John Kang, partner at Gordinier Kang & Kim LLP, believes in working hard to achieve results. Indeed, he’s spent his life – from college days to legal career – applying his time and energy to ensure everything he does pays dividends, literally and metaphorically.
When he first started as a commercial Real Estate lawyer, he admits to turning up at the office earlier and staying later than anyone else. He put the hours in so he could understand all the nuances involved with complex transactions including negotiating and drafting contracts on leases, purchases and sales of buildings, assets, M&A deals, and loans.
“To be good at this you have to get to know the business and what the client wants,” John says. “For example, one particular client may want either debt financing or equity financing; another client is potentially selling a piece of the company, doing an IPO, or getting investors or franchises to expand globally. It’s that diverse.”
A recent $130 million real estate loan transaction, for example, was one of the most exciting of his career. It involved senior debt along with senior mezzanine and junior mezzanine funding: “That deal took a lot of work. We were supposed to close it at the end of 2021, but it kept getting bigger and more complex.
“It turned from a loan with a preferred equity partner into a senior loan, so it really got complicated. There was a lot going on. I was dealing with two big major law firms in New York, so there was a time difference to deal with as well.” While not all the deals John works on are on that scale, it is indicative of the kind of jobs carried out by Gordinier Kang & Kim LLP. John handles the transactional side of deals – drafting all the contracts etc – while his partner, Edward Kim, handles litigation.
“I never have to deal with litigation,” he says. “Only if the deal turns sour then Ed steps in. There can be some issues we run into where the sides can’t agree and we have to do further negotiations, but ultimately we’re on the same page. We all want to close the deal.”
Building long-term relationships
Building relationships are key to John’s success and he makes great efforts to get to know the business and what the customer wants: “My clients tend to be people I have developed relationships with and almost all become friends.
It makes it much easier to communicate and get things done rather than a formal process.” It’s an approach that pays off. John has developed many long-standing clients who come to him whenever they require real estate contracts as part of a corporate deal: “People like our efficiency and our responsiveness. I get a lot of comments about how fast we respond. Apparently, not everyone responds right away, but I like to do that.”
While John started out in large law firms, he decided to go out on his own in 2006 to have more control over the work he does. Gradually, other partners have joined, including Ed Kim, who came to the firm about three and a half years ago after what John jokingly describes as “many years of begging”. Setting up on his own made sense to John: “Big law firms bill you out at such a high number. But even though your salary might be high compared to what the firm’s making off your sweat, it’s ridiculous. I thought how much better it would be to keep that income for ourselves, with lower overheads for ourselves and at a lower cost to the client. It was a no brainer.” As a smaller business, it also means John can provide a cost-effective service for clients: “It’s usually me and one other person on the deal. That keeps it tidy and manageable – and I always work quickly.”
Falling into law by accident
While John has been a lawyer now for more than 25 years, he fell into law by accident. Initially, he wanted to be a doctor and studied biochemistry at university. But after failing to get the grades he needed, John decided to change course. With many friends going into business or law, he decided on a legal career.
After finishing law school, he took the exam for the California Bar and passed, despite misgivings that he’d not managed to make the grade: “That was one of the most exciting days of my life.”
Initially, hoped to become an environmental lawyer: “University of Maryland had a very strong environmental law program and I spent a whole semester as an extern at the United States Environmental Protection Agency. That’s what I was going to do.“
After graduation I moved out to California and I was looking for environmental law jobs, but there wasn’t anything available at that time.”
Getting started in real estate
John sent out his resume to local law firms and the only one to respond was mainly focused on real estate. The firm began to pick up a lot of work involving the development of downtown LA, and John initially joined part-time and later full time.
“By 1997 there was such high demand for real estate,” he says. “I was recruited by an international firm in San Francisco helping with major loan deals for office buildings and resorts. That’s how I got started in real estate. I kind of fell into it.”
More recently, Gordinier Kang & Kim LLP has gained a reputation as a go to firm for real estate deals nationally and international. Since joining IR Global three years ago, John has started using the network to pick up more work and expects this to increase in the future. While he hasn’t been to many IR Global networking events – mostly due to COVID restrictions – he plans to get more involved in the coming months.
This will help with John’s plan to expand the firm internationally and in the US, although he wants to grow the firm organically, with junior lawyers being trained to up take on more senior roles.
“I can teach them the proper way to draft documents and to take pride in their work – a lot of people just use the same contracts that they spit out with a bunch of mistakes. Even big firms do this. I’d like to be able to train people to really care about what they produce and be detailed.”
Loving ice hockey
When he’s not immersed in legal issues, John is an avid ice hockey fan and has even taken his children on his business trips to see games – outside of office hours, of course. For example, on a trip to New York he took one of his sons with him: “He wanted to go to New York, so I asked one of the New York partners if he had any New York Rangers hockey tickets?”
It turned out that not only did the partner have tickets, but they also turned up for the retirement match for Ranger’s legend Henrik Lundqvist. “We had two tickets for that event. It was just amazing.”