagram Building or my clients’ offices.

12:00 p.m. Lunch is almost always at my desk while I’m on calls — usually a bowl of mushroom barley or black bean soup. Going out to lunch is a luxury, but certain clients pick amazing restaurants: Shang Dai of Kuafu Properties has taken me to Masa and Gabriel Kreuther.

12:30 p.m. At least every other day, our team of about nine lawyers, who primarily do real estate litigation, and I hold a meeting on case strategy. We have an upcoming status conference with a court, for example, and need to report back about where we are on discovery issues and selecting our mediator. How do we overcome the fact that this person who is suing our client thinks they’re entitled to $23 million when, of course, they’re entitled to nothing?

2:00 p.m. More client meetings. I have an interesting sideline of representing sisters in real estate family disputes. Usually, they’ve inherited real estate from their father or grandfather and now the siblings are fighting over how to address or divide the real estate. It’s always the same story: It starts with “Dad always liked so-and-so best” or “My sister’s been resentful of me since I was 5 years old.” A lot of family psychology goes into it, not just the legalities of the partnership.

4:00 p.m. I speak to my colleague Jonathan Mechanic a minimum of four times a day. He’ll have two minutes to talk about something, and if I’m in the bathroom he’ll tell my secretary, “Go get her in the bathroom.” Every once in a while, she tells him, “No, she needs five minutes today.”

4:30 p.m. I set aside some time to do pro-bono legal work. I’ve become a very vocal reproductive-rights advocate in the past year. I work on other amicus briefs on LGBTQ issues, particularly for transgender kids. In the recent Gavin Grimm case that was up before the Supreme Court, the judges decided not to hear it because the Trump administration recently revoked guidelines which mandated that public schools allow transgender students to use bathrooms of their choice. I also work on visa petitions for undocumented workers who are victims of domestic violence. They are — at least for now — entitled to protection under the Violence Against Women Act. The Trump voodoo doll on my desk is a stress reliever.

6:15 p.m. I’m running out to catch a cab and usually forgetting something, like my phone or my keys. Two or three nights a week, I’m out at a big group dinner with clients or a round of charity events. There are nights, however, when I’m not out of the office until much later. I haven’t pulled an all-nighter since September 2015, when we were negotiating an internal settlement among the CWCapital Asset Management bondholders preceding the $5.3 billion sale of Stuy Town to Blackstone. It had to be resolved before a 9:30 a.m. court hearing the next morning. Jon Mechanic called me at 6 p.m. and said, “What are you doing tonight? We’ve got a term sheet, we just need to finalize it.” That was a little bit of an understatement. We negotiated all night and did not finalize the document until 9:29 a.m. the next morning.

8:00 p.m. When I get home, I have a glass of pinot noir. At least twice a week, I have dinner with my husband, who is a sports documentary filmmaker. He grills something, and makes a vegetable sautéed in butter and garlic, and a potato.

9:30 p.m. I’m back on the computer and working. If I have a brief to edit or a serious transactional document to work on, that’s my time to really focus.

11:00 p.m. Before I go to bed, I make sure the dog — a goldendoodle — has food and water, and pet the cat for as long as I can stand it. We also have a gecko, which eats live crickets. The gecko was supposed to be my son’s responsibility when my nanny got it for him when he was 5. The gecko is now 10 years old and has a projected life span of another 10 years.

11:30 p.m. I’m not good past midnight, so going to sleep now is perfect. TRD