By Andrea Strong '94

AFTER GRADUATING FROM THE University of Buffalo with a degree in commercial design and communications, David Djaha ’88 returned to New York City, where he grew up. He had dreams of becoming a commercial artist—but he realized the starting salary wouldn’t cover New York City rent. His parents suggested he apply to the law school near their family home in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.

Once in law school, he discovered he also had a passion for real estate law. Today, Djaha is head of Ropes & Gray’s global real estate investments and transactions group and a member of the firm’s policy committee. On Jan. 1, 2020, he will become the firm’s next global managing partner when the current managing partner retires.

“In real estate,” he said, “lawyers must be nimble and able to adapt. This area of the law changes a lot. And that’s part of what I love about it.”

Djaha started his career in the real estate group at Proskauer Rose, where he remained for five years, through an economic bust and boom, learning the skills not only of a real estate transactional lawyer, but of bankruptcy counsel as well.

In 1994, Djaha joined Rogers & Wells, where he focused on REITs and capital market deals and remained at the firm through its merger with Clifford Chance in 2000. At Clifford Chance, he became a partner, head of the real estate group for the Americas region, and a member of the management committee—building a reputation for excellence in the private equity, capital markets, and banking industries.

“I like working with contracts—negotiating and figuring out a solution somewhere between two opposing but ultimately aligned business goals,” he said. “In my business, there is usually no loser.” In 2009, when the recession was putting pressure on the real estate industry, Djaha remained undeterred. In fact, he saw the time as an opportunity and moved to Ropes & Gray, where he has since expanded the real estate group from 20 attorneys, all based in Boston, to more than 50 attorneys in New York, Boston, Chicago, London, and Hong Kong.

Djaha enjoys a variety of work in global private equity for clients such as the Blackstone Group, Citi Global Wealth Management, TPG, Allianz, Partners Group, and Baupost Group. He focuses in particular on what is known as “warehouse” financing, representing lenders and borrowers, originating liquidity facilities that help credit funds and mortgage REITs, and closing deals totaling nearly $20 billion. His recent transactions of note include the capitalization of 432 Park Avenue and 616 First Avenue Development.

In addition to his private equity real estate practice, Djaha devotes a significant amount of time to pro bono clients.

“Since my first day as an associate,” he said, “I’ve done pro bono work as a way to give back, and also to gain a skill set outside real estate.” A self-confessed “theater geek,” he worked with nonprofits in the arts and supports small businesses. Recently, he negotiated a lease on behalf of a senior center in Harlem. He is also active with the Food Bank of New York City, running community service projects for the firm’s attorneys and staff.

When he’s not spending time at work or giving back to community initiatives, Djaha loves to spend time with his family, and he is celebrating his 30th wedding anniversary this fall with his college sweetheart, Sharon. Their older son, Alex, is also entering the legal profession, hoping to practice real estate or private equity law. And their younger son, Ben, is embarking on a career in the hotel industry.

Djaha also remains involved at Brooklyn Law School, often doing interviews and welcoming fellow graduates to his firm. “We had a great group of students from Brooklyn Law School in our summer program this year,” he said. “The school continues to develop smart, practical, and hardworking lawyers.”