Real Estate

Taking Control, With a Flexible Grip

As deputy general counsel at a real estate investment and management company. Amber Murray responds creatively to legal and business issues, but as the director of her career, she plots her own path.

CCBJ: What led you to enroll with Jamestown?

Amber Murray: I started my practice at King & Spalding in the commercial real estate transactions practice group. I worked for a number of clients who were developers and real estate private equity firms, and did some real estate finance, with limited work for Jamestown. Noah Peeters was also at King & Spalding; he did more work for Jamestown, and in 2012, he came in-house and is now our general counsel. Shortly after he joined Jamestown, the in-house legal team here realized that they needed another mid-level attorney, and he reached out to me.

The work fit perfectly with what I was already doing, and I liked the types of properties that Jamestown owns. I knew they did really sophisticated work, and I was interested in learning more about the business side of real estate, not just the transactional side. And the move came at a good time in my career, because I was a seventh-year associate, and I’d decided that I wasn’t interested in pursuing partnership.

What’s your leadership style like?

I allow people the freedom to grow. I give them a fairly large amount of autonomy so that they can develop their own style and come back to me if they need advice, so I’m not micromanaging them. I am on the more introverted end. I tend to do a lot more listening, and I think that helps sometimes with leadership, because I’m often the person who’s not always talking the loudest. I synthesize everyone’s comments and come to a compromise position that addresses all of their concerns.

Who’s influenced you in your career?

The year after I graduated from college I worked as the administrative assistant to Rosalind Fuse-Hall who at the time was the Executive Assistant to the Chancellor of North Carolina Central University in Durham, NC. She is a lawyer by training, a family friend and was one of my mentors.

She was always very organized and poised under pressure — people throughout the university had a large amount of respect for her intellect and expertise. As I was considering going to law school, she helped me think about the best schools to attend and what kind of practice I might be interested in pursuing.

What qualities do you look for when hiring for your team?

We look for people who are highly intelligent, who are hard workers, but also who are willing to be flexible and creative. Even though we are a real estate company, much of what we do demands a high level of creativity. We own retail, office and multifamily properties across the United States, and we aim to create places where people want to be. We’re a vertically integrated company, so we have our own creative and marketing teams planning events to draw people to the properties. With that comes a lot of contractual work. We need attorneys who are willing to be nimble and creative. When one of our creative and marketing team members comes to us and says, “Hey, we’re going to have a holiday event, and Santa is going to zip-line off the roof of a building,” we can’t be the kind of people who say, “No, absolutely not. Can’t do that.” So we really do look for people who are flexible and like to have fun; people who want to enjoy their job and be continuously learning every day. We’re presented with new issues as technology continues to emerge and privacy laws rapidly evolve. We have to be quick on our feet.

What’s the best career advice you ever received?

Years ago, one of the partners in my practice group told me to take control of my own career. At the time, I thought that was very difficult, since I was only about a second-year associate. But it has proven to be some of the best career advice I’ve ever gotten. For me, it means always thinking about what I want out of a role or out of a workplace situation and that I have to go find it. Particularly now that I’m in an in-house setting, if there’s a business line that I want to learn more about or an area of the business that I don’t quite understand, if I’m taking control of my career, that means I need to go find the people in that group and build relationships with them so that I can ask them questions and learn more about that area. If there’s something that I don’t understand in the legal world, it’s incumbent upon me to go and learn more about it and find some resources. This is my journey. It doesn’t have to look the same as my coworkers or other lawyers or other in-house lawyers even. I can do it however I want, but I have to drive the car.

What are some changes you’re hoping to see within the profession?

I hope to see more people with diverse backgrounds working at higher levels in the legal profession. Recent studies show that most large law firms still have relatively low percentages of female partners and even fewer partners who identify as racial and ethnic minorities. Over the next few years, I’m hopeful that law firms and corporations with in-house legal departments will continue to have serious and transparent discussions about how to recruit, retain and promote diverse attorneys and how to encourage inclusion in the workplace.

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