Smart City Building — Enter The Tigress

What is city but the people? The great acceleration to urbanize with digital technologies presents alternative futures for cities. Digital platforms empower residents to make smarter choices for a more livable place. Smart City building is illusive but millennials know one when they see one. This is a fictional story of a real estate lawyer watching and latching on a Tech Giant’s Smart City Building efforts in Toronto.

Tiger Painting from Metropolitan Museum of Art — Drawing by Antoine-Louis Barye via Wikimedia Commons

MeiLing Li is a real estate lawyer. She’s a junior partner of Hughes, Li & Associates LLP. The Partnership has two partners and three assistants doing book keeping and office work. This is a small law practice, amongst 13,000 practitioners working in her home city, just steps away from the financial district. She’s been working many long hours to see clients, and close condo transactions, late at nights. She always mentors her staff to run a 7–24 law practice for client satisfaction. Buying and selling real estates is stressful, their job ought to minimize those stresses from an otherwise painful process, for clients. She believes in this vision and coaches her team to share the same goal. The real estate market is booming, and condo transactions are closing, efficiently at her LLP, at lightning speeds with discipline.

Edward Hughes Jr. has been a lawyer for decades. He’s highly respected in intellectual property, copyrights and patent laws from a family of antitrust attorneys. He used to share the same office with the young and aspiring MeiLing in a major law firm with 100+ associates. When MeiLing approached him to form a partnership, after she had missed out from an annual partnership selection round, he was hesitated to start all over again at a retirement age. MeiLing assured him that he didn’t need to do anything in setting up the practice. She’s going to lease space on a tier three office building close to the financial district, hire office assistants, find clients and run everything for the practice. She would only need his name on Hughes, Li & Associates LLP to get the firm launched. She kept her promise, and Edward sort of retired from day to day work. There’s little for him to do in this tedious, process driven and documentation heavy real estate business anyway. He’s free to pursue other interests with all those extra time.

Everyone was proud to have a lawyer in the family. But, MeiLing’s training and route to getting fully accredited for law practice wasn’t straight forward. She entered university to do a BA in English Literature, and decided to sit for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) during her 3rd year in the program. She scored high on LSAT, got accepted into a Juris Doctor (JD) program in a comprehensive university with full scholarship, graduated with high honours, and she would have no issues in passing the Provincial Self-study Open-book Solicitor Examinations. She was on track to become a lawyer but couldn’t find any articling principal, with no family connections and the Law Practice Program wasn’t an alternative at the time, to fulfilling her experiential training component of the Provincial Lawyer Licensing Process. She was at a lost but decided to take a bet with all her saved part-time work, bursary & scholarship money over the years, gone to England to do a LLM, and eventually landed her an articling position on a major LLP in her home city.

Edward Hughes Jr. liked MeiLing’s youthful energy, fast-talking and buzz during her interview, describing the “international, comparative and interdisciplinary approaches” to LSE law. The exchanges brought back fond memories of his own Alma mater, and daftness at that tender age, to become her Articling Principle. It’s not common for a senior partner to make time for a junior, with no family or business connections, but MeiLing didn’t disappoint. He would have great fun to debating and taming this fledgling tigress over the years. That was MeiLing’s lucky break into the profession but launching Hughes, Li & Associates LLP was never in her plan. It’s merely a dicey move after passing over for an internal promotion.

It’s hard work to start a law firm from scratch. There are 13,000 practising lawyers in this city but MeiLing managed to team up with real estate agents and ride on the city’s condo development boom. Her ethnicity helped, and her work 7–24 ethics were well respected amongst those real estate agents working on deals. She had found her niche in a blooming condos market through long hours and hard works. Her discipline and energy are bringing business and results.

This is the fifth straight working evening for MeiLing with her clients. A typical condo transaction would start with reviewing Agreement of Purchase and Sales; noting any deadlines on the deal; searching for any tax arrears, liens, outstanding work orders & delivery conditions; preparing requisition & closing documents with counter-party counsel; doing title search and insurance; entering escrow closing arrangement with counter-party lawyer; managing fund transfers; preparing Adjustment Statements and certified cheques; registering Transfer and Charge upon escrow releases, and advise ownership change with municipality,… etc., until finally meeting the client to present the key. The condo buying and selling business is mostly about following process, doing paperwork and meeting deadlines, pure and simple, for her office assistants to execute but MeiLing is responsible for any professional liability. She’s disciplined on execution, with an elaborate system for filing and checklist, demanding every detail on documentations & process compliance, and adherence to scheduled dates. Her challenge to her office assistants, and motto is: “No misses. Hughes, Li & Associates LLP always close transactions on scheduled date.” She actually believes, and fullheartedly acting on, her motto. Despite hundreds of open files at various stage of closing, she always tries meeting her clients for the final closing and key presentation, mostly on evenings with the thriving condo market. This is her work ethics, and means to get new referrals from clients and real estate agents, to grow the partnership. Starting a new LLP practice is hard but she’s a tough cookie from her training to get jobs done.

Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs to Create ‘Smart’ Neighborhood on Toronto Waterfront.” MeiLing noticed an enthralling feed to her cellphone, from the Wall Street Journal, on her late train ride back to her suburb home. Would smart city have condos? That’s an opportunity. It didn’t take long for MeiLing, being a real estate lawyer, to see the development potentials of this 12-acre prime waterfront real estate. The government with an arms length business entity is doing a Private-Public Partnership (3P) RFP to redevelop the waterfront not too far away from her office. She even gone through the whole 196-page Vision-Section of the RFP submission from Sidewalk Labs. No mention of deeds or land transfer details, without the full and confidential RFP submission on how land ownership are treated, for property entitlements. Smart city, condos and “Locations, Locations, Locations” are close to MeiLing’s heart. She made a decision to sign up for Sidewalk Toronto’s First Public Roundtable Meeting right on her hour-long train ride home with her cellphone. She needs a recess from the mountain of papers and files waiting in her 2nd floor office, on a tier three office building, near the financial district. Even the tigress would need a break from her busy schedules.

Toronto would still be cold in March but MeiLing had a date.