Summer Experience: Chris Henry ’19L Gets Real in Real Estate
“From the first day, both of my summer jobs required me to work on meaningful projects and create a final work product that was being reviewed and used by superiors.”
Prior to law school, Chris Henry earned a Bachelor of Science in Building Construction from Georgia Tech. After graduating college, he worked as an engineer for a general contractor in Atlanta where he assisted in the construction of various projects, including multi-family housing developments. At Washington and Lee, he is involved in the Real Estate Development and Investment Society and Moot Court competitions.
What did you do for work this summer?
This summer I spent the first six weeks clerking for Jones Walker’s Atlanta office. I spent the second half of the summer interning at Sullivan Wickley, a real estate developer also located in Atlanta.
How did you find/get this position?
How I got my internships is a testament to constant networking and perseverance. During Christmas break, I began the 1L internship search. I went through all the usual steps of applying for On Campus Interviews, but I also made a point to reach out to any and all contacts I could think of. One of the people I reached out to is a great friend, fraternity brother, and an attorney in Atlanta. I told him that I was looking for an internship, preferably at a firm. He graciously offered to send my resume out to various friends he had in the legal industry. A few weeks later he called me and said that he emailed my resume off to one of his friends he was talking to at a party. It turns out that this friend is a Double General and was looking to hire a summer clerk for his office that specialized in construction law. Given the fact that my undergraduate degree and post-graduate work experience dealt with construction, it was a perfect fit.
For Sullivan Wickley, I simply reached out to real estate developers in Atlanta until I found one willing to take on an intern for a few weeks.
Describe your work experience.
Jones Walker’s Atlanta office primarily practices construction law. Despite being located in Georgia, the office handles disputes concerning projects located throughout the world. I personally assisted the team by researching various legal issues dealing with complex civil litigation and international arbitration. I would write legal memorandums discussing my findings and briefly describe a legal conclusion. For potential new clients I would go through project correspondence (typically between the contractors and owners) and construction contracts and create an outline that featured a timeline of the project and a brief synopsis of the potential legal issues. I would then pitch my findings to partners so they would know how they should further pursue the issue. I also did a little bit of transaction work. For example, I researched the relevant changes to certain laws in a state. I then revised a standard form contract to address potential issues caused by the changes in the law.
For my time at Sullivan Wickley, I was given the opportunity to observe various aspects of the real estate development process. This experience was particularly good for me because I had many years of experience working for contractors, but had never had the opportunity to work for an owner/developer. I primarily helped prepare and review new lease agreements. I personally drafted multiple exhibits to be used in a new ground lease between Sullivan Wickley and a national tenant.
What were some skills you developed this summer?
I honed my legal research and writing skills. Before starting work, I was never one to jump straight to secondary sources to begin my research. After my first few research projects this summer, I quickly realized just how useful secondary sources can be, especially if you’re researching a new area of law in a state you’re not familiar with.
I also improved my ability to efficiently read contracts. At first, a 300 page Engineering, Procurement, and Construction contract can seem imposing, but with practice, they become easier to digest. You quickly realize which sections are relevant to what you are researching. Both of my internships gave me the opportunity to practice and improve these skills.
What classes or experiences were useful in preparing you for the summer work?
All of the classes I took my first year prepared me, but I would say that legal research, contracts, civil procedure, and administrative law helped the most. It’s a very rewarding experience to see the subjects you studied in the “real world.”
What surprised you about the work you did this summer?
The ease of legal research, writing, and reading contracts. I remember being assigned my first closed memo last fall. Even though the issue, topic, and research was already done for me, it seemed like the most daunting task I had ever faced. I remember spending seemingly countless hours attempting to write a five-page memo. By the end of my summer experience, I could easily research and write a fifteen-page memorandum. Also, at the beginning of the summer I had a hard time locating certain sections in a contract. However, after a little bit of practice, I quickly learned how to digest legal agreements and leases.
What was your favorite aspect of this summer work experience?
My favorite aspect was knowing that the work I did was not just “busy work” and that I was a true asset to the team. I think the best internships are ones that give you a realistic experience of what it’s like to work after graduation. From the first day, both of my summer jobs required me to work on meaningful projects and create a final work product that was being reviewed and used by superiors to make the final exhibit, brief, argument, and so on. Therefore, my summer experiences provided me with an accurate representation of what it would be like to work full time after graduation.
Has this experience helped you figure out post graduate plans, and if so, how?
After this summer, I am certain that I want to work at a law firm after graduation. Additionally, returning to Atlanta, the city where I lived and worked for over 6 years, has helped solidify my decision to work in the Southeast.
How do you think this experience will shape the rest of your time at W&L Law?
Working this summer helped to narrow my preferred practice areas to either construction or real estate law. Because of that, I now know what classes I should take my last two years at W&L Law. I also believe all the legal research and writing I did this summer will greatly improve my performance in any classes I take in the future.