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The Long Game

By Shane Nelson | Jun. 24, 2024

Jun. 24, 2024

The Long Game

Frandzel Robins Bloom & Csato has nurtured long-term client relationships for over 40 years.

From left, Reina J. Clark, Wesley King, Hemal Master, Steven N. Bloom and Craig Welin

Longtime litigator Craig A. Welin first started at Frandzel Robins Bloom & Csato LC as a summer associate in 1987.

"I literally have grown up there," Welin said with a chuckle.

Now firm president, Welin has spent his entire career at the 25-lawyer Los Angeles shop, focusing his practice largely on commercial and bankruptcy litigation while dabbling on occasion in transactional matters.

Welin, who graduated from USC Law School in 1988, was also quick to describe the work he does to establish and maintain relationships as critical.

"When you're not a huge firm, you have to build relationships with people and to give people the willingness to give you an opportunity to work for them, and that can take a long time," he explained. "We are a relationship-based firm, and we spend as much time as we can developing relationships with clients."

Frandzel Robins Bloom & Csato LC works regularly for "financial institutions of all sizes, shapes and forms," according to Welin, who said the firm's clients include multinational corporations as well as big names like Bank of America, Cathay Bank and Comerica Bank. Welin noted the boutique also works often with special servicers who handle problem loans in the commercial mortgage-backed security (CMBS) space.

"The firm was, basically, and still is, in many respects, a creditor's rights firm that does a lot of transactional work," Welin explained. "We have a very thriving bankruptcy group and then a business litigation group, so in a general sense, those are the three areas we cover."

Managing Shareholder Hemal K. Master first joined the firm in 2006, and although the 2003 Tulane Law School graduate started his career as a litigator, he has spent nearly two decades focusing on transactional work.

"It wasn't what I envisioned," Master said of litigation. "I very much enjoyed the courtroom setting. ... But I did not enjoy some of the stuff that led up to being in court, such as battles with opposing counsel for everything - endless discovery and endless fighting."

An early interest in real estate provided Master his first exposure to transactional work, and when he realized that "would be actually putting deals together rather than fighting them out in court," he decided to shift gears.

Master noted that Frandzel Robins Bloom & Csato LC was first launched in the mid-Wilshire district of Los Angeles in 1979, and the founders started out by tackling "a hodgepodge of whatever they could get from their bank clients at the time."

"We still actually have a large number of the clients we had back in the '70s," Master said. "We've represented a lot of these financial institutions for 40-plus years at this point."

Master said the services the firm provides to those clients have, however, grown increasingly more sophisticated over the years.

"Now, I would say we tend to work on much more complex matters - almost exclusively commercial deals, transactions and litigation and bankruptcy," Master explained. "So as our clients have evolved and Los Angeles has evolved and California has evolved, I think we've evolved along with it, and our practice has as well."

Frandzel Robins Bloom & Csato LC has been involved in some high-profile commercial real estate matters recently, representing special servicer clients who are dealing with problematic loans in downtown Los Angeles.

"We were the lawyers that represented the lender in putting the receiver in over at the Gas Tower building in downtown LA, and we put the receiver in over at [Ernst & Young] Plaza in downtown LA," Welin said. "Those are properties that are troubled assets, ... and when the loans went into default, we were asked to get involved."

Those soaring downtown Los Angeles high rises are just two examples of the boom in commercial real estate work the firm has been tackling since the pandemic, according to Welin and Master.

"Commercial office has been extremely busy - very, very busy - and we don't see that slowing down anytime soon," Master said. "There's a lot of distress out there."

Master said the shift of so many employees working from home - spurred largely by the COVID-19 pandemic- continues to have a substantial impact on the commercial lease industry.

"Companies, as a result, are saying, 'Hey, people aren't coming into the office. We're going to look to cut costs,'" Master explained. "'And the first place to cut costs is either get rid of our leases altogether or significantly downsize our leases and our office footprint.' ... And the landlords are left holding the bag because they can't find anybody to fill those spaces. And if they can, they're at far lesser rents than there used to be because the demand has declined so much."

Welin said those challenges are popping up nationwide in urban downtown settings.

"When people aren't going to work, it's not just the building that is vacant - or partially vacant - but the surrounding businesses are also impacted dramatically by it," Welin explained. "And I think that's such an ongoing issue that is going to be really difficult to deal with over the next few years."

Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP partner Thomas J. Biafore has been working on cases with attorneys at Frandzel Robins Bloom & Csato LC for 25 years, and he said the firm provides an impressively sophisticated range of services for a shop of its relatively small size.

"They will be on some big-boy loans, and they mix it up with some of the other big LA and other firms and have no problem doing that," Biafore said. "They definitely touch a lot more areas with an appropriate level of depth than what you might otherwise expect, given the size of the firm relative to the competition."

Biafore said he's worked often with Welin on many different matters over the years.

"The firm, generally, and I think Craig, in particular, really play the long game," Biafore said. "You go to any kind of industry event, and he has wonderful relationships with all kinds of clients as you're walking through there. ... He is just a very long term-client-focused partner."


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