How the Role of REIT General Counsels Has Evolved During the COVID-19 Crisis

How the Role of REIT General Counsels Has Evolved During the COVID-19 Crisis
llees@nareit.com
Apr. 12 2021

How Has Your Role Changed During the COVID Crisis and the Accompanying Economic Downturn?

Three REIT general counsels share how their role has evolved during the COVID-19 crisis and the accompanying economic downturn. 

Final Word - March/April 2021

Dawn Becker, EVP–General Counsel & Secretary, Federal Realty Investment Trust (NYSE: FRT)

“Our internal legal team has always been a critical business partner in the company. That proved invaluable to helping the company deal with the impacts of the pandemic. The biggest change we saw was that our talented group of leasing and transactional attorneys became quasi-business folks working on collections. Collections had historically been handled by our business teams but the sheer volume of collection issues we were facing as a retail-based company because of COVID meant we needed more help, and our legal team stepped up. 

The legal team had a deep understanding of the nuances of the landlord-tenant relationship, which made them really effective. With our legal team helping out, we had a deep pool of talent to help work through our collections challenges smartly. This was definitely the most challenging time I’ve seen in my 24 years at Federal and I couldn’t be prouder of the way the legal team tackled that challenge. I know the company was in a better place in 2020 because of the contributions of the legal team.”

Taylor Kessel, SVP, General Counsel & Secretary, Xenia Hotels & Resorts, Inc. (NYSE: XHR)

“In the early days of the pandemic, the role was focused on operational triage and providing much-needed support to asset management. This involved working with our hotel operators to suspend or alter operations in order to abide by the complex matrix of laws and ordinances that were rolling out daily. As the pandemic continued, the role shifted to a more strategic focus and positioning for an eventual recovery. The pandemic has shown just how interconnected the role of general counsel is, as it sits in a unique position within the organization with visibility into all aspects of the company, both at the ground level and the 30,000-foot level.

Overall, the COVID crisis has changed the role by further embedding the general counsel within the executive team and the decision-making process and magnified the importance of real-time information flow to the board while maintaining the strong governance functions already in place.”

Lauren Stadler, SVP, Corporate Counsel & Asst. Secretary, Kilroy Realty Corporation (NYSE: KRC)

“While the core role has remained much the same over the past year, our legal team has worn many new (and sometimes unexpected) hats as the company acted quickly and nimbly to navigate the continuously evolving pandemic and keep our board updated.

The health and safety of our employees and tenants have remained our top priority throughout the crisis. As part of the company’s multi-disciplinary COVID-19 taskforce, the legal team has stayed up-to-date on state and local stay-at-home orders, and developed new policies, procedures, and a COVID-19 Code of Conduct to keep our employees and tenants safe.

We have also become more involved in human capital management matters such as developing ideas for maintaining employee connections and our strong company culture and personally, as a mother of two young children, helping the company find ways to support our employees as they juggle life responsibilities while working at home.”

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