April 28, 2023

#109: Priya Coffey - Real Estate Lawyer

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In today’s episode I speak with Priya Coffey who is a Partner at Jackson Walker in Houston, Texas where she practices Real Estate law. Specifically, Priya assists clients with complex commercial real estate transactions, including the representation of buyers and sellers in the acquisition and disposition of raw land, office buildings and retail centers, and the representation of landlords and tenants in commercial office building leases and retail leases. Priya’s experience extends to advising her clients on land use matters, City of Houston ordinances and other governmental compliance related matters. She also represents both buyers and sellers in the acquisition and disposition of high-end residential property.

Priya is active in a number of legal and community organizations including Covenant House, Executive Sleep Out Committee, Board of Directors of Recipe for Success, and the University of Chicago’s Houston Regional Council. She is also a member of the South Asian Bar Association of Houston, and The Junior League of Houston, Inc. and the Executive Women’s Partnership in Houston.

Priya is a graduate of the University of Chicago (Go Maroons) and holds a Masters in Public Policy from the London School of Economics, and a JD from Texas Tech University School of Law (Go Red Raiders).

In our conversation we discuss her decision to become a lawyer, how a clerkship changed her professional life even as a transactional lawyer, the unique parts (and not so unique parts) of real estate law, some of the suprising parts of her career, the super power of taking on opportunities to learn new things, where the practice of real estate law is going in the years to come, and more.


[00:04:43] "Law school's Real Property class ignited passion"
[00:06:45] "From Litigation to Transactional: Finding My Fit"
[00:10:51] "The Benefits of Defying Expectations in Law"
[00:13:33] "Real Estate Law Firm Represents Variety of Clients"
[00:18:12] "Legal Practice: How Real Estate and Corporate Differ"
[00:19:56] "Finding entrepreneurial talent for client growth success"
[00:26:15] "Tips for Young Associates: Listen and Learn"
[00:30:52] "Return to Office: The Importance of Connection"
[00:40:02] Creating a Pathway to the Legal Profession.
[00:42:02] "Interviewing Your Future Employer: A Must-Do"

This episode is sponsored, edited, and engineered by LawPods, a professional podcast production company for busy attorneys.

👍 Want to Support the Podcast in 2 minutes or less?




Jonah Perlin [00:00:00]:

Welcome to How I Lawyer, a podcast where I talk to attorneys from throughout the profession about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it. Well, I'm your host, Jonah Perlin, a law professor in Washington, DC. This episode is sponsored, edited, and engineered by my friends at Law Pods. Law Pods is a professional podcast production company focused solely on attorney podcasting. I absolutely love working with them, and if you're considering becoming a legal podcaster or just want to learn more, check them out@lawpods.com. And now let's get started. Hello and welcome back. In today's episode, I'm excited to speak with Priya Coffey, who's a partner at Jackson Walker in Houston, Texas, where she practices real estate law. Specifically, Priya assists clients with complex commercial real estate transactions, including the representation of buyers and sellers in the acquisition and disposition of raw land office buildings and retail centers. She also represents landlords and tenants in commercial office building leases and retail leases. Her experience extends to advising clients on land use matters, city of Houston ordinances, and other governmental compliance matters. She also represents both buyers and sellers in the acquisition and disposition of high end residential property. She's an active member in a number of legal and community organizations. The list is quite long, but I want to give it anyway. Including Covenant House Executive Sleep Out Committee, board of Directors of Recipe for Success and the University of Chicago's Houston Regional Council, she's also a member of the South Asian Bar Association of Houston and the Junior League of Houston Incorporated, and the Executive Women's Partnership in Houston. I don't know how you know it all. That's fantastic. She's a graduate of the University of Chicago Go Maroons, and holds a Master's in Public Policy from London School of Economics and a JD from Texas Tech University School of Law. Go Red Raiders. Thanks for being here, Priya. I appreciate it.

Priya Coffey [00:01:45]:

Thank you.

Jonah Perlin [00:01:46]:

Well, look, I love starting these conversations, especially with someone we just met. So I particularly like to start conversations with people I have just met who are on the podcast by hearing about sort of their path to deciding to become a lawyer and go to law school in the first place. So was this always the plan, or do you remember sort of the particular moment or reason why you decided to take this leap?

Priya Coffey [00:02:06]:

No, it was definitely not always a plan. I got into it sort of by default. So my parents, my family, when we immigrated to the US. When I was five, my dad is a doctor, my mother was a math professor. And so, as you can imagine, Asian culture, your choices, are you going to go into medicine or engineering or something productive? And I did well in those subjects, but definitely enjoyed other subjects more. I went to the University of Chicago. I took some political science and philosophy and law classes, loved them. And I thought, how am I going to break the news to my dad that med school is not happening, or to my mom that engineering. And so car ride. And I said, all right, I'm going to do it. And I said that to him, and he pulled over and he said, Wait, I'm sorry, what? They were very open to it. They said, America is a place where you come to make your own dreams, so do it. And I did. And I will say I made it a lot easier for my two younger sisters, who decided also not to go into medicine or engineering. One's an architect and one's a lawyer. So it did happen in that one moment when I decided to tell him, but it was not ever a big plan.

Jonah Perlin [00:03:29]:

Right. Well, I love that. And that's a common sort of a common I get versions of that story on the podcast. I should say it that way. And it sounds like ultimately, you made a transition based on what you liked and you tried to find the closest thing you can. I think sometimes, and I say this a lot because I think it's really true, we look at people's LinkedIn BIOS, and it makes complete sense. And you're like, oh, this was just this straight line path. And they knew from age five, and it's rarely that way. And it sounds like for you, you sort of did what we would recommend all young people do. Right. Which is see what you like and then try to find things that suit what you like in your skill set.

Priya Coffey [00:04:06]:

Yeah, and I definitely envy I meet a lot of people who knew that they wanted my husband and knew he wanted to be a lawyer because he had lawyers in his family. And it's great if you have that path, too. But when you don't and you're coming from a place where there's only you got to go to graduate school or you've got to do these certain things, it's great to have such supportive, wonderful parents that allowed me to have a voice and make a decision for myself. And it's turned out fantastic.

Jonah Perlin [00:04:36]:

Yeah. And where did the real estate part of your practice come in? When did you decide that that was going to be your niche?

Priya Coffey [00:04:43]:

So I got to law school not knowing anything and what to expect, and sure, I got there. It was very different then. It's not like now where people do a ton of research. They know what's going on. I got to law school and of course, Real Property was one of the first classes that I had to take my first year. And I just loved it. I mean, I just really loved it. And there's so much about it that initial class got me on the hook. You realize, let's face it, everything we're on in involves land and all the case law. While it was litigation, you studied all these cases. It was about some dispute or fight for land. And we're still fighting over land in certain parts of the world and even here. So it's just a fascinating thing. And the other thing is it's real. You see it, you can touch it, feel it. You can see how skylines change, towns develop. So I learned more about that later. But initially it was real property, and I always leaned towards the transactional side with contracts and those things go together. So it just sort of led me to that. And 20 plus years ago, law was all about just you only understood law school as being litigation. You didn't realize that there was all of these other so many wonderful other specializations. And so I had gone in thinking maybe I don't want to be a litigator. And it was great that I learned about these other things.

Jonah Perlin [00:06:17]:

Yeah, it's a really good point. And law school still now that's what I do in my day job, and it's still a litigation focus. I think we're getting better at training people in skills and training people in transactional work and the sort of underpinnings of that transactional work beyond just sort of first year contracts and property. What drew you to that transactional side as opposed to litigation? What made you think at that time, maybe this is a better fit for me professionally?

Priya Coffey [00:06:45]:

Well, once you have when you're in your second year, you can start doing these mock trials. You can do these mediations, you can do negotiations, these different classes. And I just found that my personality was much more suited to solving problems and working with someone across the table and not on the litigation side where there's a little bit look, it's intense on both sides, just different intensities. One side always felt like people were fighting and trying to win and trying to this and that. And the other side, it was more about, you have something that I want. I want to get something from you. How do we make a deal? It was more the business perspective, and I think being an undergrad, taking economics and taking some of these classes that I did at Chicago, you get exposed to a lot of the business world. And for me, I think that was more you can be creative on that side too. You've got to problem solve and help your clients figure out. So I think I was more suited for that. But of course, when you are interviewing for jobs and things like that, again, then it was very heavily litigation based. And so I decided to clerk for a judge. And people always when I was interviewing said, you want to do transactional? Like, why? Because, yeah, it's a great question for a judge. And I said, yeah, to rule out that I don't want to be in the courtroom. Right. And it was a great experience. It was an uncomfortable experience because it's not necessarily kind of what I wanted to do. But I loved it. I loved my judge. I loved the amount of writing that was given to me. And as you know, teaching the writing, it doesn't just exist on the litigation side, which is what a lot of people think. You got to write a lot on the transactional side too. And so developing as a good writer, she was a great mentor, taught me a lot. And you having clerked for a judge, I mean, you know, how many little pearls of wisdom we get?

Jonah Perlin [00:08:43]:

Just 100%.

Priya Coffey [00:08:44]:

And so that's basically what it was. I sort of explored different things to see what was a good fit. And it started out from mock trial at Tech. There were some people that could just get up there and it was like they were performing. And then there was PRIA Barathi at the time with my notes going, oh my God.

Jonah Perlin [00:09:08]:

Yeah, it's really interesting. And I love hearing from transactional lawyers because I was never drawn to that myself. And so I sort of feel like we all bring our own biases to this enterprise that we call careers. And the number of times people say, what I like about transactional work is that the only way we win is if we can agree to something or decide or decide amicably that we're not going to agree to something. Whereas by definition, trial work and litigation is often a zero sum game. Only one side can win the case. And that's a huge sort of fundamental dispositional difference that if you find yourself on one side or the other, the skills transfer, right? Being a good writer, being able to stand up on your feet and think creatively, be solution based, all of those apply to both, but they apply in really different ways.

Priya Coffey [00:09:55]:

It sounds like it really does. And now I'm managing the Houston office and it's fun because I get to really work with the different groups and see and learn really a lot about what they're doing and how to help them grow. And the litigators, it's just a different personality and they're so fun to be around, but when it's time to go and they turn it on, it's in a different way than the transactional lawyers. But it's a great you learn a lot about different kinds of people being exposed to all the different practices. For sure, sure.

Jonah Perlin [00:10:32]:

And before we start turning to sort of what you do today, I guess my question would be to someone who's a law student who's listening to this and saying, I think I might be a transactional lawyer, would you recommend they try out some more litigation type work or try out a clerkship? Like, was it worth it, ultimately? Even if it helped you decide what you didn't want to do?

Priya Coffey [00:10:51]:

Oh, completely. I mean, I think some of the best ways to learn is do the opposite of what you think you need to do because in your mind, you're taking a path that you don't. Yeah, it sounds great. It's great. But how do you know? We've had a lot of litigators who went that's what they thought they were going to do. They went in our litigation section and they said, want to do transactional law? But what's great about today is you can do a combination, right? Because there's environmental practice, which is litigation and transactional immigration. Same even in real estate. We've got real estate litigators, right? So they're helping with the documents, but they're also in the fight when they need to be. So it's great. And firms like mine, and I think most firms that are entrepreneurial, we want you to come up with your own deal. And when I started at Jackson Walker, we didn't have land use per se. And so we represent a lot of developers and owners of real estate, and they would get into issues with the city of Houston or just general land use with the tunnels and the sky bridges. And so the head of my section was like, okay, we need somebody to learn this PRIA. Go. And I was like, great, because I loved just helping to shape and like I said, seeing the skyline change and what new developments are going in. So I learned that, and that's kind of how I fell into, if you will, the specific niche of land use under the umbrella of real estate.

Jonah Perlin [00:12:25]:

Yeah. And that's a story that I hear, particularly from people who are a little bit further along in their career, is they can identify that moment when the firm they were working for, the person they were working for, needed something new, and they had either the interest, the bandwidth, or both to learn it. And it's that fundamental shift because then you become the local expert. And I'm not sure I can't think of a better way to be an indispensable part of a law firm than being the local expert on something that your clients are asking you to do.

Priya Coffey [00:12:53]:

Exactly. And sometimes you don't have a choice because it was kind of like, who's the lowest person on the totem pole that's going to go do this? All right, go do it. And I was like, I just got lucky. It was a great fit. And I think for all of your students that are listening, I would say when someone comes up to you and asks you that, just jump on it, learn something new. They don't know it either. So you can educate them, and they're not picking you if they don't think you would be up to doing the job. So you got to jump on this. And again, maybe it's uncomfortable, but you got to do it.

Jonah Perlin [00:13:24]:

So let's talk like brass tacks. Like, if I were to follow you around all day, what kinds of things would I see you doing for your various clients?

Priya Coffey [00:13:33]:

So there's a variety of things, but at the end of the day at the base is contracts. So we represent the owners of various buildings in downtown Houston. So as you can imagine with the buildings, there might be sales, acquisitions, leases, operational matters, because every building has service contracts and so they may have issues. Of course there's litigation that I don't actually deal with. Sure, I'll call my friends in litigation that do specific real estate litigation. And then of course, we've got developers of all sorts, whether they're large. When you're in Texas and there's a lot of land and you have these communities being developed everywhere. So we represent large homebuilders and doing different work for them. But again, contracts, you're buying the land, you're helping them plot the land, which basically means you're laying out what the sites might look like, the roads, the streets that go in. And so there's a whole process for that. You work a lot with the city of Houston, surveyors, you work a lot with surveyors and engineering companies and planners. And then we also have lots of distribution clients. So one of my biggest clients, there's a largest distributor for anheuser Bush. And of course you think, well, they're just delivering beer or they're distributing beer, but they need somewhere to do that from. So you help them buy the land and develop their industrial site. There's a variety of things and then we represent smaller clients who are having smaller businesses. And same thing I need a place to operate out of, so whether it's in a retail center and they need a lease space. So you're working on mostly contracts, but we also do work for like the parks, for example. And it's interesting because there's things like bike paths and waterways and there's lots of developmental pieces to the park. And you're also going to be working with governmental agencies for funding and things like that. So there's a lot of that and there's a lot of problem solving involved. So it's not just you sitting down and just drafting something. You're usually working with the client to figure out what their needs are. And hopefully your value add is you will give them some new great ideas on how they can construct the deal.

Jonah Perlin [00:15:54]:

And do you feel like you need to understand their business in order to be an effective lawyer and counselor and strategic partner?

Priya Coffey [00:16:04]:

You should always try to understand the business. And the more you understand about their business, the better you will be at your job and to especially help them navigate through whatever hot buttons they might have. And that varies from industry to industry. What your developer who's done this a million times has issues with may be significantly different from what your private equity company who buys a distressed asset. And you're now helping that asset. And their industry has different issues, right? And so things like indemnities and releases and all of those vary depending on who it is. And if you've got a client that's storing volatile material. You're going to have different kinds of language in your documents versus someone who's, I don't know, selling furniture, for example. And then, of course, it's always different when you're in an office situation, which is more the stable kind of normal, day to day, not much crazy stuff typically happens in an office and like a retail center or an industrial site.

Jonah Perlin [00:17:11]:


Priya Coffey [00:17:12]:

And then we haven't even talked about oil and gas. I mean, there's mineral leases, there's all kinds of things that you deal with and that's a whole nother specialized area. So there's a lot of different things going on. And that's what makes it interesting. It's not just you're doing litigators often say, well, you're just doing transactional law, you're doing the same. You're just sitting at your desk writing contracts all day. Right. And that's not true. You're talking to so many different people and different businesses and learning about it and drafting to what they need. Right?

Jonah Perlin [00:17:43]:

Yeah. And my next question was going to be what makes it different than say, other transactional practices? Because a lot of times what happens is people say, okay, I think I might want to do transactional on them. Then they sort of that narrows it down a little bit, but not a lot. And it sounds like the actual tasks are unique to the industry and to the business. But are there other sort of differences? Whether that be the speed, the types of clients, how to find them? I don't know. Are there other differences with other transactional practices?

Priya Coffey [00:18:12]:

I think there are differences. I mean, obviously the subject matter, you know, being a professor, the subject matter is very different and a lot of times the groups will work together. So real estate and corporate work a lot together. You're forming a joint venture with corporate for your client who's then going to own this property. You've got a client that is buying property and there's all these mineral leases. We work with the energy lawyers to figure out what that's all about. So there's different things. But at the root of it, I think it's same in that most of it is contract based. And the differences are really how you approach the problem, whether it's real estate and corporate. We're handling a deal for client that sells piping and all sorts of things, but they have real estate issues, corporate issues, and believe it or not, labor and employment issues. And so people don't think about that. But all three work together because all the documents need to have sort of similar protections. You're addressing different aspects of what they need. But it's fun because you're working with different people in different sections, but you're all trying to solve the same issues right, for the client and making it better. So there are differences, but I would say it's in the subject matter, in whatever the documentation might be. But the underlying is that sort of problem solving and helping your client figure out how you're adding value to the client.

Jonah Perlin [00:19:37]:

Sure. And in terms of you had mentioned that you're playing much more of a supervisory role now and you've been doing this for a little while, I guess I'm curious, what are junior people in your practice area doing and also from your perspective, what makes the juniors who are doing it well stand out?

Priya Coffey [00:19:56]:

So the juniors are not doing that much more different than what we're doing. And what we typically like to do is have them with our clients from day one. So even as a first year, second year, third year, because the real objective here is to grow, mentor them. They need to learn. So that when I'm out doing the business development or just managerial things for my office, that I've got someone who's smart, wants to be there and wants to hustle, is interested and going to cover while I'm gone. And the ones that really stand out, an example, we have a Friday morning real estate meeting and an example was given by one of our partners who they just closed a pretty big deal. And his comment was we always look back and reflect on what all the things that we did well. And he said, I had an associate who sent an email to me saying, hey, here are things that I think we could do better the next time. And he said they were really good comments because sometimes when you're more senior, you're removed from the process right the day to day of how to handle. And he said it was great. And so I think it's important for entering into a practice that you find people like that that are going to listen and brought it up and in our meeting where she was and where all of these folks are junior to senior because it's a good way to collaborate and learn. And I think the ones that stand out are the ones that truly want to take ownership from day one. You're not just, this is what I was told to do and I'm just going to do it, but you're thinking about the next step or high level or asking questions and volunteering for things, whether that's even doing pro bono things to help your skill sets, that's what I think really makes people stand out. But we always start looking for very entrepreneurial people. And so I think part of when we're interviewing students and even laterals, we look for that. So I think we find those qualities. And that's an example, I think, because later you have to manage your own career, you want to have your own clients and so you want to be able to think kind of that way even from day one, so that you can get your own clients eventually and have your own business.

Jonah Perlin [00:22:23]:

And how do you show entrepreneurial either experience or drive or interest? One of the challenges I think, in an interview setting. And I frankly talk to a lot of students who are interviewing, and they say, like, how can I possibly interview this interview for this job? But it's my first job, and I have no experience. And the advice I give them, and I'd really be curious about your take on it, is the firm knows they're going to have to train you to do a lot of new things. What they're looking for is what experiences do you have? What's your sort of mental mindset? How do you interact with people so that they can see that you have the raw skills that they can then translate into the particular skills that they're hiring you for? How do people demonstrate that for you successfully in an interview?

Priya Coffey [00:23:09]:

Well, like you said, we're only picking the resumes that show different things. I don't need a million things on your resume. I would like a few solid things. Right. And that could be, hey, I worked all through law school, or I worked through or I did something before I went to law school, or here's what I did in high you know, I did in high school that it's continuing. Here's something that I'm really interested in, that I've developed. I joke. I have my oldest son just started college, and I don't think that getting into college is much different in terms of the application process because you're writing these essays to say, how do I stand out? And so I think having a good resume, having something that catches someone's interest, and don't put something down there just because you did it one time, like ten years ago, right? It's got to be something, because you're.

Jonah Perlin [00:23:58]:

Going to get asked about it, and it's going to be awkward, and then.

Priya Coffey [00:23:59]:

It'S going to be really bad.

Jonah Perlin [00:24:00]:


Priya Coffey [00:24:01]:

So you need to put things that you really enjoy, that you like doing or have done, and then it gets you in the door. And then when you're in the door, you really just shouldn't have canned answers. I know it's hard, but sit in front of a mirror and practice or practice. I mean, they should practice with people like you. Jonah yeah, right. Just a 510 minutes. It's kind of like in the law world, it's like having an elevator speech, right? I'm in the elevator, someone sees me, hey, PRIA. And you just start chatting, and what can you tell them about that in that ride? And you just want to be engaging. Look, what we're all trying to do is serious, but don't take yourself so seriously. Totally just go in there. All of it is practice. I always tell the students, find one question that is really important to you, and ask that of every person you meet and see what they say. And then go with your gut. I mean, you're in law school. You're probably pretty smart, you're going to be all right. And I think we tend to worry about some of the smaller things, right?

Jonah Perlin [00:25:10]:


Priya Coffey [00:25:11]:

And you'll end up where you end up, and it'll be great, for sure.

Jonah Perlin [00:25:15]:

Yeah. I think people just need to tell their story. And it's easy, I think, from somebody who's, who's gone through this process to say, oh, just be yourself and say it. But actually, that is what the people who are interviewing you want to hear. They want to learn about you. They want to see where you're going. And I also think I don't want to step on the answer about sort of thinking about how can we be better and owning the case. I mean, in my own experience as a junior associate, I was just actually talking with the partner who gave me this opportunity. One of the things he said was, if you haven't had an experience yet, that's not a knock against you getting that experience. That makes me want to give you that experience even more, because someone has to give you your first opportunity, and then once you've done it, I can have you do it so I can do other things. And it sounds like that's a very similar model to how you're trying to build the associates and the junior folks in your office.

Priya Coffey [00:26:09]:

It is, because you're being brought in the room to talk with clients for a reason. We think you can do it.

Jonah Perlin [00:26:15]:


Priya Coffey [00:26:15]:

You should take that as a sign of, oh, my gosh, they believe in me. Okay, let's go. But the rest is to you, right? You got to come super prepared, super professional, and super ready to go. And you shouldn't do all the talking. You should listen and listen to what clients are saying. Or in most cases, the client is your senior associate, your young partner, whoever's leading the deal. Because when you're a young associate, your clients are the lawyers in the firm. You want to do a killer job so that they are going to be hiring you. And pretty soon, lawyers from other offices are calling the lawyers in my office. And I'm like, no, I need them to help with my stuff. But the point is, you want to become that commodity, and that's the first step in practice to then when you go out and get your own clients, right? So all that stuff matters. And this is the ground. It's a safe ground to practice in, too, right, with people that want they know. You don't know anything, okay, you went to law school, but it's not like you haven't been through a residency. Like you're in medical school, right? This is your residency. You're coming in here. We know you know some basic stuff, and we're going to teach you the rest. But you got to be willing to put yourself out there. And I will tell you, I did not. People might look at my resume and say, okay, so you did all this stuff and you went to these. Great law firms, and I didn't clerk. I never clerked anywhere in my summers. Okay. Looking back at it, I think, was that smart? And I think, yeah, because I had different experiences that helped me. I ended up applying for a clerkship. I went, like I said, to a great judge, I was actually supposed to go somewhere else to work. And she told me, you don't want to go there. You want to go to this firm. A firm that I'd heard about. It was a smaller firm in Texas. I think when I started, it was maybe 200 ish people across the state, and now we're almost 500 people across the state. Wow. I listened to her. It was the best life lesson. I met great people, and I knew that they were going to help me learn and care about me and mentor me and do all of those things that you want to find wherever you end up.

Jonah Perlin [00:28:30]:

Yeah. I think being able to get advice, being able to take advice, it's so important. And you got to be there when the moment strikes, but you don't know when the moment's going to strike. So you put yourself in enough good rooms that I think I'm mixing my metaphors, but strike oil might work for where you come from.

Priya Coffey [00:28:49]:


Jonah Perlin [00:28:50]:

One of the things I've been interested in thinking about, especially in real estate law, is I think back to when you were starting in this practice. And a lot has changed about sort of the way we interact with cities, the way we interact with commercial buildings. And a lot is changing, sort of, right now, in this moment. And so I'm curious, looking back, how has your practice or the real estate sort of general area changed? But also, where are we going? Are we at a turning point in commercial real estate now that people can do podcast interviews from their spare bedroom like I'm doing?

Priya Coffey [00:29:26]:

Yeah, I mean, the practice of real estate is maybe changed in that even within the practice, there's like, Subspecialties. Right. And there are people that do mud work and bond work and finance and litigation and all of that. So maybe even before I started, lawyers were more like generalist real estate, and now it's gotten into the sub parts, and I'm just speaking at a higher, simpler level without getting into the details. And so there's that. But I think at the end of the day, the practice of real estate is still the same. Someone wants to buy, someone wants to sell, someone wants to lease, someone wants there's all sorts of things that are going on. I think it's been interesting with the pandemic. So when I took over as managing partner, it was right when the Pandemic started. Okay. And so we had to get everybody out of the office. Now you've got downtown Houston, and just like any major city, no one's there. It's like you go downtown, and it was like, I know. My friends in New York were saying, it's like a ghost town. Nobody's here. At the end of the day, our clients, they've got buildings. Rent is what pays for that's the money. And you've got tenants going out of business because they don't retail tenants. You've seen and heard all the stories.

Jonah Perlin [00:30:52]:


Priya Coffey [00:30:52]:

Then the whole work from home situation happened, and we were in a place where we didn't feel like most companies and firms didn't feel like we should tell people they have to come back to work because, for obvious reasons, people didn't still know what was going on with the health environment. All of that was but now that our office clients, office building owner clients, it's rough. They've got a lot of space. But it's interesting that lately there have been people taking more space. They have not reduced as much as we thought. Maybe their offices are still empty. But the goal is, I think we realize you still need the human connection. Like, this is great that we're able to do what we're doing right. Because I don't have to be where you are, and you don't have to be where I am. But don't you prefer when your students come into your office and you're having a conversation in a dialogue and they ask you questions on the fly, something you said versus sort of the limited, oh, we've got our 30 minutes, and it's more of a conversation. And I think what was being lost was you just don't learn the same way. And I think it grows across both ways, younger to older and older to younger. And it was really important, especially for my office. I said, Guys, you got to come. I mean, here. I'm here every day. I found that I was more when I was at home. I woke up, the computer came on. I'm on the computer all day. I go to bed late anyway. Computer goes off when then and my kids were even like, oh, my gosh. At least when you were going to your office, you had some time, and you don't realize it that it became that way, and coming into the office and visiting with people and doing all that. So I think I just heard, like, maybe it was JPMorgan that just said they're expecting all their executives to be in five days a week. And there have been other companies that are starting to go that route. I think few don't have official policies, but if the head of your section or your boss is in the office, probably a good idea to think about coming into the office. There's a reason, and it's great. We have these Friday morning meetings in our office with our real estate practice group, and it's a great place to just what are you doing this weekend? Just the soft things as well as, oh, we have this issue. Has anyone handled this? And that's how I think you learn and grow and most importantly, people talk a lot about culture. That that's really how you preserve that culture, by being together, I think.

Jonah Perlin [00:33:21]:

Yeah, it's really interesting because I think there are lots of viewpoints on this and there's lots of nuance. And one of the challenges, I think you're right, is a training challenge. One of the challenges, those soft moments. I mean, we've moved completely back into the classroom, but at the same time, I can do office hours in the evenings now that I know how to use zoom and my students do. And so different people are going to pick different versions of that.

Priya Coffey [00:33:47]:

That's right.

Jonah Perlin [00:33:48]:

And I do think it's interesting because I think there was this concern that commercial buildings were gone. We were never going to go back. And I'll tell you, if my commute to Georgetown Law from my house is any indication, we may not be back, but people are definitely going downtown again. And I imagine, as with anything with lawyers, right. When there's a change, that's business for us. And as we rethink what our relationship is with cities and commercial real estate and everything else, that people who do what you do are going to be pretty busy and doing interesting things.

Priya Coffey [00:34:19]:

Yeah. And I mean, I think you can be I've been told through this, I'm more productive, I get more done. You do, but you're also losing. Yes, you may have more of the billable hours and also but you're also losing. That sort of the other skills of being out. Clients want to be out. I mean, I've seen that us invite them to lunch or dinner and they're like, yes, there's that social aspect that's missed. There's also sitting in with senior partners or whoever, and they're on the phone and they're negotiating, and you kind of see how they're handling different things. You just learn in that way as well. So I don't think there's any right answer, but I think just like, everything is in a cycle. It was great being at home, but I do, to your point, see more and more people downtown back in their buildings. Maybe it's not five days a week, but they still need that connection.

Jonah Perlin [00:35:16]:

Yeah, no, I think that makes a ton of sense, and I'll be curious to see where it goes. So I want to ask two more questions. The first is sort of looking back either on your day to day or sort of your career, what are your favorite parts of your job? Or what is a memorable moment or a memorable representation that sort of sticks with you as like, this is why I do what I do.

Priya Coffey [00:35:38]:

I think favorite parts of my job are one my team. I really enjoy the people that I work with. I enjoy coming to my office. And then on the other side, my favorite parts is the problem solving. There's constant different things going on and trying to figure out how to I mean, anything, it's just, you know, and and then trying to help the client come up with different solutions. So I think those are my two favorite parts. I think if there's the challenging parts can be managing client expectations, helping the team understand what the client expectations are, and then, of course, juggling between. We have a limited amount of time in our day. I know you've expanded your time. I know you have a family, but you've expanded your time because now you're doing office hours at night, right. Presumably after the kids go to bed.

Jonah Perlin [00:36:33]:


Priya Coffey [00:36:34]:

I have a little bit older kids than you, but managing a practice, managing those billables, managing the day to day office administration, and number one and foremost is my family, because before you know it, your kids are gone and you're there. Right. And so I would say those are the challenging and then least favorite, which everyone around here laughs because they're like, you've been doing this for 25 years, is writing down the billable hour, keeping your time. My goodness. And it is. It's just one of those things that I have worked on for a very long time, trying to improve, and I'm much better, but it's still the one thing that I'm always like. And they have given us all this tech stuff to make it easier now, but I'm a paper and pen person because I don't and so I have to do that. If there is one thing on the.

Jonah Perlin [00:37:35]:

Day to day yeah, right. Next month, Priya will definitely do it better, I'm sure. Right. Isn't that what we always tell ourselves?

Priya Coffey [00:37:42]:

And I'm having to manage people and say, you better write your time down. This is how we get paid. And then there's me and every night or every morning. And so that's the kind of one, I guess, funny thing, but there's definitely more upside than downside. But I think, again, it's because I found a great home and space, and I've never been anywhere else, so I can't really compare. I've been here since I started 25 years ago, so wow. It's been a great place to grow and watch the firm grow and change over time. Yeah.

Jonah Perlin [00:38:16]:

And is there some obviously there's lots of reasons why it's been such a great place for such a long time, but is there something that either that your firm does differently or that you just really appreciate about your firm that has allowed you, because so many people are so mobile and change jobs constantly? To find someone who's been not only doing the same thing, but doing it at the same place for as long as you have is actually pretty rare. If you could pick one thing, what's kept you there?

Priya Coffey [00:38:42]:

I mean, it's really the people. It really is. And that was kind of what my judge had said to me, hey, I know you're going to X, but you really should go check out Y. And I was like, Why? I have a great job. I can be all over the world. And she said, no, I think you want to practice for the long run and you should go do X. And then I got lucky because Jackson Walker has a huge real estate practice. We have the largest in the state and there's a lot of real estate lawyers doing lots of really different things. And I actually started in the corporate group and so it was by year three, when I started, I was doing more and more. The real estate was so busy, they had asked the corporate folks to help that I transitioned over to the real estate side. So one was listening and following some advice, and she was right. And then two, I got lucky because it was the practice area that I always the area of interest that I always had and then I got to do it. Yeah, it was definitely a bit of both. Right. I'd like to think I was super smart about it and I planned it this way.

Jonah Perlin [00:39:43]:

Yeah, well, and now being part of the leadership team, now it's on you. It's incumbent on you now to sort of keep the people and keep the culture going. And I'm sure that's not easy, as we've talked about for lots and lots of different reasons and also keeping your family first. That's another huge challenge of doing what we do.

Priya Coffey [00:40:02]:

Yeah, and I think that was the other thing, too, is that we really do value our lawyers, spouses and the kids, and we do events that really involve them. And my kids have grown up with some of my partner's kids and wish I could send you a roster and just say, look at all these people that have been here 15 plus years. And we always tell people the goal is to you come in as summer associate. We want you to join us as an associate. We would love for you to make partner. And then equity, I mean, it's a long process and it's funny because I'm still involved on the law school recruiting side because I love it so much and I think it's just really important. And this recruiting has even started at the high school and college level for these pipelines. And it's amazing to me how I think it's great. I think it's so great that if you're in high school and you don't know anything about the law that there are opportunities for you to find out about it. Unlike me, I didn't have any lawyers in my family. I had to learn in a different way. But there's a lot of like University of Houston has these pipeline programs and I think most universities have great they now have advanced real estate. I mean, they have advanced other classes that you could take. It's easier to cross over between business school and law school and take classes sure. And so it's almost overwhelming. Like, there's so much stuff, but there are those things, and so if you're particularly interested, go audit a class or, I don't know, find out what they're reading and get the book and read it and see if it's of any interest.

Jonah Perlin [00:41:34]:

So, yeah, I have a shocking number of high school listeners of how I lawyer. It's crazy. People write me and they say, my kid said he was interested in being a lawyer. And I said, Pick somebody from this list of 100. That sounds interesting. It's a different world, certainly, than what it was before. Well, look, I always end my conversations by asking for a piece of advice. So what's one thing that either you regularly tell people just entering our profession or something you wish you knew when you were entering the profession?

Priya Coffey [00:42:02]:

I think in entering the profession again, you should really interview your future employer as much as they are interviewing you. And as I previously said, I think it's good to have your set of questions and ask them all to all the people you're interviewing with to see if it lines up with your values. I mean, one of the things that I liked when I interviewed here so I met the head of real estate and the head of bankruptcy, and they were fantastic. They were very informal. They seemed to know each other, like each other friends, unlike some of the other places that I had interviewed. And then when I came into the office and interviewed with eight or ten people, they were all very different, but they all, at the core, were like similar values, which that was the biggest draw because it wasn't like, I don't know, someone was talking about this and someone saying, we're a great place to work. I mean, it was really that synergy was fantastic. And when I left, I went back to my judge and I said, oh, my God, I hope these people give me a call back, because I had never interviewed with them and this was great. And so I think that, what are you looking for? And you should really look for that. I think it's easier if you've been out of school for a while and actually worked in different places, because you have an idea like, I know what I don't want, right? And if you're going straight through, think about what you like and what you don't like, and even if it's from summer jobs you've had, because you're going to be with these people all the time, and I think you should always be listening. I mean, everything that's being said around, just take it in, don't make judgments, listen and really process and sort of start developing your own thoughts. And I would say take chances. And I'm a conservative person in taking chances, but do it. If there's something you want to do, just try it. And I think most law firms would be supportive of you trying what you're interested in because it's only going to help improve you with the experiences that you and I were talking about. Right. The more experiences you have and I honestly don't know what I would tell myself because I look back and I think, gosh, did I really do that? Or why didn't I clerk somewhere? But I think it worked out well for who I was because my parents had always said, you need to just sort of whatever position or where you are, try to figure out what that is and sort of be like a chameleon and go. And I think having that ability to sort of change and being flexible or nimble has helped me a lot. And I don't know that I mean, I tell my kids that now all the time. I think it's important. Everybody's so structured and they've got a path and they know about resumes when they're in middle school, which I don't really understand. And I'm like, don't do that. Just go fly by the seat of your pants. Just figure it out.

Jonah Perlin [00:44:57]:


Priya Coffey [00:44:58]:

So I think that's an important quality that I was not aware that existed. But I think, again, it's because of my parents that worked out because they let us try different things and do different things. And so I think that's the biggest thing that I would tell most people to do.

Jonah Perlin [00:45:14]:

I love that. So try, learn, listen. So important for somebody, frankly, for somebody, even in the middle of their career, who's thinking what's next? Agree the same advice applies. Well, look, Priya, it's been really great chatting with you. I'm sure we could go on for another hour, but thank you so much. Good luck with your management of the office and the exciting time to be a real estate lawyer. And yeah, thanks for doing this. I appreciate it.

Priya Coffey [00:45:40]:

Well, thank you so much for having me and making this so fun. I really enjoyed it.

Jonah Perlin [00:45:44]:

Good, I'm glad.

Priya Coffey [00:45:45]:

Hope we'll talk soon.

Jonah Perlin [00:45:47]:

Again. I am Jonah Perlan, and this is the How I Lawyer podcast. Thanks to podcast sponsor Law Pods for their expert editing. If you're a lawyer considering starting your own podcast, definitely check them out@lawpods.com. And thanks to you for listening. If you enjoyed the episode, I hope you'll consider sharing it with friends and colleagues or on social media. And of course, if you haven't already done so, please sign up for the email list@howeylawyer.com or subscribe to the show wherever you listen to podcasts. As always, if you have comments, suggestions or ideas for the show, please reach out to me at how. Ilawyer@gmail.com or at Jonah Perlin on Twitter. Thanks again for listening and have a great week.