How I Made Real Estate Partner and Co-Chair: 'We Are Only as Good as the Experience We Get,' Says Samantha Wallack of Blank Rome
Law.com's How I Made It series features conversations with legal industry leaders about how they climbed the ladder of success and what they learned along the way. Below is a featured interview with Blank Rome's Samantha Wallack.
Samantha Wallack, 46, Blank Rome, New York
Practice area: Partner and co-chair of the real estate practice group.
Law school and year of graduation: Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University, cum laude, 2000.
How long have you been at the firm, and when did you make partner? I have been at Blank Rome for more than 21 years, since I was a summer associate in 1999. I was made a partner in January 2009.
Why did you decide to practice law in the real estate industry? I decided early in my law school career that I wanted to be a transactional lawyer, a business lawyer. I envisioned myself working with people who, while sitting across a table from each other, shared a common goal: to get the deal done. It was that collaborative nature of a transactional practice that really piqued my interest—collaboration between lawyer and client, as well as collaboration with the other parties to the deal. I enjoy taking time to understand my clients and their business goals so that I can effectively advocate for them and obtain an optimal outcome.
What really got me excited about real estate, specifically, is the tangible nature of the practice. My very first real estate deal was the purchase of a leasehold interest on Spring Street in Soho, and I loved walking past the physical location and knowing that I was part of placing our client in that space.
What do you think was the deciding point for the firm in making you partner? I officially joined Blank Rome in September 2000 at a time when the real estate industry was booming. I remember those early days very well: I was working around the clock and getting involved with a wide range of transactions and clients. At the time, I admit it was overwhelming but also invigorating, because my level of responsibility in those deals at an early stage in my career felt big and important. By the time I was a fourth-year associate, I was running my own deals and had established deep and meaningful relationships with the clients for whom I worked so hard (many remain important clients of the firm). So, when it came time to talk about my elevation to partner as I concluded my eighth year (now married and with a young baby), I received tremendous support throughout the firm.
I often tell associates that we attorneys are only as good as the experience we get. I was afforded tremendous opportunities and exposure to clients when I joined my firm more than 21 years ago; and those big projects and late nights turned into knowledge, relationships, confidence, and my elevation to partner and now a chair of Blank Rome’s Real Estate practice.
Describe how you feel now about your career, now that you’ve made partner. I am now more excited about my career than ever. My growth within the firm has been steady and with each new challenge, I lean in and am thankfully pushed outside my comfort zone. I suggest to all of our associates: Do something every week that makes you uncomfortable. It’s only in the discomfort that growth happens. Being a partner and practice group leader is a true gift, because it’s an opportunity to lead and ensure that our group is one in which individuality is embraced, collegiality is encouraged, laughter is heard, hard work is rewarded and being a good person is valued. It’s also an exciting and energizing time, because I am finding my clients and contemporaries at elevated positions in their organizations, and it’s a moment where we can all support each other professionally and be there for each other personally.
What’s the key to successful business development in your opinion? Two things lead to both successful professional and business development: authenticity and relationships. I believe that the focus should be on building relationships and a business in a way that is genuine. So, spend time with people you like and care about and invest your energies in activities and organizations that speak to your passions. In doing so, you will find true commonality with people, which will lead to authentic relationships. And those relationships will not only bring you joy, but they will also be fruitful, because you will be surrounded by people who genuinely want to see you succeed and vice versa. One of my favorite things is to connect my relationships to each other and bring people together without any expectation of receiving “something” in return. And if it turns out they need my help along the way, all the better!
Who had the greatest influence in your career that helped propel you to partner in real estate? It’s hard to identify just one person who has had the greatest influence in propelling me to partner; I’ve been fortunate to have a supportive team of lawyers and clients for my entire career. But if there was one person who provided me with opportunities to showcase my skills, take risks, and run deals and client relationships, it’s my Blank Rome partner, Marty Luskin. Marty was the former real estate practice group leader and leader of the business department, and is the current co-chair of our New York office. Marty believes that people rise to their circumstances and often put me in positions that tested me in this way. He had faith in me and my abilities when I wasn’t as sure and allowed me to thrive and grow as a person and lawyer by taking calculated risks. It’s those relationships and growth experiences from my early years that continue to propel me to this day.
What advice you could give an associate who wants to make partner in real estate? I have coached many of our associates through the process of elevation from junior to midlevel associate, midlevel to senior associate and senior associate to partner. Of course, it’s important that the associate’s legal skills are exemplary and that they prove themselves to be hard working. There are also many intangibles that I believe are critical to making partner. Such as client service:
- Associates should focus on understanding clients’ needs; pivoting their approach, tone and strategy based on differing client business goals and personalities; as well as creating and enhancing relationships among the client deal team.
- Associates should also work to market themselves internally (and externally) so that others within the firm can speak to their expertise and value.
- Additionally, it’s important that an associate give back to the practice group and firm by way of mentoring, training, pro bono work and innovation, among other areas.
- And I would ask the associate to consider where they want to make partner; where do they want to establish a home for themselves and their practice; where do they feel they will receive the support they need to grow their practice and allow them to maintain balance in their outside lives? Within my practice group, I believe we create a supportive home for our associates to thrive as partners.
What challenges did you face or had to overcome in your career path, and how did it affect or influence your career? I’ve had some wonderful male mentors in my career, and I am very grateful. The lack of female mentors and role models in the firm’s real estate practice when I started more than 20 years ago, and the industry in general, was difficult for me as I ascended the ranks. In my early years, I was the only female real estate associate in my office and became our first female real estate partner and the first female co-chair of the real estate practice group. These accomplishments were all the more meaningful because of the trail I was able to blaze, but there were certainly times along the way that I would have loved to connect with another female real estate attorney (with young kids) and ask for a “playbook!” Today, I am gratified to say that our real estate practice group is one of the most diverse in the firm. I am proud to stand among so many powerful, diverse partners and associates in our practice group and firm working to create an environment where no one feels underrepresented and with play-books that work for all.
“How I Made Real Estate Partner and Co-Chair: 'We Are Only as Good as the Experience We Get,' Says Samantha Wallack of Blank Rome,” by Tasha Norman was published in Law.com on December 17, 2021, as part of Law.com’s How I Made It series.
This article was also reprinted in GlobeSt.com on December 21, 2021.