Michael Wall, L'07, took his passion for real estate law to Troutman Sanders in Atlanta, Georgia. Now a partner at the firm, Wall has found a new passion in sharing his knowledge with young associates.

What was your law school experience like?

I started at Richmond in the fall of 2004. It was a tight law school candidate application market back then. A lot of people were applying to law school. I was very grateful that Richmond gave me a chance to show that I could do well in a post-graduate academic setting.

I got there and quickly realized it was a very welcoming environment in terms of professors who really wanted to take an interest in their 1L students. I also found much more of a law school classmate community than I anticipated. I was the type that came into law school with blinders on. I was laser-focused on being the best student I could be. But, I met a lot of folks that wanted to get to know one another and wanted to develop friendships, people who did not just see each other as competition for rank or jobs after law school. I still have relationships with a number of my classmates. Two of them live in Seattle now. Another friend of mine is in Rochester. Another works for the federal government in Puerto Rico. A number of my friends are still at Richmond or elsewhere in Virginia. My network of relationships that took shape in law school is a lasting quality that I hold very dear in terms of just having made friends and continuing to stay in touch with them.

How did you end up at Troutman Sanders?

I started in fall 2008 as a real estate attorney at Troutman in Atlanta. Admittedly, I really came down here mostly because I simply wanted a change in scenery. I began my career at the worst possible time to be a transactional attorney, because that's when the market was tanking and we were in the thick of the Great Recession.  Looking back, I’m very grateful to have had that experience because it instilled in me a sense of gratitude to have the opportunity to work at a big firm and to execute well and focus on whatever work I could get.

I still try to maintain that mindset of being hungry and staying humble.

Can you tell me more about your day-to-day work?

It’s all deal related. When a real estate company wants to build an office building, a high rise, an apartment complex, or a big industrial warehouse, they call us. After they build it, they'll probably want to lease it, and we’ll work on those leases. After they lease it, at some point they'll probably want to sell it. And then they’ll go and buy more sites or buy more buildings. We help our developer clients and our owner clients with all aspects of what I'd call the real estate asset life cycle.

My day-to-day consists of producing my own work product, but also taking time for others. I try to always have my door open, have people stop by, and make people feel welcome to – and have a license to – ask me questions. I work with a lot of our associates and my other partners on a day-to-day basis, and the kind of constant “in and out” of folks is something that I manage on a pretty much constant basis.

I love the teaching aspect of my job because that's really how you build a solid foundation at a law firm. You learn the subject matter yourself, and then you know you’re proficient with it when you’re able to teach it to someone else. And then I expect the people that I have taught to then teach it to the folks junior to them. Handing down your expertise and knowledge is how you perpetuate success.

What advice do you have for our current students?

First, I would say just be patient. When you’re a student, you start a class and a new semester, and you begin studying from the baseline that's probably everybody else's baseline. You're going to do that for three months. You're going to take a test, you're going to get graded on it, and then on to the next one. That's how you measure your success in school. Practicing law, on the other hand, is an evolution, and it takes years to know what you're doing, even a little bit. It takes lots of time and effort to become a good enough lawyer where clients really start valuing your opinion. As a young lawyer, you have to recalibrate your expectations of what progress looks like. I tell all of the junior associate folks at our firm that you have to be patient with yourself.

The second piece of advice that I’d give is keep an eye on identifying opportunities – professional opportunities or opportunities for personal growth. They come from many different places and can sneak up on you. I've worked on transactions that I thought might not lead anywhere, and they have led me to have business opportunities that I never expected would materialize. You embrace the challenge of each new deal or, if you're a litigator, each new case, and maintain a growth mentality.

The third piece of advice is to remember that the practice of law is a very difficult profession. It's not getting any easier. And if you're not careful, it can take over your whole life. Reflecting on law school does make memories flood back about my other interests that I used to pursue with a lot greater passion because I had the time to do it, whether that's going to the gym, cooking, or playing guitar. When you begin your practice, you have to hold onto some of that. Your priorities are going to change when you start wanting to move up the ladder at a law firm or wherever you find yourself practicing law. You have to remember who you are at your core and resist allowing yourself to become a lawyer and nothing more, letting that be your sole source of value or self-worth.

The habits that you develop related to how you approach your work as a student will color your mindset as a practicing attorney. If there's an obsession with success that becomes unhealthy and makes you unhappy, you have to try and correct that when you're first learning your practice because it doesn't get any easier.

Interview conducted by Alexandria Brown.