Charlotte: Hub Of The New South

Thursday, May 1, 2008 - 00:00

Editor: Would you share with our readers the thinking behind the firm's decision to establish a presence in Charlotte in July, 2007? What opportunities did the firm see in the Charlotte market?

Brown: King & Spalding recognized Charlotte's continued emergence as a leading economic and financial center. The firm has a number of clients with headquarters or significant operations based in Charlotte. Opening a Charlotte office gave us a better opportunity to service these clients and also to capitalize on the growing sophistication of the legal talent in the Charlotte region. Focus initially has been with financial services and high impact business litigation, financial services transactions, corporate and private equity matters, real estate and intellectual property opportunities.

Editor: Please tell us about your practice. Why is your practice especially well suited to this market?

Brown: My practice has always had a solid grounding in real estate development and finance matters. My work has included real estate transactions and projects for high quality developers and institutional real estate clients, often on large entitlement and economic development projects and economic incentives, real estate acquisitions and dispositions, and real estate finance and joint venture transactions. I have also represented institutional investors, banks and lending institutions on leveraged and syndicated finance transactions.

Editor: Please give our readers an overview of the Charlotte office. How many lawyers are now in this office? What practice groups are represented? What particular industries are represented among your client base?

Brown: We now have over 20 attorneys based in the Charlotte office, having started with five attorneys in late summer of 2007. Our practice groups currently include: financial services litigation and business litigation, financial services and banking transactional work, corporate and private equity, real estate finance and development, intellectual property and intellectual property litigation. Charlotte is known as a financial center and so we represent leading banks, financial institutions and private equity firms. We also represent several leading companies based in Charlotte, including an international utility company with work led by attorneys in our Houston office in concert with the Charlotte office. In addition, we are assisting a number of the leading real estate developers and real estate investment funds on sophisticated real estate matters.

Editor: When you attempt to attract young law graduates and laterals from outside the region, what do you tell them about Charlotte as a place to live?

Brown: I tell them that Charlotte combines two very attractive ingredients for success, namely the opportunity for young lawyers to take advantage of a very sophisticated legal practice while at the same time the opportunity to live in a community that is growing and has an exceptional quality of life. A lot of communities will use those same phrases but I think that Charlotte is uniquely positioned for a superior quality of life and a high level of sophistication of legal practice - this is a powerful combination. By combining the best of both worlds, we are attracting some of the top talent from around the country in business and professional services firms. Several recent publications have rated Charlotte as a leading city for the so-called "creative class" - not just from the standpoint of arts and entertainment but for young, talented professionals, who can participate in a vibrant economy and enjoy tremendous quality of life, which includes close proximity to wonderful lakes, beaches and mountains.

Editor: What economic incentives are offered by municipalities or to the state to attract new businesses - both foreign and domestic to the area?

Brown: North Carolina and South Carolina have a menu of economic development incentives ranging from job credits on the statewide front, to more localized incentives in the form of tax credits and investment grant programs that encourage a range of companies to come to the Carolinas. These incentives combined with more blocking and tackling infrastructure support create an attractive menu of options. North Carolina and South Carolina are also generally pro-business states which when combined with high quality of life makes both states competitive for new investment and retention of existing businesses.

Editor: Are there other specialized areas, besides banking, for which the area is noted? What ancillary industries have come into the area to support these major industries?Brown: We are known as a financial services center but frankly that is only part of the story of the Charlotte region. Traditionally, the Charlotte region has a strong manufacturing base and while different types of manufacturing have evolved, manufacturing in many ways using a higher skill level is still strong. The Charlotte region is also a strong transportation and distribution center, not only with the interstate highway system that intersects in the Charlotte region but also with outstanding air service and close proximity to the coast. Technology and health care industries are growing in prominence as well as tourism with professional sports, a flourishing arts and cultural community and activities and, of course, NASCAR's presence in our region. NASCAR is not only important from the standpoint of tourism and racing but also as a means of attracting high paying jobs associated with the supporting sophisticated technology. The Charlotte region is becoming known to many in that growing industry as "NASCAR Valley" for the number of high-paying, high-quality jobs involved. So we have a remarkably diverse economy that positions Charlotte extremely well for the future.

Editor: Are there environmental laws that impact new construction? What efforts are being made to reduce the carbon footprint of industry?

Brown: With the growing community we have faced an increase in automobile traffic and accompanying environmental challenges. The Charlotte region and the State of North Carolina are grappling with these challenges on the whole in a proactive and balanced way. For example, local governmental leaders and the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce have led efforts to provide incentives and encourage voluntary compliance with measures to reduce emissions, such as staggered commuting hours, study of "smart roads" technology and the implementation of a long range transportation and land use plan that includes commuter rail and light rail in coordination with transit supportive land use policies - in a manner perhaps unique among sunbelt cities. In fact, the first light rail service opened this past fall with higher than expected ridership.

As far as the impact of environmental regulations on new construction, there are initiatives such as storm water regulations that seek to ensure the quality of our streams and lakes. These regulations create challenges for new construction, but I think an appropriate balance is being struck that will support quality economic development as the Charlotte region grows while ensuring preservation of our natural resources.

Editor: How much does the Charlotte office play a role in the community - by way of bar association activities, pro bono work or educational and charitable commitments?

Brown: W e started the office in late summer of 2007 with a number of attorneys who have been active in the Charlotte community and region. We have a partner in the office who is the current chairman of the local legal services organization promoting pro bono legal services for those in need. One of our partners has been a leader of the legal division of the De Tocqueville Society portion of the United Way Campaign. Several attorneys, including myself, have been active through the years with the Chamber of Commerce to promote a positive business climate as well as local YMCAs and other community organizations in front-line efforts to improve the quality of life in fragile neighborhoods. So we have a history of contributing outside of the practice of law, and we will continue to do that not only through individual involvement but also through significant charitable giving as the office grows. This is consistent with King & Spalding's tradition of giving back with time, talent and treasure.

Editor: How does the Charlotte office interface with the other offices of the firm? Are experts in other offices available to you and vice versa?

Brown: One of the great attractions for me and for many of my colleagues here after years of service to other firms was that King & Spalding does an exceptional job of integrating offices and practices. In fact, our firm's organizational framework is centered on practice group integration and cross-office support in servicing our clients. With that in mind, the practice groups work seamlessly across offices, utilizing video conferences and significant travel to bring together attorneys from offices throughout the country and around the world on a regular basis. Attorneys from our other offices regularly visit the Charlotte office, and vice versa, working on matters collaboratively and collectively, both already existing legal matters in-house as well as new opportunities that come our way. That approach is something that separates this firm from other international firms in that there is a truly concerted cross-team effort to benefit our clients as we work on their matters.

Editor: What direction would you like to see the Charlotte office take over the next five years?

Brown: The Charlotte office is really part of the overall strategic initiative and strategic growth of King & Spalding as a whole. We see the Charlotte office providing an opportunity to capitalize on strategic initiatives in the finance, corporate and private equity, and high impact litigation areas as well as real estate and intellectual property opportunities. We expect to attract top talent as we deliver exceptional service and value to our clients. We plan to attract high performance individuals of good humor and good will. We value a collegial atmosphere that promotes a cooperative approach to the practice of law that benefits our clients and appeals to talented high quality professionals.

Please email the interviewee at jbrown@kslaw.com with questions about this interview.