Real estate of the Union

Real estate is tricky beast for the big firms at the moment. With the juicy, structured work still hard to come by and mid-market firms using their regional offices to eat away at the margins for commodity and asset management work, how does a top firm keep a profitable practice?

To say that it is beyond the scope of this modest briefing to provide any advice is an understatement. Even US firm Fried Frank’s top property bods appear to be stumped by the question.

You see, the New York firm is bowing out of real estate in the UK after its London property head Nigel Heilpern fell out with central management over the direction of the practice. Heilpern is still at the firm but is reviewing his options; the rest of the team has already left.

But Fried Frank is not the only firm with real estate-team woes at the moment. Linklaters also appears to be having some trouble. When Linklaters swung the axe in a bid to make its number of London lawyers reflect the fall-off in work, real estate was one of the hardest hit.

But amongst the firm’s planned cuts have been some departures that were almost certainly not anticipated, UK practice head Anne Byrne being one as well as that of Joe Conder.

It’s a brave new world for real estate practices, but firms would do well to make sure that their top partners are on board.