Expectations Versus Reality
A Constant Struggle for Attorneys Client Review
By Gabriel Safar
We’ve all been there, setting what are seemingly realistic expectations for an event — like a fun family beach vacation. But then, the reality is that it rains the whole trip and the kids constantly fight. Forces outside of your personal control get in the way and lead to disappointment. This gap between expectations and reality is a major issue in the professional world too, and no one is more negatively affected than commercial real estate attorneys.
In the commercial leasing process, lawyers are often viewed by their peers as “deal killers.” The leasing team locks in a tenant and executes a letter of intent. Life is good. But then, they’re forced to wait while the lawyers hash out the details of the lease, in a process that often takes up to three months. Business leaders grow frustrated because that’s 90 days they’re not collecting rent. A deal that seems to be moving so quickly reaches a bottleneck once it’s in the lawyer’s hands. And that drives the rest of the team crazy.
Why is it that lawyers, these successful, Type A professionals, are unable to meet the seemingly reasonable expectations of their colleagues and customers? In the commercial real estate leasing process, lawyers are essentially set up to fail due to the tools — or lack thereof — they have at their disposal.
This phenomenon — what we call the expectations gap — is a huge problem in the commercial real estate industry. Despite all parties working toward the same business goals, an adversarial relationship emerges, creating internal tensions that benefit no one. While CRM software like Salesforce has helped salespeople become more efficient, commercial real estate lawyers are stuck using good-old-fashioned email and Microsoft Word, which are not tailored to their needs or workflow. Ask a salesperson to conduct business on a cell phone from 1993 and watch their efficiency crawl to a halt.
These inefficiencies slow down the deal-making process and create unnecessary animosity across departments. Acknowledging and understanding the expectations gap is the first step in finding a way to solve it.
How has the legal industry fallen so far behind?
To explore this issue, we have to understand who becomes a lawyer and why. Typically, successful lawyers are hardworking, intelligent, analytical, effective communicators. After toiling away in law school, these individuals come into the working world with an abundance of newfound knowledge, ready to add value and drive results.
Upon entering the industry, commercial real estate lawyers quickly uncover a problem. Leases, one of their key deliverables, must be completed quickly and accurately. Throughout the process, the lawyer is faced with the time-consuming task of tracking and compiling multiple rounds of edits, which come in the form of conference call discussions, tracked red lines and in-line email feedback from multiple stakeholders. For each change, there are likely dozens of other places within the hundred-page lease document that also must be changed. And as everyone with a law degree knows, even one seemingly small mistake can lead to drastic legal and financial consequences for any organization. Under the enormous weight of that pressure, lawyers spend hours with painstaking attention to detail to get it all right.
The thanks lawyers get for their hard work? Broker colleagues are upset that the deal takes too long to close. In their mind, the deal is done the minute a letter of intent is signed. Because their commissions are tied to the deal, brokers want it closed as soon as possible. However, it’s unfair to place blame solely on brokers for creating the expectations gap. After all, the tools at the brokers’ disposal enable them to do their job efficiently, so it’s only reasonable to assume lawyers, peers within the same organization, are afforded that same luxury. But because brokers aren’t privy to the inner-workings of their legal team’s processes, and lawyers don’t effectively communicate the complexities of their jobs, brokers simply can’t understand why something that seems so simple can take so long.
Imagine that two people are tasked with painting a rainbow. One is given red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple paint, while the other only has red, yellow and blue. While the second person can certainly accomplish a rainbow painting, it will take more time because the tools they are given are less efficient. Without knowing the second person wasn’t given the same paint, the first person might assume the second should be able to complete the picture just as quickly as they did.
The asymmetry of expectations causes lawyers to be viewed in the minds of brokers as intentionally slow-paced deal killers. But the reality is that lawyers are not, nor do they want to be, deal killers. They know they’re smart, capable and successful, and would much prefer to be dealmakers. Outdated tools, busy schedules and lawyers’ perfectionist mindsets create the perfect storm, resulting in the grueling 90-day lease cycle.
In commercial real estate organizations, it’s important that all of the players within a deal understand the roles, responsibilities and most importantly, limitations of the others on their team. This is a two-way street, where brokers and lawyers need to communicate with each other about their expectations and feasibility based on the tools available to each of them. Fostering a sense of understanding bridges the divide between departments, improving the well-being and functioning of the organization.
While this touchy-feely idea can certainly help combat the expectations gap phenomenon, you might also think: but isn’t there a way to set lawyers up to succeed in the first place? Investing in the right set of tools is a good start. Although there are a number of software solutions on the market that automate the first draft of a lease, the majority are not capable of handling subsequent drafts, nor do they integrate the tenant into the process. While that type of automation does save some time, once the edits start rolling in, it’s back to the old-fashioned, inefficient word processors that haven’t changed in three decades.
Lawyers need to be given comparable tools to what other departments have that can handle each phase of the lease, not only the first draft. With the right technological help, the expectations gap can be closed and these Type A professionals can become the dealmakers they know they can be.
As a practicing commercial real estate attorney, I quickly experienced firsthand the expectations gap that plagues our industry. Frustrated by this, I made the decision to stop practicing and start LeasePilot to help commercial real estate organizations bridge the divide.