Michael Kuhn: Negotiating Obstacles to Help Clients Succeed

September 15, 2015 | Spotlight

Successfully negotiating a commercial lease requires a unique combination of finesse and fortitude: skills Michael Kuhn has perfected during his three decades as a real estate attorney.

Michael’s experience and deal-based knowledge have earned the trust of some of Houston’s top commercial clients and helped him build a robust practice that includes handling office leasing for nearly 5 million square feet of downtown office space.

Although Michael has handled a wide variety of real estate matters during his career, he currently focuses his practice on representing landlords engaged in office and retail leasing. His client list includes some of the biggest names in the Houston office market, as well as clients engaged in smaller deals. But no matter how large or small the transaction, Michael devotes the same attention to understanding his clients’ business and priorities.

“Your ability to succeed as a lawyer is directly dependent on understanding your clients’ business: What are the major components? How do they view risk? What criteria do they use to assess the value of a business deal? Those elements underlie the economics and ultimately influence the provisions of the documentation,” he said.

Having a firm grasp of those priorities enables Michael to effectively represent clients in the sometimes intense negotiations that go into a leasing transaction. “Often it’s a battle of words to find just the right phrasing that will encapsulate the key concepts in a way that is responsive to the other party’s concerns but still achieves my client’s goals,” he said.

In addition to being an effective negotiator, Michael understands the importance of efficiency in a business where time is money. For example, recent improvements in the Houston commercial market have enabled landlords to take a firm stance in negotiations, but that must always be balanced against the urgency of getting deals done and building a positive reputation in a competitive market.

“Our goal is not to win points in argumentation but to efficiently move through the negotiation process to a final lease document,” Michael said. “There’s a tension between asserting an appropriate stance in light of market conditions and overplaying your hand, being overly aggressive, and gaining a poor reputation in the marketplace. It’s a dance that we engage in where we have to know when we can stand firm and when we should compromise in a fair and reasonable fashion to get the deal done.”

“Our value-add is that we can reach back 10, 15, even 20 years and bring that [experience] and efficiency to the table. That’s how we’ve been able to maintain great client relationships and set ourselves apart.”

– Michael Kuhn

Over the last 30 years, Michael has witnessed a great deal of change in the Houston market. In addition to the shifting balance of bargaining power between landlord and tenant, new trends have emerged, including a rise in green leasing, an increased emphasis on efficient space utilization, and a growing awareness of building identity that drives many larger tenants to seek naming rights, so to speak, that prominently showcase their corporate brand. Michael frequently speaks and writes articles on these and other leasing matters. He has also helped clients navigate these issues in leasing transactions. For example, he recently helped a major office building investor negotiate a 350,000-square-foot lease with an energy company in one of Houston’s premiere office towers in a deal that included naming rights and provisions to provide mutual assurances about creditworthiness – an issue that has gained increased prominence during the economic downtown.

While trends come and go, Michael’s longevity in the Houston market has given him deep insight into what makes a successful deal. And the comprehensive experience of Jackson Walker’s Real Estate practice group – which has established a reputation as a “go to” law firm for commercial leasing – provides an added advantage to his clients.

“Jackson Walker is somewhat distinctive in its position as a large firm with a full-service, traditional commercial real estate practice,” Michael said. “We’ve kept the team together and we’ve been able to attract and retain high-quality clientele. As a result, our value-add is that we can reach back 10, 15, even 20 years and bring that [experience] and efficiency to the table. That’s how we’ve been able to maintain great client relationships and set ourselves apart.”

Michael’s dedication to client service has earned the recognition of peers and clients alike. He has been named one of “Houston’s Top Lawyers” by H Texas magazine and a “Super Lawyer” by Thomson Reuters, and he was recognized by client Crescent Real Estate Equities for his representation in a major leasing transaction. He is also listed in the 2008-2012 editions of The Best Lawyers in America under Real Estate Law.

Accolades aside, Michael draws the greatest satisfaction from helping his clients succeed by taking the time to understand their business, applying wisdom gained through experience, and practicing the art of effective negotiation.

In This Story

Michael K. Kuhn
Partner, Houston