The Real Deal New York

Show me the money

Ranking the law firms that handled the highest dollar volumes of loans and sales
By Rich Bockmann | October 01, 2018 10:00AM

(Illustration by Isabel Espanol)

In a year when the law firms representing New York’s top lenders had less on their plates, it paid to be the attorneys for Bank of the Ozarks. The Arkansas-based bank, which this year changed its name to Bank OZK, is New York City’s biggest construction lender. And it handed the legal work on the vast majority of its Big Apple loans to the midsized law firm Riemer & Braunstein.

That affiliation with Bank OZK helped buoy the firm to the top of the pack for handling debt deals (on the lenders’ side of the transaction) over the past year, according to The Real Deal’s annual ranking of the city’s top real estate law firms.

But the victory for the relatively under-the-radar firm may be short-lived.

Who handled the highest
dollar volume of NYC loans?
The firms that logged the most $1M+ buyer-side deals

1Riemer & Braunstein36$3.73B
2Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher30$3.63B
3Sidley Austin41$3.39B
4Cadwalader,
Wickersham & Taft
13$3.32B
5Cullen and Dykman253$2.34B
6Shearman & Sterling6$1.9B
7Blank Rome19$1.89B
8Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson11$1.77B
9Arnold & Porter
Kaye Scholer
18$1.42B
10McDermott Will & Emery1$1.4B

The seven-person Riemer team led by Erik Andersen, Elizabeth Gable and Jared Zaben that worked on all of Bank OZK’s loans decamped in June for the larger global law firm King & Spalding.

“We have a team of about 16 to 20 folks who are devoted exclusively to real estate finance,” Andersen told TRD. “And we’re growing.”

Related: NYC’s biggest real estate law firms

Still, Riemer — a 100-person firm headquartered in Boston with an office in New York — handled $3.73 billion worth of loans for lenders in New York between July 1, 2017, and June 30, 2018. That was up from $3.1 billion the previous year, when it ranked ninth.

Riemer worked on Ozarks’ $300 million construction loan for the second phase of the Wolkoff Group’s 5Pointz rental project in Long Island City and did the legal work on the mammoth $1.15 billion loan Landesbank Baden-Württemberg issued to Brookfield Property Partners to refinance 5 Manhattan West.

5 Manhattan West

The attorney who worked on the latter deal, Richard Lefkowitz, is still at the firm, which still has a strong practice focused on large, syndicated loans.

Related: NYC’s biggest real estate law firms

Riemer was followed by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which handled $3.63 billion in lender-side loans, including a $315 million loan on the 573-unit rental 180 Water Street, where Metro Loft Management bought out partner Vanbarton Group last year. Interestingly, that was down from the $4 billion-plus in debt deals that Gibson Dunn handled last year, when it ranked No. 4.

But that reality speaks to the drop in the market. Altogether, the top 10 law firms worked on $24.79 billion worth of loans (on the lenders’ side) during the year-long period TRD reviewed. That’s a drop of more than 37 percent from the $39.7 billion they did the prior year. And that’s despite the fact that this year TRD included loans of $1 million and up — rather than $5 million and up.

Who handled the highest
dollar volume of NYC sales?
The firms that logged the most $1M+ buyer-side deals

1Fried, Frank, Harris,
Shriver & Jacobson
17$6.12B
2Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher7$1.2B
3DLA Piper8$1.14B
4Stroock & Stroock
& Lavan
13$1.04B
5Greenberg Traurig13$923.3M
6Hunton Andrews Kurth5$898.2M
7McDermott Will & Emery8$879.4M
8Paul, Weiss, Rifkind,
Wharton & Garrison
9$767.5M
9Kirkland & Ellis3$523.2M
10Kasowitz Benson Torres3$475.9M

Rounding out the top 5 were Sidley Austin (which did $3.39 billion); Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft (with $3.32 billion); and Cullen and Dykman (with $2.34 billion).

The landscape on the sales side was rosier. In that arena, the top 10 firms saw a slight increase — handling $13.96 billion worth of sales (on the borrowers’ side), slightly up from the $13 billion the top 10 did last year.

That ranking saw a more familiar name in the No. 1 spot: Powerhouse real estate firm Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. The firm, which also took the top spot last year, worked on $6.12 billion worth of deals — just on the buyers’ side. That was a 55.6 percent increase from its $3.92 billion last year and far more than any other firm on the ranking.

It was followed by Gibson Dunn (with $1.2 billion) and DLA Piper (with $1.14 billion). Rounding out the top five were Stroock & Stroock & Lavan (with $1.04 billion) and Greenberg Traurig (with $923.3 million).

For its part, Fried Frank represented Google in its $2.4 billion purchase of the Chelsea Market building this year. But Fried Frank’s Robert Sorin, who handled that deal, said it was an outlier and noted that the trophy commercial sales market is cooling.

“From an investment sales perspective, I think that market has kind of toned itself down a little bit,” he said, adding that the high-end condo market “is trending to be a little bit softer.”

“The market is regulating itself. There’s not as much new product being built today,” he said. “It’s going to be tougher.”