Leading Questions: Kelley Kronenberg’s Alicia Lewis

March 12, 2021, 10:31 AM

Lawyers are great at asking questions, but how are they at answering them? Bloomberg Law is talking with lawyers and other legal industry players at the top of their fields to find out what makes them tick, what challenges they face, and how they do what they do.

Alicia Lewis says any boost in interest rates this year won’t hurt the South Florida real estate business.

“I don’t see the market slowing down anytime soon,” she says.

She has reason to pay attention. Lewis is a partner and head of Kelley Kronenberg’s new land use and zoning practice in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. She took the role after leaving Greenspoon Marder in January.

Lewis calls social media “a huge asset” to developing business in her new role. “By staying connected with the development community via social media, I am able to create and structure new business deals to present to my clients,” she says.

While she’s currently the sole practitioner in the firm’s land use and zoning practice, she says they are planning to add a full-time assistant, a land planner, and an associate attorney in the near future.

Bloomberg Law spoke to Lewis about affordable housing, how she changed a community’s mind about a new development, and the importance for new lawyers to master the material related to their practice area.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Bloomberg Law: What strategy are you using to attract and retain clients? What’s the biggest challenge?

Alicia Lewis: Social media has been a huge asset to my business development strategy. It has not only allowed me to stay connected with my existing clients but also to develop relationships with new clients. I follow clients—existing and potential— local elected officials, real estate finance firms, brokers, and development professionals on social media.

My clients are constantly looking for new land acquisition and development opportunities. By staying connected with the development community via social media, I am able to create and structure new business deals to present to my clients. The biggest challenge is connecting with clients who aren’t very active on social media, but that can easily be solved with a phone call.

BL: What’s your best “war story” from your legal career?

AL: A few years ago, I was representing a developer seeking to build a large multi-family project. The project was highly opposed by the residents in the surrounding community, who also represented a large segment of the electorate for the city commission. In other words, you did not want to make these very vocal residents upset.

More than 250 residents attended the first community meeting. Before the meeting began, several residents approached me with their objections and directly stated that they intended to fight the project with everything they had. I asked them to make a deal with me—that they would allow me to give my full presentation before using everything they had to fight the project. In exchange for them agreeing to hear me out, I agreed to stay as long as necessary to listen to their concerns and answer their questions. The standing room only meeting started at 7pm and I didn’t leave until after midnight.

I spent the next six months continuing to listen and working with those residents to address as many of their concerns as possible. Together, we were able to create a project that both the community and my client were extremely proud of. During the final city commission meeting for the approval of the project, those same residents packed city hall holding signs telling the commission to “vote yes” for the project. The commissioners said they’d never seen anything like it before, especially for a project that was initially so highly opposed.

BL: There’s some expectation of a future rise in interest rates—how do you see this affecting the South Florida real estate market? Will activity slow down?

AL: A future rise in interest rates may slightly affect the booming South Florida real estate market by preventing buyers at a certain price-point from purchasing a home. But I believe a limited inventory, coupled with a growing population, will allow the market to sustain itself. It may cause a slight increase in the rental market, especially for millennials and those relocating to the area, but I don’t see the market slowing down anytime soon.

Alicia Lewis
Photo courtesy of Kelley Kronenberg

BL: What legal question keeps you up at night?

AL: Whether or not the housing market will be able to sufficiently meet the post-pandemic need for affordable housing. There was already a significant shortage in affordable housing throughout our country prior to the pandemic. And with the rise in unemployment, I am extremely concerned about how it will affect Americans who were already struggling.

BL: I’m a new associate, fresh out of law school, what should I do to stand out and advance my career in the best way possible?

AL: I have had the honor to mentor several new associates throughout my career. The advice that I share with them is the advice that was given to me by one of my favorite female law professors. She told me that my goal as a new associate was to master the material related to my practice area, and to create a scenario where a senior attorney could not imagine life without me. In other words, be excellent at what you do and make yourself invaluable to the people you work for, and you can’t help but to stand out and advance your career.

BL: What challenges did you experience transitioning to a new firm during the pandemic?

AL: Connecting with my new colleagues was challenging because everyone has been working remotely. There are still several people who I have never met or seen in person. I often describe it as a “really weird first day of school” because no one is physically there. However, our human resources department has done an excellent job keeping us all connected.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Ellen Egan in New York at maryellenegan1@gmail.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com;
John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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