Pay It Forward: “Start Getting to Know Your Peers Across the Industry Early”

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Robert McPeak is co-chair of the Energy, Environmental & Natural Resources practice, with a focus on commercial real estate, project finance and corporate transactions.

Rob MacPeak. (Thanks photo)

What was the biggest challenge in your specific role and how did you overcome those obstacles? I naturally like things to be predictable. However, learning the art of adapting has been challenging and ultimately a key factor in my professional success. Prior to the Great Recession, my law practice was primarily focused on commercial litigation. About a year before the recession started, I switched to a transaction law practice. When the recession hit, I was fortunate enough to work with a team of savvy lawyers who foresaw the need to shift focus from development to distressed real estate – and our group thrived, as many of our colleagues lost their jobs and many competing companies the doors closed.

I had the opportunity to combine my experience and help build a leading emergency real estate team whose work dominated the Southwest from 2008-2011. After a solid period of traditional real estate transactional work after the Great Recession, I saw the opportunity – and executed the vision – to adapt and use my skills to grow and expand an energy project development/financing practice at McDonald Carano. Learning to adapt helps me adapt my law practice to reflect changes in the business environment and gives me the flexible outlook that helps me recognize market trends that create new opportunities for my practice.

What are you most happy about in your current role at the company? Developing a new focus on the practice area, building a high caliber team and growing and expanding the group’s experience and customer base is what excites me most about my role at McDonald Carano. I joined McDonald Carano in 2015 with a background in real estate, property finance and construction law. At the time, Nevada’s renewable energy industry was expanding rapidly, and I saw an opportunity to combine my skills with the company’s environmental and regulatory attorneys to create a multidisciplinary team to serve this dynamic new market. Nevada continues to be a pioneer with the highest number (by number), largest (in megawatts), and most diverse sources of renewable energy and I am proud to lead a skilled team and work with innovative and forward-thinking customers.

At McDonald Carano, I chair our Energy, Environment & Natural Resources Practice. Over the past five years, I have served as counsel for more than half of Nevada’s major renewable projects, including as an advisor to the Nevada developer for the 2022 construction financing of a unified 690 MW solar photovoltaic generating facility and 380 MW battery energy storage facility, the largest single project of its kind in the US to date. Not only do these projects pave the way for the future of energy, but each project is uniquely challenging and professionally satisfying.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received that has helped you succeed in your industry? As a young lawyer, I was born with the desire to provide clients with the best possible legal advice with the highest standard of professionalism. This has been the cornerstone of my success. While that advice still holds, I would like to add that it is imperative for me as a commercial real estate attorney to adjust the legal analysis I provide to best advance my clients’ business objectives and to set a course that helps navigate the practical realities my clients will gain experience implementing their business plans. Third-party advisors must establish a working relationship with their clients that positions them as a partner to provide a solid legal framework to move their business forward. Commercial real estate is project and deal oriented. Clients are looking for outside advisors who can help them do more than understand the legal and regulatory hurdles; clients also want external consultants who can advise them on the best way to bring their projects to a successful conclusion while avoiding potential pitfalls.

Do you have any specific advice for the next generation? As for my advice to the next generation, the best way to secure your future is to start early by getting to know your peers across the industry, be they brokers, bankers, contractors or engineers, and the many others involved in commercial real estate. Building an interdisciplinary network will not only help you develop clients and have trusted colleagues to refer to your clients, but it will also help you develop a trusted circle of informal advisors with whom to ask if a deal term is market-compliant or that a loan agreement is common. I would also say, “Don’t forget the next generation.” In other words, throughout your career, always involve the next generation and look for ways to involve them. Be a mentor who teaches, shares and listens. And look outside your box by being a mentor beyond your specific discipline in the real estate profession. For example, I mentor an undergraduate business student as part of the real estate program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Pay attention now, but always look ahead. Focusing on the future is critical to the long-term development of your practice, and the next generation is the lens for that future.

Would you advise a young professional to start a career in CRE? I strongly advise young people to start a career in commercial real estate. CRE is exciting, challenging and innovative. It always changes. Closing deals – in good times and in hard times – is an adrenaline rush. Commercial real estate is a leader and a barometer of the economy. While some outside the industry may see it as boom periods, those within the industry see it as extraordinary resilience, reinvention, recalibration, resurgence and repositioning – especially those of us, like myself, who ventured into commercial real estate during the Great Recession. There are so many key sectors of the industry that offer demanding, challenging and ultimately satisfying career opportunities: owners, investors, developers, designers, builders, borrowers, lenders, landlords, tenants, buyers, sellers and regulators.

What would you advise them to do to gain a foothold in the industry? To gain a foothold in any industry, you need to be present and involved. Commercial real estate is a people business, even in remote times, and people in this industry enjoy working with people who actively participate and support each other. For example, in addition to being a member of the State Bar of Nevada’s Real Property Section, I am also a member of the Southern Nevada Chapter of NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association. I have served on the department’s Government Affairs, Programs, and Education committees and have had the privilege of speaking and presenting many times to our department members. NAIOP helped me develop a huge network in the commercial real estate industry, and I grew my personal profile by being selected as a member of NAIOP Southern Nevada’s 2013-14 Developing Leaders Institute. The DLI program is a 12-month curriculum of leadership and real estate training that includes a hands-on team activity to plan a project from site selection to disposition of the completed project. The highlight of the program was the establishment, almost a decade ago, of the professional relationships that endure today.

Please share with us the best lessons learned or a surprising part of your unique journey. Both the best and most surprising lesson I’ve learned is how important giving back to the community is to my career. Clients hire outside attorneys who are leaders in their practice areas and leaders in the legal profession, but I’ve also learned that clients are interested in outside attorneys who give back and are involved in their communities. For example, since 2016, I have served as a general counsel to the Southern Nevada Legal Aid Center, which is often the last resort for many low-income individuals and families dealing with critical legal issues that affect their basic needs – from housing and consumer protection against domestic violence, among many other areas. LACSN, ​​through its staff attorneys and volunteers pro bono lawyers, offers free legal aid to people who cannot afford a lawyer.

Not only have current and prospective clients asked about my voluntary community service, but I have also worked with current and prospective clients at LACSN, ​​attending LACSN awards and fundraising events, and promoting LACSN to new members and supporters together. In this capacity, I was also able to use my real estate knowledge to assist LACSN in acquiring additional real estate – with help from NAIOP colleagues – to establish a Resilience Center to help the survivors of the tragedy of One October and a center to help victims of crime.

What do you think we have learned from the COVID-19 crisis? We’ve learned that we can be productive and achieve great results for our clients while working remotely. We also learned that working remotely caused us to miss out on the face-to-face interactions with our colleagues that help sustain and strengthen a team. We’ve also lost a lot of those impromptu post-meeting discussions that often happen in a conference room, but not necessarily after a video call. And we lost those unexpected visits to the office and chance encounters with our colleagues and other professionals that happen while we’re on our way to the coffee shop or transferring at an airport.

What three sentences would you use to describe your work ethic? The three sentences that describe my work mindset are: Know the client, Know industry, and Know the firm.

Early in my career, I listened to a panel of in-house lawyers share their advice with external lawyers – how they select external lawyers, what they consider to be the most important qualifications and how they maintain long-term client relationships. The three sentences that define my work mentality are based on the most common complaints from all panelists.

Internal lawyers are most disappointed and frustrated by external lawyers who: (1) do not understand the client’s specific business or organizational structure, (2) do not understand the industry in which the client operates and competes, and (3) do not understand the client’s own law firm not know the lawyer well enough to provide comprehensive legal solutions that incorporate strategic expertise from multiple jurisdictions, experience and insight. These three customer guidelines define my work mindset.

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