Law 360: Q&A With Jeffer Mangels' Seth Weissman

Q&A With Jeffer Mangels’ Seth Weissman

On February 23, 2012, Real Estate Partner, Seth Weissman was interviewed by Law 360. The Q&A begins below.

Law360, New York (February 23, 2012, 12:54 PM ET) — Seth Weissman is a partner in the Los Angeles office of Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP. His practice encompasses all facets of real estate transactions, including acquisitions and dispositions, entity structuring, land development, construction, finance, leasing and land use.

Weissman has experience representing developers, owners, operators and lenders involved in mixed-use, office, industrial, multifamily, country club, hospitality and senior-living projects. He represents clients acquiring distressed debt and assets being sold through Section 363 bankruptcy sales.

Weissman also devotes time representing nonprofit organizations in connection with real estate, land use and corporate governance issues.

Q: What is the most challenging case or deal you have worked on and what made it challenging?

A: The most challenging deals are those that are the most political and the most emotional. When survival of a business or an industry is at stake, that can be a great challenge.

A few years ago, I was hired to structure and implement a multipronged program to raise funds from emotionally committed investors, which in turn would be loaned to a new nonprofit charitable corporation, for the purpose of purchasing out of bankruptcy the iconic horse racing facility, Santa Anita Park.

The client was an association of thoroughbred owners who cared deeply about keeping horse racing alive and well in California, and preserving, in perpetuity, a grand facility whose very existence was being threatened.

The deal evolved, changed and morphed for many months. What started out for me as a real estate deal became an introduction to the fascinating, political and exciting world of thoroughbred horse racing — a colorful world populated by owners, trainers, gamblers, jockeys, spectators, regulators and those amazing animals.

The deal did not close … but the organization is still a client, and among the most interesting I have ever had.

Q: What aspects of your practice area are in need of reform and why?

A: California law is complicated, confusing, arcane and inefficient when it comes to loan defaults and foreclosure. We have the infamous one-action rule and other anti-deficiency laws, all of which perplex even seasoned practitioners.

There is no question that borrowers and guarantors need adequate protection from unscrupulous lenders — but the law should not work as a bar on legitimate, trustworthy lenders exercising their negotiated remedies in a clear, efficient manner.

Q: What is an important issue relevant to your practice area and why?

A: MONEY. It really does make the world go around. The recession has devastated real estate developers and income-property owners, leading to equity erosion and record defaults. This has spurred threatened and actual foreclosures and sales activity by lenders, special servicers and receivers, which deals are on fundamentally different terms and conditions than sales of similar assets during nonrecessionary times.

In exchange for assuming greater transactional risk — fewer representations and warranties, reduced information, shorter diligence periods, etc. — well-heeled buyers (those who don’t need third-party financing to close) are acquiring assets at presumably record low prices.

This has fundamentally changed the tenor of our deals. We are fortunate to have clients with ample capital to acquire such “distressed” assets for cash, but each deal seems to test the risk/reward paradigm.

Q: Outside your own firm, name an attorney in your field who has impressed you and explain why.

A: I worked at Cox Castle & Nicholson with a lawyer named John Nicholson. John was as crazy, wild and unconventional as they come — he knew it and fed off of it. John possessed the greatest skills that a lawyer can: an unflinching commitment to his clients, meshed with an uncanny ability to sense and resolve complex problems with unique, creative solutions.

No one can teach gut instinct, but they can encourage you to hone it. I’m grateful that I was able to shadow a master of service and realize how much more satisfying a career this is when you truly enjoy helping others in their times of need. John recently passed away. I am a better person, and a much better lawyer, for having known him.

Q: What is a mistake you made early in your career and what did you learn from it?

A: When I was first starting out, I was a deal junkie. I thought that the bigger the deal, the more notoriety, the better. My mentor used to scold me for focusing on the closing of random deals more than the more general needs of established clients. He was right. Deals come and go, and certainly help pay the bills, but clients, if treated right, should be clients for life.

Seth Weissman is a Partner in the Real Estate Department of Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP. As part of a broad-based commercial real estate practice, Mr. Weissman represents opportunistic investors acquiring debt and equity positions in distressed real estate projects throughout the United States. Contact Seth at 310.785.5399 or SWeissman@jmbm.com