Raising the Bar

In June, Kara Sweeney took her place among North America’s experts on mortgage law with her admission to the American College of Mortgage Attorneys. An exclusive group of fewer than 500 attorneys, all ACMA Fellows must meet rigorous criteria to be considered for membership.

Not long before receiving this honor from ACMA, Kara’s work in the housing sector made headlines when she served as legal counsel to Laconia Housing in the first Streamlined Voluntary Conversion project completed in the United States. In this conversion, ownership of the 98-unit Sunrise Residential Living Campus in the heart of downtown Laconia transitioned from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to Laconia Housing. The transfer to Laconia Housing gives the agency local control of the property and the ability to make capital improvements more quickly and efficiently, enhancing the quality of life for current and future tenants.

On March 19, 2019 the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development revised Section 22 of the United States Housing Act of 1937 to authorize small Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) with 250 or fewer public housing units to convert to tenant-based housing choice voucher (HCV) assistance through streamlined authority. Streamlined Voluntary Conversion authority gives small PHAs greater flexibility to respond to local needs, allows them to pursue private financing, and provides greater housing choice and mobility to assisted households.

In October of 2020, Laconia Housing successfully completed the country’s first Streamlined Voluntary Conversion, establishing the new Sunrise Towers LLC property with project-based voucher assistance. In an email, Executive Director of Laconia Housing Tom Cochran expressed many thanks to their Board; the Laconia Housing directors, managers, and staff; the Office of Public Housing Boston office team; and their legal team—Kara Sweeney at Preti Flaherty.

Regarding the work involved in bringing the project to the finish line, Kara said, “It had never been done before, so we had a lot of input into the process. We were able to draft certain documents complying with the newly adopted rules rather than having to use agency forms, because “forms” had not been developed yet. Having the flexibility to use our own language and, to some extent, to devise our own plan to address our specific needs, certainly streamlined the process.”

As the latest Preti attorney to be featured in our Raising the Bar campaign, Kara took a few minutes to chat with us about her practice and her routines:

How has your practice evolved from when you started out?

Right out of law school I did a brief stint at another well-known firm based in NH.  My work ranged broadly from litigation to corporate.  In 2003 when I joined Preti, I worked primarily with John Sullivan on commercial real estate development, bank finance and general corporate matters.   I do much of the same work now, but of course my responsibility has evolved; now I manage my own files and have direct relationships with our clients.  Additionally, I have had an opportunity to learn about the “business” of law by participating in firm management as a member of the management committee and a practice chair.

What skills, talents, or methods do you think help you excel in this field?

I’m empathetic and genuinely enjoy making connections with people.  I like to understand the interests, strengths and objectives of others.  Thinking in this way helps inform my approach to delivering legal services to clients and to negotiating with adversaries.  I also have pretty good recall.  In general, I don’t forget a conversation.

Where are you most active or visible within your practice area? Is there a specific niche you’re known for?

A significant portion of my work derives from bank and corporate finance, corporate governance and commercial real estate matters, and I have an increasing number of non-profit and for-profit clients in the affordable housing industry.  I often work with developers to help structure projects, secure regulatory approvals and close on financing from lenders and investors.  I’ve cultivated good relationships with other professionals who know and trust my work, and I and have acquired the industry knowledge to anticipate and solve problems as they arise.

How would your clients describe you?

I think my clients would describe me as approachable, creative, attentive and hard working.

What do you like best about your practice area?

I really like the mission-based work—taking a small part in making life better for people.  I enjoy bringing a development deal together, and I thrive on seeing it to completion.  On the housing projects, the ribbon cuttings are the best!

How do you start your day?

I usually spend 5-10 minutes with a cup of coffee while perusing the morning news on my phone or tablet.  Then I get in a quick workout (if I’ve had enough sleep the night before), and thereafter I scramble with my husband to get our kids out the door to school or to some other activity. Then I can get to my legal work.

When you’re able to sneak in a break during the day, where could you be found?

You’d find me in the woods with our dogs, skiing on a powder morning or trucking our kids to hockey, ski team or some other sporting event or activity.

When it comes to reviewing your own peers, what criteria are important? What makes an attorney stand out?

Lawyers who are client-focused, are respectful of others, and carry themselves as problem solvers (rather than competitors), always make a positive impression on me.

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