Guest Suzanne Amaducci Adams, Partner and Head of Real Estate at Bilzin Sumberg

On Behalf of | Dec 14, 2021 | Podcasts

Welcome to another episode of First off, let’s kill all the lawyers. I’m David Heffernan and I’ve been practicing personal injury law here in Miami for nearly three decades. The goal behind this show is simply to bring in other lawyers from South Florida and other areas, in different areas of practices of law, get to know them a little bit, talk to them a little bit, find out about their practice. By the end of the podcast, maybe one by one, we can sort of remove them from the kill list. This one should be relatively easy. My guest this morning is Suzanne Amaducci Adams  – good friend, phenomenal lawyer, fellow Orange Bowl member and board of directors. So, we’ve got a lot to talk about. This is going to be an easy show, because your type of law is something I know very little about. First off, how are you?

I’m doing great. Thanks, Dave. Good morning.

Good morning. All right. So let’s talk about let’s go way back for a little bit. What is it that drove you to practice of law?

Well, I was torn between business school and law school didn’t know what I wanted to do. Actually, originally, I wanted to go into the hotel business. Okay. I was told as a woman at the time, I mean, I’m pretty old. I was told as a woman at the time, there really weren’t many opportunities there. And the highest rank that I would achieve would be executive housekeeper. Now, if you know me, I am not a good housekeeper and that didn’t seem like the best path career path for me. So, I ended up going to law school. So how do you wind up at Vanderbilt? Fine school.

You know, it was one of those things I was between going to school in Boston, a bunch of friends had gone to Vanderbilt, it was kind of an unknown school. Now. It’s the greatest you know, it’s probably one of the hardest schools to get into. But it was unknown and I flew down I saw the campus and I decided let’s try something new. Let’s try the South. I knew nothing about the south at the time. Nashville certainly was not what it was like today.

Right? Well, yeah, Nashville has changed quite a bit great, great city.

Great City. But let me tell you, it was nothing like that. It was a nice, you know, it was it was a suburban campus yet right next to downtown. Incredible southern influence. And it was a good time I learned a whole bunch about a different part of the country that I didn’t know about

Then we drive you further south geographically. But as I like to describe Miami, I think Miami is almost a northern city that’s just located southern geographically.

I was slowly moving my way south to the warm weather. I hated the winters. And I was always a big boater, so I needed to be near the water.

Gotcha. All right. So, we get you down here you go to the University of Miami law school. And then your career path seems to take you where you had desires before. You’re still sort of in the hotel industry to some degree, but a little different in you’re not a housekeeper you’re doing $6 billion deals and things like that. So

billion, maybe a little bit,

you know, was $6 billion deal. So, let’s talk about your practice and how this sort of evolved into what you’ve done.

My passion is really development, and the hotel and Marina business. I worked in hotels as a kid, I love the business. It was great. I’m a big boater. So that’s another asset I just happen to know a lot about and the best attorneys are the attorneys that understand their client’s business, right so it healthcare doctors, you need to understand insurance, all sorts of stuff with real estate, you got to understand the way the way the building fits together. But then with these operating businesses like hotels and marinas, you have to understand the business, you have to understand where the money comes from, you have to understand, you know, the expenses, how to mitigate expenses, like I can walk in a marina and I can I can understand the condition of it, I can understand pretty much the revenue from looking at the type of boats that are there, which boats are there. And all the different businesses that are Marina, you’ve got fuel, you’ve got repair facilities, you’ve got restaurants, you’ve got bars, it’s a big business. So, it’s a good mix between business and law. All right.

We’re going to delve into that a little bit. Now just as a personal question, how in South Florida Do we not have more marinas more waterfront restaurants? I mean, we have we have such beautiful venue and there just seems to be a shortage of all of them. You got a Fort Lauderdale seems to be a ton more marinas. You know, you’ve got restaurants and down here just not many.

Well, there are a lot of marinas, okay. The boating activity has exploded exponentially, especially during COVID. So, there’s just there’s just a shortage. Now as far as the waterfront restaurants are concerned, what’s our most expensive real estate waterfront? It’s really hard to make a go of it if you’re a restaurant operator, and your rent is incredibly high because you’re on the water. So there are a few, right? It’s a very expensive endeavor.

Because my whole path was to start the next restaurant on the water. So what like

everyone wants to own a bar? Everyone wants to own a bar. It’s a really bad idea. No, I know. And then everyone who doesn’t have a boat wants to own a marina because they want all their friends to comment. It’s like every other business, it’s a difficult business, you really need to know what you’re doing.

I want to focus on your firm a little bit because you are the partner and the head of the real estate division. I know a lot of lawyers over there. Just a very, I think, unique firm in that. It’s a big firm, but you’re Miami based, but you’re an international practice.

So, you know, it’s, we’re perfect in my mind. And that’s why I’m there. And that’s why I’ve been there for over 20 years. But we’re the anti big firm, firm. Okay, we operate like a big firm, but we don’t we have solely a Florida footprint with solely of Miami office, people say, you know, how can you survive in this kind of environment where all these big firms are getting together? There are all these law firm mergers? Well, we’re different, right? So, we have, I always like to say we’re kind of like a boutique hotel, right? So, you go to a boutique hotel, because you want a very high level of service. And a discerning client can go anywhere they want, but they go there because the high-level service and the high level of expertise. Okay, we have more real estate lawyers and land use lawyers than anyone in town. Period. Right. Okay. And now right now, we also have a litigation department and an international tax and, and whatnot. And corporate of course, but you know, when people are coming to Miami, what do they need? They need, you know, local knowledge, they need an expertise. And we all came from large national firms like we all understand that model. We didn’t like it. We like local decision making. So, we operate as if we’re a big firm, but we have one office and I do work all over the country. I don’t do work. I’ve done work in Alaska. I’ve done work in Hawaii. My biggest project right now that I’ve been working on for like almost 20 years, is in Bridgeport, Connecticut, right? It’s 100-acre development deal in Bridgeport building a Bass Pro, we built a marina an office building a restaurant, Chipotle T mobile’s dollar box. I’m getting ready to build a hotel 2000 multifamily units. I mean, it’s like a lifelong project. Right? Although it’s in Connecticut, it’s not here. Right? That’s fantastic.

See, now we can take bills and summer golf to kill us. Because you’re the anti-lawyers, which well, which is what I always sort of like, and that’s why I sort of started this as a joke, you know, to kill all the lawyers and then all the lawyers, of course, well, you know, Shakespeare meant, that is a flutter echo. I get it. But people laughed, I you know,

I don’t care. There’s some lawyers that want to kill him, right? I mean, the one thing that’s maybe I guess you haven’t litigation to, but in real estate, you know, you’re constantly negotiating deals, and at the end of the day, I have to make a deal, or I didn’t do a good job, right. And at the end of the day, I make it a little bit more of this, and you make it a little bit more of that. But at the end of the deal, end of the day, we need to make a deal. Okay, and you see these people over and over and over again. I deal with the same 10 lawyers in New York all the time, right? Same couple lawyers in LA the same few in Chicago. It’s amazingly a small world. But you know, you got to be nice, you got to be respectful, and you got to be a straight shooter.

Well, and to me, you got to set your ego aside, okay. What’s the best for my client? Okay, I deal with personal injury, you deal with yours? So at the end of the day, it’s not about me, it’s not about you, it’s what’s the best outcome for the client? And I think too many times lawyers’ kind of lose focus on that, because they want to make it about that without a question. And you know, it’s not about the fees. Okay, sure. The fees are expensive, okay. That’s the way it’s going to get done. But I get paid for results. My clients come back to me because I got the deal close, no matter what craziness I had to go through no matter what problem I had to solve. I got the deal done. I got them their result. And for them, that’s priceless. Same with you, you get them a good result. It’s priceless. Right.

So, we’ve talked about a lot on the show with other litigators and everything else, the effects that COVID had, and that was because the courthouse is basically closed and the change and all of that, but you’re in tell hospitality, that had to have a huge COVID had to have a huge impact on that because people stopped traveling. I mean, where is it all going? And are we starting to see it come back and hotels coming back? And

so many so many different answers to that question. So, I closed a hotel loan refinance in Chicago, like March 9, we closed we got a phone call, we said you are closing in 24 hours and we are pulling this loan, because we don’t know what’s happening in the industry. So, we closed we had to do a little credit enhancement, but we closed we got it done. Okay. Three weeks later, that hotel was closed, right? Had you ever asked me I only close two hotels in my entire career. Okay, and that was as a lender after I foreclosed because it just didn’t make sense anymore. Right. I’ve now closed on Your kids in the Caribbean here everywhere. And like you just don’t think what do you need when you close a hotel? Like what do you need? You need security, you need air conditioning, you got to get rid of all the food you got, like, you can’t just walk away can’t just lock the front door and your expenses don’t stop, right? Like there’s certain expenses that you still have. So, it’s very problematic, but your income goes to zero overnight. Zero, positively zero. Right? So, it was a very, very strange time for the industry. The industry you know, struggled for the first 1215 months. The lenders were good. Everyone kind of got together and said, okay, we need to keep the hotels open. We need to keep them flexible. There were very few foreclosures during COVID. Okay, there were these little workouts and relief that was given you know, everyone, let’s use the reserves, we have savings, let’s work together, use the reserves keep employees employed like and the PPP money helped tremendously, to keep people. So that’s what happened. Now. Fast forward to today. South Florida’s position beautifully, absolutely, perfectly beautifully, because we’re drivable, you know, when people were afraid to fly, and we are drivable. We were a tourist destination, people wanted to come to the beach, everyone had to get out of their house, they just couldn’t stand being there anymore. They need a little bit of a break. So, we actually fared quite well in South Florida, because we were a destination. Now, there are still some convention center hotels in the Northeast and the Midwest. They’re still closed. They’ve been closed for almost two years, a huge convention center hotel, because there’s no business for them right now. Right? Well, Adelphia is one of the markets I was working in. And there were a ton of hotels that were closed, I had all the convention center hotels with different clients, you know, trying to do some sort of relief. Now they were all conventions at our hotels are usually owned by very well-heeled institutional investors. Right. So, I have money, which is good, you know, and they kept the payments coming and everything. But, you know, everyone kind of worked together, as opposed to working apart to keep the hotels going, shall we just say, so, our convention centers, because obviously, you know, all of the events that you see that the convention centers hosts and everything else sort of got shut down? Oh, I mean, all the companies corporations ever say, well, we’re not doing a big annual retreat this year. We’re not you know, and things have gone virtual. So, are we going to see convention centers come back? Are they going to have to repurpose or

they’re starting? I mean, again, we’re blessed to be in sunny South Florida. Right? We are blessed. So um, so they’re coming back. They’re slowly starting. I went to my first conference, in Nashville in September, I gave a speech, I guess it was October, um, you know, so they’re starting, they’re starting to happen, but people are going to pick and choose, they’re going to maybe go to one instead of five. I think the attendance is down. ICSC is the big retail conference in Vegas. It was last weekend. And it was much, much, much smaller than it was before. So, I mean, the optimal word right now is pivot. Everybody’s got a pivot, right? And how can you know you pivot your business, but I think it’s going to come back, it’s just going to be slower to come back. I think business travel is starting to come back. But it’s much more meaningful, you’re going to take one trip and set a time, right, basically be on a plane back and forth to New York all the time. I went to New York for the first-time last month. So, you know, it’s just going to be slow. But again, we’re just blessed to be in South Florida.

Is there going to be a hybrid? I mean, we’ve seen it in in litigation, we’ve gone to virtual hearings for motion counting are those which I think is a tremendous byproduct of COVID. And I think that will survive, because schlepping to the courthouse for five-minute hearing just doesn’t make any sense anymore. When you can efficiently do it. Now obviously, still got to have jury trials. You got to have the buildings there. But are you seeing in in real estate and everything else, more virtual dealings going on, where you’re not traveling places where you still need to be face to face?

So, you know, real estate had pretty much you know, we never had the New York Stock closings anymore. There’s no like sit down closings that was kind of like last generation, right? And that’s how I started my career. But our Associates today, they don’t know. They don’t know what that’s like because everything was done electronically. Before anyway, right? But the most effective way to negotiate with someone is to meet them, right? If you really need to negotiate something serious or have a serious conversation with someone, you really need to do it. In person. It’s also much more meaningful, you convey to the person that they’re very important to you if you’re now going to go see them. That’s a significant thing. But you know, zoom, okay, you can do some meetings and court five-minute court hearings.

I know that that’s much more efficient, but for me to sit on a zoom conference, I’m telling you, I’m on my phone, I’m on my computer. I’m doing three things at once, not just two I can’t concentrate anymore I need, you know, you need to meet with people.

Well, and the difficulty I have found, and I found that, both and taking depositions. And then, you know, I teach in the trial program, which we were doing virtually now, thank God we’re back in person, I know you’ve done some teaching it to you. And I’ve only got a students, it’s a small class, but the problem is, I’m on Zoom, I can’t tell if I’m looking in somebody’s eyes, because I’m just looking at a camera. They maybe look at the camera, but we’re not, we’re not making this connection. And, you know, I think you just lose so much. Because again, I don’t know what you’re looking at, or what’s going on, because I can’t really engage.

My business is a relationship business, you can’t build relationships over zoom. You just can’t you build a relationship by having a coffee with someone by having a cocktail. By having lunch, you learned so much more about someone. And you know, real estate is truly a relationship business. And as far as teaching is concerned, I thankfully, finished my class at u m, just before COVID it. So, my class was done that semester, and I did teach last spring. But I insisted on doing it in person, like I had to teach in person. I couldn’t teach overs. I just couldn’t do it. I had four or five students in class, I had some distance learners. So, I was always videoed. And then I also had a screen with my Zoom students. So, I never knew what camera like, where am I looking? Who am I talking to? Right? And I’ll tell you, I know, the students who were sitting in class better than I know, the students who were on Oh, sure. I remember their names. I remember more things about them. No offense to students on Zoom, because they actually did quite well on the exam. But I just didn’t make a connection. Right.

Well, and I think the same in litigation, because we talked about the elimination of motion practice, which is good thing, except what You don’t have is the dialogue back and forth with opposing counsel, okay, you know, a deposition ends, you know, and we’re somewhere the opposing counsel, I’m getting a drink, I’m flying back with them or whatnot. I’m not just hitting the button. And then it’s all over. And it’s that dialogue that kind of continues to move things, even though it may not be a dialogue necessarily about what’s the core issue. But it’s just it. You’re right, it’s relationship building.

It’s really, and I always joke that the litigators, all they want to do is fight and all I want to do is build things right. That’s always my tongue in cheek joke, okay. But look, you will cut a better deal for your client, if you know the opposing counsel, like you’ll know whether they’re a jerk, or you’ll know whether they’re a straight shooter, you’ll know something about them, right. But you will have much more insight into how to cut a deal, because at the end of the day, we all want to cut a deal. I mean, there’s not that many try going to trial is extraordinarily expensive, extraordinary. And, you know, I truly try and avoid it all go if I have to with my clients, but like, look, kind of business deal, right? And you can do that so much better. If you know that person, you know, how they think you know, what motivates them, you know, what their client motivates them. I always ask people like, what’s your goal? Like, what is truly your goal? I’ll ask the other side, I’ll ask my side. But if I know what your goal is, I know what my goal is. Or you’re saying, notice something I’m asking for? I see what, why No, because if you tell me why maybe I can figure out another path, right? 100%. So, if you don’t know that people, you can’t have that conversation. It’s which is

why you know, and it’s funny, because they’ve experimented with things in litigation of doing, you know, sort of this virtual mediation with AI information and plugging in, and it just doesn’t work. There’s a human element to it. That I think is critical in litigation in any negotiation at any point in any deal. You can’t just plug in numbers, right? I mean, there’s not an algorithm to fix.

The other thing, too, is what I call the tough guy. Right? Everyone can be a tough guy on the phone, and everyone can be a tough guy in email. But you know, they can’t be a tough guy in person. I mean, when I wear my heels, I’m six foot one. Okay, I’m taller than most of the men in Miami. Not you, Dave, thank you. And I’m saying you can’t be abusive, especially to a woman to her face. I mean, it’s much more, trust me there are. I was going to say, I know. There are a few I won’t,

but I know plenty of people that will but

the majority? Well, right, you know, and it’s just a different dynamic. Alright.

You bring up obviously, the female component to it when you started in the practice of law. And it’s probably still somewhat male dominated, but clearly you were going into male dominated business. Okay. And one of the nice things about Bill’s, and is, I think, again, I think they’re in the forefront of inclusion and diversity and everything else and you just look at, look at who works there. And you see what the emphasis is, but what have you seen change? As you know, as a young female lawyer now to the practice, it’s still probably male dominated to some degree.

So yes, it is male dominant, there are more women today. Um, you know, I truly view the world as gender neutral, right? and my business is gender neutral. I am almost always the only woman in the room, almost always. And I’m just used to it right? It doesn’t bother me. Right. But I’ll tell you my first closing, I was practicing in Orlando. And you know, I work I, you know, I over prepared, I checked all the documents, 100 times and all this stuff. So, I walk into closing room, I’m in there by myself and I have opposing counsel, and I’ve got the, the developer I was making alone. And I’ve got the developer there. And the developer says, darlin, can you make a few photocopies for me? And I sat there, I took a deep breath, I wasn’t sure what to say, because it caught me off guard really honest with you, right? And I said, Sure. Because remember, the borrower pays the lenders, attorneys fees, right? So I said, Sure. I mean, at $225 an hour, if that’s what you want me to be doing, I’ll be happy for you. And the guy looked at me funny, and his attorney, that’s the attorney, it whispered in his ear. So you know, you start that way. And you just learn to handle it. Right? You kind of take it in stride.

Alright. One of the other things that builds in Sundberg focuses on even though they’re international, is a big focus on Miami and South Florida. And I think they take great pride. And I’ve seen some of the stuff reference, you know, the new Miami so. So what do you see as Where’s Miami going?

What Miami has come a long way. And we were looking at a picture and you and I started, there’s a few buildings that are missing. Miami has come a long way. And it really is there’s really no limit to where it can go with the diversity of people who are moving here, the diversity of companies, the arts, the culture, I mean, Miami is going to explode if we’re not already exploiting Miami, but it’s South Florida, right? It’s completely South Florida. I sit on the Miami Downtown Development Authority Board. And we focus on being bringing business into South Florida and into the DDA district. And it’s amazing how much business has come in and how many new companies and whatnot Miami is just on fire. I think we’re unlimited as to where it can go. But as a firm, you know, we are Miami, right? Okay, this is we’re born and bred here. As a firm and you know, you have to invest in your community, you have to give back. And we have board positions on basically, every charity, every organization, we require all that we don’t have to really twist many arms, we require all of our partners and associates to be involved in the community. They get to pick where, right whether it’s kids, it’s sports, it’s charitable, it’s the arts, they pick where but they have to be invested in the community.

Well, look, it’s critical. You and I have gotten to know each other through the Orange Bowl committee. Again, big commitment to South Florida. Citing time of year for us great time we got we clearly got the best game and match up. So it’s, it’s going to be fun over the next few weeks as it gets kind of crazy on our end. But then you look at the things we’re able to do for the community through the Orange Bowl committee and the legacy gifts and the giving back. And, and that really is a critical thing. I mean, if this is what you call home, then you’ve got invest in

without a question. And, you know, it’s again, it goes back to relationships, like Dave, you can pick up your phone, and you can call a whole host of people, you can open a door, you can get to the right person through your involvement in the community, right, they’re not necessarily going to give you something but they’re going to open a door for you. So, you can get to the right person. And that’s what we find now, where, you know, our firm is just priceless. Right? Because all the people coming into Miami, they need help. They’re from New York, Chicago, we just have a lot of international people who really needed help, but the domestic people, you know, they need help, too. And they need someone who can pick up the phone and call the mayor’s office or pick up the phone and call that surveyor who didn’t get a survey Donner or whatever it is the ability to pick up the phone, call the right person, have them take your phone call, it’s priceless. 100% doesn’t matter what you charge per hour for that.

So, we’re seeing well, let me ask you, are we seeing a shift now? Post COVID? Because people can do things virtually. I know the mayor made a big push to bring tech down here and everything else. Are we seeing that start to shift in Miami?

Oh, absolutely. And it’s not just COVID prove that we could do. Right. Okay. But it’s not just because you can work remotely. I mean, the tax structure some of these other states of California and New York. I mean, it just doesn’t make sense to live there anymore. Right? And if you can live here where it’s beautiful. So many months out of the year, people have summer homes anyway they leave you know, like these people were travelers anyway. Right. But if they could be based here enjoy our outdoor life, right? That’s what we have. We have our life in the winter. And if they can enjoy that and work and have a huge tax advantage, it’s a win win.

You’ve been doing this a long time. We won’t say how many years. Put you’re still very passionate about it. What is it that keeps you passionate about what you’re doing? A couple

different things. So, um, you know, I learned something new every day. I learned something that I take with it, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, I definitely learned something. But I’m to the point in my career now where I can kind of pick and choose my clients. Right. And I love my clients. I mean, my clients are great people. I know them. They’re personal friends. And it’s fun. Like, for instance, I’m doing a deal a series of deals actually, with the mother of one of the daughters in my daughter’s class. They’ve been going to school together since they were two and a half. Okay, my mother and I met at preschool. Really, we met at preschool. I knew who she was, she knew who I was, but we had never met before. And we became fast friends, and we’re developing all a pilot together. That’s fantastic. providing some affordable housing doing a whole bunch of different things. Right. So it’s just it’s much more fun when you’re doing it with your friends.

So what are your favorite projects to work on? Is there whether it be a Marina Hotel, a whole thing, like you’re working in Connecticut, where it’s everything? What’s, what’s the one that’s the most fun?

The most fun is a good? I like a good puzzle, right? So, I like a good challenge. You know, the cookie cutter deals, you know, fine, I can do them no problem. And I do them. And you know, I pay the bills. I still make photocopies if I have to, I’ll personally deliver a package like I don’t care what I do, right? You got to get the deal done. Right. And some of the younger people don’t quite understand that. But that’s a topic for a whole other show. I just I love I love a good puzzle. And I like working with a good client. And if I really had my druthers, I like to build things. I really like to build things.

Fantastic. Well, should be very easy to take off the kill list. Suzanne Amaducci Adams, the partner and head of real estate. Been a pleasure. We can have these conversations. We’ll have many more of these conversations. I’ll see you tonight at the orange ball function. We’re going to kick off this year’s game hosting the semifinal not that we need to tell that, but Michigan and Georgia and I know we don’t have to tell it because I’ve gotten more requests than I’ve ever had. I haven’t. I haven’t. Exactly. Well, you can kill her for not having tickets. But for the lawyer aspect. an anti-lawyer who I really love, you can take her off the list. That’s another episode. We’ll see you next week.