An effective in-house attorney will make himself dependable and indispensable, and that’s exactly what Steven Blaustein has done at HaysVentures LLC. It’s an umbrella company with its hands in everything from real estate investment and development to construction management to reality TV production, and one job in particular—a hospital redevelopment project in Suffolk County, New York—demonstrates how Blaustein, the firm’s in-house counsel, made himself irreplaceable by protecting HaysVentures while facilitating a complex initiative.
When locals asked Hays Entertainment (a branch of HaysVentures) to program an annual fundraiser, Blaustein helped negotiate talent fees and appearance details. Then, at the event, the planners asked HaysVentures’s owner to put his name on a new parking facility, but the company saw a much bigger opportunity.
“We knew we could show them another way to go,” Blaustein says. Soon after, he and HaysVentures began planning an assisted-living facility, complete with parking and office space, across the street from an existing hospital, with a bridge connecting the two structures.
Part of HaysVentures’ job was convincing its new partners of the plan because assisted-living facilities are scarce in the area, and the ones that do exist are lacking in quality. The company designed a state-of-the-art facility with an ambulatory aspect and a rooftop atrium, and Blaustein cleared all the legal hurdles to make the project happen, including negotiations, agreements, documents, challenges, entities, and daily issues. “The office floor slants towards my door,” he says jokingly.
“The office floor slants towards my door.”
On Blaustein’s office door hangs a cartoon of an employee wearing several different hats. The general counsel knows the feeling all too well. For the redevelopment project, he has found himself advising his employer, presenting to the client, going before the board of directors, and presenting to zoning officials and other committees.
Landing The Job
Prior to working at HaysVentures, Steven Blaustein was implementing systems for a New York real estate company, but when the housing bubble burst and he lost his job, he quickly scheduled an interview with HaysVentures about a general counsel position. The morning of the interview, Blaustein woke with a fever of 102 degrees, but undeterred, he attended the meeting and landed the job. Then, despite strep throat, he started the next day.
HaysVentures had never had a general counsel, so Blaustein had to immediately step in to define his position, build all the appropriate legal systems, and create an infrastructure to protect the real estate, construction, and entertainment conglomerate.
HaysVentures is also responsible for capital, and its financial partner has three board members involved in real estate deals of their own. This means Blaustein must prepare documents for indemnifications, releases, and waivers to address the conflicts of interest.
Such moves are just a few of the calculated steps in an intricate dance every general counsel must learn. HaysVentures’s board, for example, has a CFO, a COO, and a CEO who each hope to make their mark on the company’s legacy, so Blaustein sits in every meeting to understand every nuance in order to report back to the owner and explain all issues and obstacles from an objective point of view. He must examine the legal ramifications behind every decision.
And at the same time, he must protect the company. After a previous deal fell through despite 18 months of planning, Blaustein is now extra cautious. For the Suffolk County redevelopment deal, he has secured confidentiality and noncompete agreements, coupled with a period of exclusivity. How far he goes is based on the existing client relationship, considerations of reputation, and the documents he’s presented with.
Blaustein remains optimistic about the redevelopment. He’s facing a six-month approval process and 18 months of construction, and in the meantime he’s busy on another negotiation that, if approved, would make HaysVentures a minority shareholder in the purchase of a major hotel in Miami.
These important deals would be next to impossible without Blaustein in the office. Companies without effective general counsel often resort to templates, and Blaustein says this is a recipe for disaster. “A template is one of the most dangerous documents you can have because every deal is different,” he says. An attorney, on the other hand, has two jobs to do: protect the company and get the deals done.