Margaret Isa Butler: Private Equity & Real Estate Lawyer, Greenberg Traurig

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Margaret Isa Butler is a private equity, real estate, and public-private partnership lawyer at Greenberg Traurig, LLP and a partner in the firm. A Columbia Law and Business graduate, Margaret has worked on numerous complicated transactions, including the joint venture to develop Hudson Yards, the sale of AREA Property Partners to Ares Management, and many other acquisitions, divestitures, and investments for leading alternative investment funds and real estate developers.

Margaret has been recognized for her legal work in Super Lawyers magazine, where she was listed as a "Rising Star" in 2014. Additionally, she was recognized as one of the "40 Under 40" by The M&A Advisor and was shortlisted as a "Corporate Rising Star" at Euromoney Legal Media Group's Americas Women in Business Law Awards.  Margaret has even been published in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Passionate about making art accessible to all New York City children, Margaret serves on the New Vic Council, which supports The New 42nd Street and The New Victory Theater, and on the Board of the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts.

How did you get into the legal industry?

I fell in love with deals when I read Barbarians at the Gate, which is one of the finest business books ever written, and tells the story of the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco.  I then pursued a joint JD/MBA at Columbia, where I studied everything from strategy to valuation to corporate law.  After that, I joined the mergers and acquisitions powerhouse Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, where I spent five years working on high-profile M&A deals, as well as fund formation and other private equity transactions, and internalizing that firm’s execution focus and culture of excellence, for which I'm still grateful.

Tell us about your practice at Greenberg Traurig. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for your practice?

My legal practice today is focused on representing fund managers, institutional investors and family offices in connection with business acquisitions, joint ventures, and other investments, including real estate and social infrastructure projects and public-private partnerships.  That practice grew out of my prior experiences as a deal lawyer at Wachtell Lipton and Schulte Roth & Zabel, but it has evolved to make use of the very best that Greenberg Traurig has to offer, including a market-leading real estate department, a strong nation-wide platform that allows us to deploy resources quickly and efficiently, and a significant government relations practice at both the federal and state levels.

What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have contributed to your success?

I am always looking to align myself with my clients.  That includes everything from highly responsive customer service -- I'm there for you any time, day or night, with no task too big or too small -- to alternative billing arrangements where I succeed when my clients succeed.  I firmly believe that my continued success depends on collaborating closely with the best and brightest in the industry.  It's all about the company you keep.

What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?

The key to having a successful advisory business today is to understand that everyone is incredibly sophisticated. The low-hanging fruit are gone.  That means you need to think creatively to unlock value, which is my competitive advantage.  I am also seeing increasing interest by private capital in partnering with the public sector and in impact investment, and I have the know-how and the right team in place to identify and execute on those opportunities.

Life Motto?

Practice like you play, because you’ll play like you practice.

Your greatest success as a Partner of Greenberg Traurig? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?

In my mind, I succeed or fail when my clients do – so every deal closing is a cause for celebration, and every deal missed is an opportunity for a post-mortem.  Most often there's nothing you could have done differently to change the outcome, but I never pass up an opportunity to learn.  And my biggest take-away from this process has been: Communicate, communicate, communicate!  If I have questions or ideas about a client's strategy or execution, I'd rather make myself heard up-front and make sure we collectively put our best foot forward than deal with "what-ifs" later.    

Your advice to an aspiring lawyer?

If you want to be a great lawyer, there’s no substitute for hard work, alongside smart people, over a period of many years.  Real-world experience counseling clients is the only way to develop good judgment as a lawyer so that you can eventually become a true trusted advisor.

Describe the ideal experience using Greenberg Traurig.

My team shines brightest in situations that go something like this: A client calls me with an exciting, but unusual, investment opportunity.  Perhaps it’s the sort of investment that doesn’t fit into a traditional private equity fund’s mandate, either because it’s an alternative asset class or because a longer time horizon is required to realize the gains.  The client’s financial model projects outsized returns – subject to our assessment of certain legal risks and confidence in our ability to effectively communicate with government actors going forward.  Other investors are also interested in the deal, so we need to move very quickly.  What should we do?

This is the sort of client engagement that I live for, because when I get that call, I already have the right, battle-tested team standing by to spring into action.  We know what questions to ask and how to work together to get to the right answers, inform the client's go / no go decision, and win the deals we want.

How do you motivate your employees?

I actually like to surround myself with people who are self-motivated, though of course you sometimes have to help them connect the dots between the task at hand and their long-term goals.  What I most valued coming up the ranks were meaningful opportunities to learn, so I always provide those for my team. 

What's next for you at Greenberg Traurig?

I’m incredibly excited to be working with clients operating at the cutting-edge of public-private partnerships and impact investments.  Impact investments are investments made with the intention to generate a desired social or environmental impact alongside a financial return.  There are investments that don't require a trade-off between those two goals, and in fact some of the most successful investors I have the privilege to work with believe that successful management of social, environmental, and governance factors drives long-term outperformance.  I feel very fortunate to be able to use the tools I've learned in the business world to tackle the world's most pressing social and environmental challenges!