Long before Emily Sussal Wolf began working for Kushner Companies as general counsel, she and the New York real estate firm already had a significant relationship. Having practiced transactional real estate law at Meister Seelig & Fein for eleven years (four years as partner), Wolf had interfaced with Kushner multiple times; she liked how the private developer and lender handled transactions. “They made good decisions, good deals,” she says.
In 2016, Wolf saw the opportunity to go in-house with Kushner and transitioned to the business side of the legal profession. (“I wasn’t looking,” she says. “It sort of found itself.”) Since then, just shy of two years into her tenure, Wolf has made tremendous strides in building the company’s legal department by streamlining and implementing risk management initiatives intended to make Kushner’s in-house legal work much easier.
When Wolf was first tasked to build Kushner’s in-house legal team, one aspect was clear to her: unity. “We didn’t want to create a law firm within the company, or set up a separate shop,” she explains. Instead, as an in-house function, she seamlessly integrated the legal team into the rest of the business.
To do so, Wolf equipped the department with the capability to offer different services to different areas of the company. For instance, the department generates its own property level reviews, service agreements, and more, to streamline processes throughout the company. Wolf spearheaded initiatives to better manage outside counsel, simplify viewing of internal documents, and create confidentiality level protections, among other methods of facilitating faster processes. She manages these initiatives through biweekly calls and check-ins, establishing an effective, corporate legal environment.
These initiatives have had substantially positive impact on the operation of Wolf’s department. “Having legal on-site and available makes it easier to get things done,” she says. Wolf and her team work closely with the property management staff as well, making for smoother transition processes and a better workflow between departments. This has also led to more productive interactions with outside counsel, which “frees up analysts to do other things,” she adds.
Her positive impact on the performance of the legal department can be attributed to Wolf’s hands-on, interactive leadership style. “I’m ultimately responsible at the end of the day,” she says. “So mistakes are a reflection on me.” For that reason, she maintains an open-door policy, so any team member may come to her with issues.
As a leader, Wolf is also incredibly dedicated to her team’s professional development. “I had a mentor myself, so I felt it important that you offer that to whoever’s working for you,” she says. She advises her mentees to take new opportunities as they come, and to make the most of the situation you’re in. This means building rapport with as many people as possible.
“Keep relationships alive,” Wolf adds, “Because you never know where people you meet will end up.” Wolf relishes the opportunity to allow her team members to grow in their field and has done so throughout her career. These approaches have already borne fruit, as two assistants have gone on to become paralegals.
While transactional lawyers simply do their work and move on to the next transaction, general counsel have access to their principal at all times and can see legal transactions come in at all steps of the process. Now that she’s spent almost two years in-house with Kushner, Wolf recognizes the appeal of this type of legal work as compared to her past in transactional law. “Being a few feet away from your principal makes things easier, from an outside perspective,” she says, valuing the proximity that in-house counsel provides with the client.
As general counsel, Wolf is more involved in Kushner’s operations, which has significantly changed her perspective on her former transactional work. Rather than see a single transaction in the company’s portfolio, she can view the company’s entire approach toward an asset, which she considers extremely valuable. It’s a perspective Wolf highly recommends to others who are considering making a similar transition to in-house firms: “If you want to work for one client in great depth, it’s the right move,” she says.
Wolf considers herself uniquely fortunate in working with a company and in an industry she enjoys, which she says is the central concern when considering a transition to in-house counsel. “You have to like what the company does, where the business is,” Wolf explains. As she continues to build out the Kushner’s legal department and maintain her personal, transformational approach to leadership, Wolf’s mission as general counsel is off to a great start.
Shifting the Scales
One of the most difficult elements of Wolf’s diligent work at Kushner is achieving a strong work/life balance. “It’s a struggle,” she says. “But I think I do a good job about being honest about that struggle.” As a working parent with a full-time job, she’s especially grateful to Kushner for its family-oriented corporate culture, which allows her to maintain that balance.
To achieve work/life balance, Wolf champions time management and strong support systems both in the office and at home. Accessibility is also key, and Wolf ensures she’s available at all times to answer work problems—as she jokes about her cell phone, “It’s another appendage.”
Photo: William Hereford
“At Greenberg Traurig the goal is to deliver excellent legal services, at every phase of the client relationship. It is always a privilege to work with clients like Kushner and Emily in what can best be described as a collaborative team approach.” —Kristen Lonergan, Shareholder, Greenberg Traurig
Rosenberg & Estis, P.C. members Blaine Z. Schwadel and Deborah E. Riegel are proud to celebrate this well-earned recognition of the achievements of Kushner Companies, General Counsel, Emily Sussal Wolf and look forward to their continued relationship. R&E is New York City’s premier, full-service real estate law firm. To learn more about the firm, please visit rosenbergestis.com
As a commercial law firm, Sills Cummis & Gross understands the importance of integrating the world of business and law. We feel privileged to work with Emily Sussal Wolf—a real pro—and we congratulate her on being recognized in Profile Magazine as well as on her many professional accomplishments.