Practicum in Affordable Housing = Tangible Real Estate Legal Skills for LL.M. Students

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Daniella Salvatore and Gary McPherson are current students in Miami Law’s Robert Traurig/Greenberg Traurig Real Property Development LL.M. Program and participated in the Affordable Housing Practicum with Professor Shahrzad Emami. Both are J.D./LL.M. 2018 candidates, previously clerked at Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc., and received the Outstanding Law Clerk Award.

Daniella Salvatore and Gary McPherson

What type of projects did you work on for the Affordable Housing Practicum with Professor Emami?

Daniella Salvatore: I was enrolled in the practicum as a 2L, and it was the first time I was tasked with real legal work instead of a hypothetical situation from a law textbook. Our group heavily researched strict code enforcement in an effort for Miami-Dade County to help eliminate slumlords who do not maintain their properties, resulting in horrendous living conditions. We also worked on projects related to the Olmstead Act, bonds, community land trusts, the surtax charge (unique to Miami-Dade County), and unrelated business income. In addition, we reviewed in depth a title insurance commitment and how to make a 501(c)(3) (non-profit) election with the IRS. Professor Emami also taught us about financing options for affordable housing developers and how non-profits typically need many layers of financing to make a deal feasible. Most importantly, we learned about Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs). If an affordable housing developer wins LIHTCs for their project (it is a lottery system), they can then sell off the credits to investors to fund the project. The investors, in turn, receive a dollar-for-dollar reduction on their tax bill (different from a tax deduction). These deals are very complicated, highly regulated, and may take over a year to close.

Gary McPherson: The practicum consists of a classroom component with various assignments and a real world component where we applied what we had learned in class to real cases for clients at Legal Services of Greater Miami. The class assignments focused on building the fundamental skills of corporate and transactional law and included selecting the proper legal entity for a given transaction, drafting formation documents for a legal entity, drafting of corporate resolutions, and researching and explaining the tax consequences for certain real estate transactions. Applying the skills we gained from the class assignments, we were tasked various projects for affordable housing developer clients. For instance, we amended the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws of a nonprofit to add the provisions necessary for a Community Housing Development Organization designation, and drafted a full set of seller’s documents for the sale of a multi-family apartment complex.

Which skillsets learned in the Affordable Housing Practicum benefit your law practice after completion of the LL.M.?

DS: When I tell people that I participated in this practicum, they think that it consisted of niche legal work. This is just not true. The skillset I acquired from this practicum has not only fully prepared me for the Real Property Development LL.M, it has helped me grasp essential concepts of real estate law. There was a steep learning curve that resulted in a well-rounded legal experience, all thanks to Professor Emami. All of the experience I obtained from the practicum helped me take on more challenging assignments during my clerkship. Affordable housing is very complicated and this practicum has prepared me to enter the legal market practice-ready. Affordable Housing is at the very center of many aspects of the law – real estate, contracts, business associations, tax – and how they all interplay. I knew early into law school that I did not want to go into litigation, but it was hard to find a practicum that was tailored towards transactional law and this practicum was a great fit. It offers essential concepts and skills that are crucial for any transactional lawyer.

GM: The practicum was such a great experience, we stayed on as Professor Emami’s law clerks at Legal Services for the Summer and Fall of 2017. The Affordable Housing Practicum exposed me to many different areas of the law, including transactional real estate, corporate law, and tax. This exposure gave me the experience necessary to take on more complex assignments during my clerkship, like drafting various condominium formation documents, merger documents, a general contractor agreement, a commercial lease, an answer to foreclosure complaint, a response and offer of settlement to HUD, etc. Further, the experience I gained during the Practicum gave me a serious leg up in many of my Real Property Development LL.M. classes, such as Mortgage Law, Real Estate Tax, and Real Estate Documents.

Is there anything else you'd like to add that would be helpful for future RPD LL.M. students to know about Professor Emami or the practicum?

DS: Professor Emami is an encyclopedia of knowledge. She is an expert in her field and one of the best attorney’s that I have ever came across, and funny, too. Moreover, she is a great mentor and truly cares that students learn how to navigate this difficult area of law that is becoming increasingly pertinent in today’s world. After completing the practicum, I feel much better equipped to carry on a conversation with any professional in the Miami real estate arena. People are always intrigued to know more about affordable housing since many people know so little about it and what it entails.

GM: I think the label “affordable housing” does not catch the eye of many people who are looking for business or transactional related experiences, but it absolutely should! Affordable housing is an area of the law that is extremely complex and involves many different areas of the law, especially transactional real estate, corporate law, and tax. People working in this industry handle challenging transactions, while simultaneously making a positive impact on their community—a total win-win for any attorney. Shahrzad Emami is a leader in the affordable housing field, an amazing professor, and an ideal mentor. Anyone who has the chance to work with her absolutely should.  Professor Emami truly cares about her students, takes the time to teach them, and gives them real opportunities to gain transactional experience—something that is not easy to come by for law students and young attorneys. Professor Emami is everything I could have ever asked for in a professor and mentor.

More on the Robert Traurig/Greenberg Traurig Real Property Development LL.M. Program
More on Practicums at Miami Law