Susan Talley practices in all aspects of real estate development, financing, leasing, purchase and sales. She has been involved in many of the major commercial real estate development and finance projects in Louisiana, including luxury hotels, the development and leasing of sports stadiums and arenas, multi-billion-dollar chemical facilities and the nation's first upscale downtown outlet mall. For many years, she has represented the owner of a large number of quick serve and fast casual restaurants throughout the United States. More recently, she is representing one of the parties involved in the redevelopment of the former Charity Hospital.
A member of the Stone Pigman law firm, Susan currently serves as chair of the firm's Banking and Finance Practice Group, co-chair of the firm's Real Estate, Finance and Construction Practice Group and a member of the Management Committee. She has served in many leadership roles in professional and industry organizations and is a frequent speaker and writer on real estate and finance topics. She also finds time to support nonprofits in the region, currently serving on the boards of the New Orleans Business Alliance and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.
Why are you in this line of practice?
Lynn, that is a very good question. One never knows what opportunities life will present. When I graduated from Tulane with you in 1981, I was fairly sure I did not want to litigate, although Phil Wittmann has relentlessly tried to convince me otherwise. I also thought I wanted to be a corporate and securities lawyer. As a brand new associate, however, I had the great good fortune of being pulled into a complicated real estate development project by Ewell Walther. Ewell was the dean of the New Orleans real estate bar and an amazing mentor. A new regional shopping center was being developed by an Alabama based developer who was, in short, a character. We were faced with as many legal twists and turns as a bar exam question, and even ended up giving a reasoned legal opinion to the construction lender based on the Code of Justinian. Imagine that! I was hooked.
There is another significant way in which practicing law turned out not to be what I envisioned. My parents were small-business owners, and I was operating under the mistaken assumption that the law was an erudite profession that would not involve the complications of satisfying customers. I quickly learned that dealing with clients, opposing parties, other counsel and consultants is the most satisfying part of my job – even though I may grumble at times. I also have the wonderful benefit of being able to look at projects and know that I contributed to their completion and success.
Learning about working mothers is always encouraging to younger women. How did you do it?
It really does take a village to practice law and raise a family. I will be the first to admit, however, that I was very lucky. My husband, Jay Gulotta, is also a lawyer and knows the stress and scheduling challenges that come with the practice. We were in a position to invest in in-home childcare from a wonderful woman who was like another grandmother to our son and instilled values in him that he remembers to this day. We had both sets of grandparents and other family nearby and available to pitch in, especially when we were traveling. I look at some of our firm's younger lawyers – female and male – who are wrestling with the ever-increasing cost of childcare and education, lingering student debt and expensive housing along with the pressures of 21st century practice, and I marvel at how they manage it. As a profession, we need to do a better job of asking ourselves what it means to be a committed professional and how to accommodate family and other commitments – and then taking action. Otherwise, we will continue to lose talented professionals to other career choices.
It is not all bad news, though. One of the best bits of advice I ever read – and that I have passed on to younger lawyers – is as follows. There really is no such thing as perfect work-life balance. Rather, it is more like a seesaw. Sometimes things are not going so well on the work front, but the family life is humming along. At other times, work is going great and there are challenges on the home front. One way or another, it ultimately sorts itself out and we keep going.
Transactional work is not without its own demands. Can you elaborate?
Lynn, that is another good question. I previously touched on my decision not to be a litigator. I often find myself cautioning law students and new lawyers that the transactional practice is not an escape hatch from the stress of litigation. Each side of the practice has its own set of challenges. In a transactional practice, deadlines are driven by client, accounting and tax considerations. You are not governed by a court's schedule. One never knows when a client will surface with a project having a deadline of "yesterday". Also, we do not have a judge, magistrate or arbiter to make a decision. There is no final authority when parties cannot agree in negotiations. To get a matter closed, the parties and their counsel have to figure out a way to deal with one another and reach a common goal. But then, as I previously noted, that is often the best part of the job.