My Herrick Story: Joanna Slusarz Debski
Joanna Slusarz Debski | [email protected] | 973 274 2015
You joined Herrick as an associate, what was it about Herrick that enticed you to join the firm?
I started my career as an associate in the real estate department of a mid-sized NJ general practice firm, and while I look back fondly at my experience and the connections I made there, I am still grateful to the recruiter who called me and told me about the opening for a mid-level real estate associate at Herrick.
I knew that Herrick’s real estate department was one of the top real estate groups in the city and that the attorneys handled complex, large real estate deals in NYC and beyond for an impressive and diverse client base. As a junior associate, I wasn’t doing much of that work at my prior firm, so I was excited about the opportunity to be a part of those types of deals at Herrick. I also wanted to be based out of the Newark office, and Herrick made that work, too, with the assurance that being in Newark with few real estate folks would not be an issue in terms of my career development and advancement.
Despite being brand new, when I arrived at Herrick my decision to switch firms was reaffirmed not only by the exciting deals that I was assigned to right from the outset, but also by the people with whom I was able to work with. All outstanding attorneys and practiced in their niches, they took interest in me not only as an attorney but also as a person. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Who have been your greatest mentors or/and who have you partnered most with at Herrick?
I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with many incredible people at Herrick, all of whom have left an impression on me and taught me so much. I am surrounded by people who genuinely care about my development as an attorney and also about me as a person.
No one has had a greater impact on my career, though, than Jonathan Makarowitz. Jonathan joined the firm about a year after I had started, and we worked on our first deal together shortly thereafter. It was a deal that was complicated in many ways and had a very short timeframe for closing. I remember Jonathan handling it expertly with poise and intelligence, but most importantly to me I remember him taking the time even in the middle of the chaos to explain deal points and legal constructs to me. We have worked together on countless deals since, and I have learned a great deal from him about law, running deals, client management and business development.
Not only is Jonathan an excellent attorney, but he is also an incredible mentor, the type of person you want in your corner whether to back you up or to go to bat for you. He is very vocal in his support, not just to the individual he is supporting but also to those who are able to promote that individual, and for these reasons and so many more I credit Jonathan with making my time at Herrick as successful as it has been. I have since adapted his approach with the goal of paying it forward for our associates. Our associates are the backbone of our department, and we are very fortunate to have so many dedicated, hardworking, intelligent and personable associates working in the trenches with us, people who you truly want on your team to get the deal over the finish line.
What is your best advice for other lawyers that are hoping to achieve partnership?
Be helpful, inquisitive, diligent, organized and responsive. Anticipating the next natural step in a transaction is one of the most vital value-adds, and one that I especially appreciate in the associates I work with now that my role has shifted since making partner. Ask yourself, “What can I do today to move this transaction forward?” Anticipating the next natural step on your own and getting ahead of such tasks is a sure way of being recognized for your ability to run your own deals, first as an associate and then as a partner.
Also important is taking ownership of whatever matter is assigned, whether it’s a one-off small assignment or being assigned to be the main associate on a large deal. For that moment in time, treat the client as your own client and the assignment as important as your biggest deal. Act like a partner (to the extent appropriate). Changing your approach to that way of thinking and behaving focuses you and makes you do a better job. This type of attitude is often recognized by the clients as well as the attorney whose client you are working for.
How does the flexibility of a mid-sized firm with a deep bench like Herrick accommodate your clients?
Herrick straddles that fine line of being large enough to skillfully handle most types of deals while being small enough where making a personal connection with our clients is encouraged and valued. Speaking of the Real Estate Department, we can, for example, help our developer clients purchase a property by negotiating the PSA; obtain financing for it by negotiating the loan documents and tending to other various closing matters; negotiate construction agreements and access agreements; help obtain permits and zoning approvals for the project; navigate the intricacies involved with environmental issues; prepare condominium documents; and, once the property is built, either negotiate the leases with tenants or contracts with end purchasers. All of this can be done in house at Herrick, which saves the client the headache of finding another law firm and the costs involved with same. We also often work in tandem with our tax and corporate departments to find the best way to structure the deal, and with the litigation department should their skills be required. We are a true one-stop shop for most deals, and our clients tend to recognize and appreciate this holistic approach.
For more information on Joanna Slusarz Debski or the Real Estate Department at Herrick, please contact:
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