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Property Lawyer Who Navigated Economic Calamities Now Guides Others

Terri Adler's presentations discuss not only how to deal with real estate distress, but how to benefit as well. (Adler & Stachenfeld)


The first major bank failures in 15 years, 10 consecutive interest rate hikes, tighter lending restrictions and recession concerns are uncharted territory for some commercial real estate professionals. But not for attorney Terri Adler.

Adler, managing partner for New York real estate law firm Adler & Stachenfeld, has experienced a litany of worrisome developments in the commercial property market during her nearly three decades practicing law.

“I’ve been through everything from tech bubbles, the September 11 attacks, the global financial crisis to just general normal real estate cycle distress and, and COVID-19,” Adler said in an interview.

Now, Adler wants to help other commercial real estate professionals who have not had to navigate through economic and social calamities by offering classes on how to work through such crises. She’s stepped into a role of serving as a guide to those who had basically started their real estate careers with “the wind at their back,” Adler said, during a time of surging growth in the U.S. economy.

Adler & Stachenfeld managing partner Terri Adler, left, and Chairman Bruce Stachenfeld. (Business Wire)

“Having that long-term perspective and being able to sit in a room with a group of whether it’s brokers, businesspeople, or even lawyers, I can talk about the handling of distress in their own portfolios and then the opportunities that present themselves because of distress in other people’s portfolios,” she said. “I talk about how you approach it and also how distressed transactions do not work the same way as normal transactions.”

Adler, a Salt Lake City native, started thinking about a career in law as an undergraduate at the University of Utah while working for three criminal defense attorneys while she was in colleg. After graduating, Adler moved to New York City and attended New York Law School at night.

She got a job at a small law firm after graduating in 1996 where she met Bruce Stachenfeld and started representing institutional investors buying real estate. The two left that firm and started what is now Adler & Stachenfeld. Stachenfeld now serves as firm chairman.

For his part, Stachenfeld said in January in a statement that Adler became a partner in a “still unheard-of five years.” He said when he stepped down as managing partner, “I knew that the firm would be in better hands.”

She heads the firm’s distressed real estate practice group that, during the global financial crisis of 2008, worked out billions of dollars in deals, including major loan purchases, restructurings, tranche warfare, put-back cases, foreclosures and partnership disputes.

Adler started making her current-day presentations at the request of more senior level executives seeking to educate members of their staff who have never had to address the current economic challenges.

“The typical attendees are sort of everybody from junior-most analyst, somebody who’s 35 to 40 years old and doesn’t necessarily have exposure in the depth of distress the way that somebody who’s 50 does,” Adler said.

Finding the outcome in difficult situations is what keeps her attracted to real estate as a focus, Adler said. Working out the complexities inherent the deals helps shape companies, neighborhoods and cities.

The presentations are held in person or on video calls, and can include how to unwind deals, invest in distress, acquire loans from distressed banks and financial institutions as well as what to do when a loan is in trouble.

Among many memorable deals in her career, Adler highlights working multiple bankruptcies of the former Montgomery Ward in Chicago in the late 1990s. She represented Angelo Gordon & Co. in buying Chelsea Market and some surrounding properties in New York City in the late 1990s until 2011. Both deals transformed the neighborhoods in which they were located, she said.

Looking back, Adler said she’s glad she chose to practice real estate law because commercial property plays a part in people’s lives each day.

Her connection to commercial real estate law remains strong, Adler said, because of “the people in the industry, the creativity and complexity inherent in doing real estate deals, and the fact that real estate intersects with every aspect of life — where you eat, sleep, work, and go on vacation — and working in real estate helps shape neighborhoods and cities.”

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