In Pursuit of a Dual Degree; Creating a Niche in Real Estate Law

Kemberly “Kemi” Kantor ’17, ’19 MSRE, ’21 JDKemberly “Kemi” Kantor ’17, ’19 MSRE, ’21 JD

In spring 2018, the University of San Diego School of Business partnered with the University of San Diego School of Law to offer a joint Juris Doctor (JD)/Master of Science in Real Estate (MSRE) dual degree. Kemberly "Kemi" Kantor is passionate about real estate and law. She was actively involved in the process of creating the JD/MSRE program, working closely with both schools to provide input on the new program, and eventually became the first student to enroll in the program in 2018. In 2019, Kemi completed the MSRE portion of the dual degree program and she is currently on track to earn her JD in 2021. Kemi also earned a bachelor’s in business administration and real estate from the USD School of Business in 2017.

Kemi is very excited to pursue a career which will combine her dual degrees in real estate and law—traditionally, two very male-dominated fields. “Being one of only a few women in my classes has inspired me to succeed and to represent women well,” says Kemi. “My eventual career ambition is to be an in-house attorney at a real estate company.”

Upon completion of the JD/MSRE program, Kemi will have the perfect education background to fill an in-house counsel role, which would enable her to handle all legal issues, while simultaneously being part of the real estate analysis and decision-making processes. Real estate was not a foreign concept to Kemi. A native of Pleasanton, CA, she learned about real estate from her father, a real estate investor in the San Francisco Bay area.

“My dad is the reason I am interested in and passionate about real estate,” says Kemi. “Growing up, I experienced everything from purchasing commercial properties, planning and constructing improvements, leasing, and eventual sale. The aspect of real estate that I was always interested in most was the legal side of things, leading to my eventual decision to pursue real estate law.”

The dual degree program is giving Kemi the opportunity to expand her knowledge and create a niche within real estate. It is the perfect opportunity for her to merge two industries into one career. “Law school is great for transforming students to think like lawyers, but it is a very broad-based education,” says Kemi. “By pairing the MSRE degree with my JD degree, I have created my own specialized education. The MSRE degree supplements my legal knowledge by providing me with the real estate expertise needed to be successful in the field of real estate law.”

Graduate students in the JD/MSRE program are immersed in the legal aspects of real estate and are introduced to important technical terms, formulas and concepts needed to pursue a career in real estate law. During the MSRE program, Kemi learned about commercial real estate topics, including market analysis, development, valuation, investments and important software programs, including ARGUS. “While law school is teaching me how to draft contracts, the MSRE program taught me key concepts of real estate so that I will be well prepared to handle more specialized real estate contracts, given each client’s situation,” says Kemi.

Why Mentors and Internships Matter; Building Relationships that Leverage Opportunities
Mentors play an important role throughout one’s career but are particularly important at an early stage in guiding and coaching students on the path to success. Forging mutually beneficial mentor-mentee relationships early in a students’ journey enriches the academic experience and adds value to a student’s career pursuits.

“I try to have mentors in every facet of my life who offer diverse educational backgrounds, experience and expertise,” says Kemi. “This allows me to garner advice from my mentors as I am able to learn from their personal and professional experiences. Having strong relationships with your mentors will also lead to internship opportunities, job offers and other important networking opportunities.

Professor John Demas served as Kemi’s mentor beginning her sophomore year as an undergraduate at USD. Kemi took several undergraduate real estate classes with Professor Demas, and in 2019, completed his Real Estate Law and Public Policy course as part of the MSRE program. “He was instrumental, both in my academic and personal journey, giving me advice and encouragement throughout college and during the start of law school,” says Kemi.

Kemi also participated in the MSRE mentorship program offered through the Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate (BMC). Heather Riley, Esq., a partner at Allen Matkins has served as Kemi’s mentor since 2018. Heather, a member of the Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate’s policy advisory board, introduced Kemi to various career options in the field of real estate law, including Heather’s niche as an environmental and land use attorney.

“I was able to attend a San Diego Planning Commission hearing with Heather and her client who was awaiting approval on their development proposal—that was a fascinating opportunity to witness,” says Kemi. “I continue to stay in touch with Heather and brought her in as a guest panelist to speak to students who are part of RELUS.” From 2018-19, Kemi served as the Recruitment Chair for the USD student-run Real Estate and Land Use Society (RELUS). She served as Vice President of RELUS in 2019-20 and will serve as President in 2020-21. RELUS promotes and encourages students interested in real estate and land use law and offers networking and mentorship opportunities for students. Kemi was also a member of the sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma at USD.

Executive Director of the BMC Stath Karras has also served as one of Kemi’s mentors. He encouraged Kemi to apply for real estate scholarships offered through the BMC, which amount to approximately $400,000 in available internal and external scholarships. “Given the fact that I am a woman in the real estate field and my educational background is so unique, Stath encouraged me to apply for several of these scholarships,” says Kemi. “During the MSRE program, I ended up receiving three different scholarship awards, totaling $8,500.”

These mentor relationships matter. Recently, Kemi was able to leverage her exceptional academic performance, along with her relationship with Stath, into a new job opportunity. In June 2020, Kemi was approached with a part-time job opportunity as a legal coordinator and project Manager with Tallen Capital Partners LLC, while she completes her final year of law school. Terry Tallen, founder and chief executive officer of Tallen Capital LLC, is also a member of the BMC’s policy advisory board. In her new position, which will commence in August, Kemi will be responsible for the coordination of interactions with outside counsel, organization of company legal documents, processes and procedures. She will work closely with senior management in joint venture structures, capital market activities and retail development and leasing.

In Spring 2020, Kemi was a legal intern at Square One Development Company, based in San Diego. In this role, she assisted the general counsel with commercial loan refinancing, drafted default notices for industrial tenants, prepared memos related to COVID-19 and its effects on contracts and insurance claims, and conducted other legal research and writing work. Previous to this role, Kemi was a legal intern at Realty Income Corporation in San Diego in Spring 2019. She handled various research projects related to real estate and business law matters and revised a number of company forms, legal notices and lease agreements. In Spring 2017, Kemi was a property and market research intern for McKinney Capital and Advisory where she used CoStar to handle market research on a number of commercial real estate properties of interest to clients. During the summers, Kemi also worked with her dad, managing and expanding his real estate portfolio and handling all of their legal-related matters.

Internships play a vital role in developing a solid network of connections which are critical in the real estate industry. Internships provide students with job experience and supplement students’ education by bringing classroom concepts into real-life scenarios. Internships also give students insights into fields they may enjoy as well as those that they may not excel in.

“In my early years of college, I struggled with not knowing exactly which career I wanted to pursue,” says Kemi. “During my junior year at USD, I completed an internship, where I assisted the in-house general counsel at a mid-size business and I enjoyed that internship so much that I set my sights on becoming an in-house lawyer. Internships led me to be very confident in my career choice, and I now know that I will enjoy and be successful in real estate law. I also took the McQuaig behavioral assessment (offered through the BMC) when I was deciding what career path to pursue and that assessment re-affirmed my desire to pursue real estate law.”

Doubling Networking Contacts
A JD/MSRE student gains access to both the BMC’s job opportunities, networking events, and industry connections, as well as those offered through the School of Law. This creates double the opportunities and contacts for the student in both the legal and real estate industries, simultaneously. Students also have the opportunity to listen and learn from successful industry speakers and network with the major real estate players at real estate conferences. The Burnham-Moores Center helps to connect students to key real estate industry players and provides the platforms for students to network with real estate professionals in San Diego and beyond. The center also offers students with unparalleled connections to a real estate alumni network, and its policy advisory board and BMC Real Estate Committee members, who actively engage with USD real estate students.

“One of the many reasons I chose USD for all of my degrees is due to the connections and networking opportunities that the USD School of Business, the Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate and the School of Law provide,” says Kemi. “I have formed close relationships with the faculty at each of these schools, and they took the time to get to know me both professionally and personally. Unlike other larger schools where you are just a number, USD’s individualized approach has led to numerous internship opportunities, mentorships opportunities and full-time job opportunities for me. From day one, it was clear that the faculty cares about me and my future and is willing to reach out to their connections across the world in order for me to succeed.”

Students are also encouraged to join national and local real estate organizations to further their professional connections. Organizations such as CREW (Commercial Real Estate for Women), Lawyers Club of San Diego, NAIOP, and IREM offer student memberships and encourage student involvement.

Breaking Traditional Barriers
While the legal and real estate fields are generally male-dominated, this is changing, and Kemi is breaking through the glass ceiling and helping to put an end to the traditional male-dominated stereotype. During her time in the JD/MSRE program, Kemi feels that she has been given the same opportunities as her male peers and has been embraced as an equal.

“My goal in pursuing this dual-degree program was to stand out among my peers due to my educational experience and real estate expertise, regardless of gender,” says Kemi. “However, I am proud to be a woman in the real estate field, and want to encourage other women to follow in my footsteps.”

Graduating During Unprecedented Times; Advice for Future JD/MSRE Candidates
COVID-19 has thrown a curveball to universities, like USD, which have had to rethink and adapt their teaching model and strategy to offer the best education without interruption for students. Students graduating during these unprecedented times, have also had to adapt, remain flexible and buckle down on their studying habits in an entirely new fashion. Kemi has found a silver lining to this experience and it has given her more time to network and build connections.

“While learning online has been different and challenging at times, it has also given me the opportunity to attend more virtual networking events, reach out to industry professionals, and get involved as much as possible,” says Kemi. Kemi says that if classes end up being online in the Fall 2020 semester, students should get involved early with virtual internships and with clubs and organizations to remain active and involved.

Kemi offered this piece of advice for those considering the dual JD/MSRE program. “Law school is competitive—you are competing for the best grades, internships, and post-grad jobs, so it is critical that you find a way to set yourself apart,” says Kemi. “The JD/MSRE dual-degree program allows you to create a niche in law, and by specializing your education, you are gaining real estate expertise that few law students have. This specialization will help you stand out in the eyes of employers and lead to more opportunities. My JD/MSRE journey has opened up many doors for internships, mentorships and networking opportunities that I know I would not have had access to if I solely pursued my JD.”

Kemi plans to take the California Bar exam once she completes her law degree and looks forward to a fulfilling career in real estate law.

Contact:

Kimberly Malasky
kmalasky@sandiego.edu
(619) 260-4786