Gail McCann Brings People Together
The real estate attorney at Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge in Providence facilitates collaboration in her law practice and in her alumni activities at Brown University
Published in 2011 Rhode Island Super Lawyers magazine
By Ross Pfund on October 21, 2011
Q: What first got you interested in the law?
A: I was an American history major at Brown University, and a lot of history majors go on to law school. So it was always in the back of my mind. Then I went away for my junior year to The University of Edinburgh [Scotland], and when I came back, all sorts of people I knew were applying to med school and law school. I said, “I guess I better get serious about my life.”
I have to say that my father was an indirect influence. He wasn’t a lawyer, but he was a top administrator in a couple of law firms. So I had been around lawyers a lot of my life and heard from him, as a nonlawyer, about the goods and bads of being a lawyer. Lawyers are very bright, interesting, engaging people who represent their clients. But [not always]. So he impressed upon me [what] should be the case for me.
Q: When you went to law school, did you have any advantage because of your father’s advice?
A: In a certain way. I’ve always considered myself to be a very practical, common sense-oriented lawyer, and that’s carried over to my negotiating style. Part of that came from my dad, telling me what’s important and not important and how to stay grounded.
Q: You’re still involved in all sorts of activities at Brown University. What is it about Brown that you love?
A: I went to Brown in the ’70s, and it was a very interesting time to be there. There’d just been a major curriculum change in 1969. There was no requirement to take certain courses in certain disciplines other than, of course, your major. You had to figure out what’s best for you and live with the consequences for the rest of your life. So Brown tends to attract interesting, engaging people and I’ve found that in my alumni activities. I mentor a lot of students up at Brown and I’ve been president of the alumni association and now am president of my class.
Q: After graduating from law school at University of Pennsylvania, you joined your current firm, correct?
A: Yes, I have to say I’m a real dinosaur, [laughs] but it speaks well for my firm. I was a summer associate here between my second and third years of law school, they made me an offer, and I’ve been here ever since, which is truly not the trend in the practice of law these days.
Q: How did you get involved in real estate work?
A: When I joined the firm, Duncan Johnson, who has been a very influential mentor to me, was representing Fleet National Bank, as well as a number of other banks, and I just started doing the lending work. It’s much more my personality to try to bring people together and close a deal as opposed to being a litigator. So, more and more, I gravitated to the lending area. Within that, I do commercial loans to manufacturing companies and health care facilities and others, but particularly, I do a lot of commercial real estate lending. I just like it—I’m a deal junkie. Real estate is very tangible. I get to occasionally see what I’ve worked on, and that’s very rewarding.
Q: Tell me more about being a deal junkie.
A: I’m a transactional lawyer, and that means that I have a defined purpose. I do a lot of construction financing in particular. There’s a group of people that I work with—the bank, because most of the time I do represent the lender. The lenders I represent typically are relationship lenders, so I may do a project today and three months from now I may do a project for the same group of people. So it is very team-oriented. I like that. I like working on a collaborative basis.
Every deal these days seems to have problems. I like trying to figure out creative solutions to get them done. I like to close deals. I’m not one who likes to [pick] nits. I really do like to bring people together to a closing. That’s fun. We pride ourselves on trying to understand our client’s business. If you don’t understand the business, you can’t figure out the solution. Some people view transactional lawyers as filling in the blanks on the documents. That couldn’t be further from the truth. You have to figure out how to get to the solution.
Q: Of all the deals you’ve been involved in, does one stand out?
A: Back in 1999 and 2000, when Fleet National Bank acquired Bank Boston. At that point, it became the seventh- or eighth-largest bank in the U.S., but it needed to divest [about 300] branches due to competitive reasons and regulatory requirements. It may still be the largest branch divestiture in U.S. history. I was in charge of the real estate portion of that divestiture. There were two types of divestitures. One, on the real estate side, there were owned real estate sites, so those sites had to be physically prepared, title work done, and transferred. Then there were a number of them that were leased, which meant we had to negotiate with landlords and get landlord consents. It was all done on a very tight time frame. That was a fun transaction: lots of hours, lots of time involved, some creativity to move some landlords who seemed to think there would be some hold-up value in saying “no.”
Q: Is there usually time pressure when you’re working on a transaction?
A: There’s always time pressure. Time pressure and fee pressure, and it’s constant, and it’s real. One of the things you have to be is exceedingly organized, which hopefully I am. You just have to get everyone moving in the right direction. It’s a little bit like being the quarterback of a football team. You’ve got to get a whole bunch of people moving forward to get to the goal line.
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