Peter Weil Talks 35 Years of Transformation at Glaser Weil

Peter Weil has been one of Century City’s go-to experts in real estate and corporate law for decades, manning the legal side of developments that have shaped the climate of Los Angeles and beyond. He’s done all that while managing an ever-evolving, prominent law firm. It’s all in a day’s work.

Weil co-founded his firm, Glaser Weil, in 1988 and has acted as managing partner for the past 15 years. Weil and his partners exited a larger firm for the chance to start a platform they believed in; 35 years later, the highly successful full-service firm now boasts around 100 attorneys across practice areas including employment, entertainment, environmental, financial services, intellectual property, litigation and construction law. The diverse firm, with a brand that signifies power, is recognized as a top midsize law firm and holds offices in Century City, Newport Beach, San Diego and San Francisco.

In addition to his leadership in the firm, Weil has had a storied legal career; he has been a key part of innovative business acquisitions, corporate transactions, real estate developments and more across L.A. and beyond. While his client roster includes Fortune 500 companies and prominent real estate investors and developers, some of his most noteworthy dealings are with movie studios and entertainment companies. In the early-to-mid 2000s, he served as lead outside counsel for MGM Mirage during the construction of the $9B, 20-million-square-foot CityCenter – the largest privately funded construction project in the U.S. Weil and his team managed construction contracts, financing, insurance, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design compliance and other legal aspects of the project. Today, CityCenter, now called Aria Campus, occupies 67 acres of the Las Vegas Strip and is home to major hotels, condominiums and two expansive malls.

Weil also represented MGM Studios in its lease of 400,000 feet of a high-rise office tower in L.A., which the firm says is the largest-dollar lease in L.A. County. In addition, he’s represented Columbia Pictures, Raleigh Studios, the American Broadcasting Company and others in the sales of L.A. production studios. He also represented both real estate and corporate clients in restructuring billions of dollars in loans during the Great Recession.

Weil’s commitment to leadership and the development of his community is clear outside his firm as well: He is a past president of the City of Los Angeles Planning Commission, a past chair of the City of Los Angeles Board of Zoning Appeals, and a member and the immediate past chair of the board of trustees of the Skirball Cultural Center. He also served as president of the Century City Bar Association and president of the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Jewish Committee.

Lawdragon: Glaser Weil celebrated its 35th anniversary this year. How has the firm changed over the years?

Peter Weil: Over the years, Glaser Weil has undergone significant transformations. Today, the firm boasts a notably broader and more diverse client base. We’ve maintained our status as a litigation powerhouse with substantial real estate and corporate practices. In many respects, our core practices have remained consistent throughout our history. In fact, during the inaugural year of our firm, we closed two of the largest corporate deals in the country, even with fewer than 30 lawyers on board. While our firm has grown since then, remarkably, a significant number of attorneys who began this journey with us remain part of our team to this day, including – in addition to Patty Glaser and me – Barry Fink, Brett Cohen, Carolyn Jordan, Dan Jordan, James Schreier and Sean Riley.

My colleagues and I were all partners and associates at a prominent, well-established firm that, over time, had grown excessively large and bureaucratic. In response, we made the bold choice to start our own firm.

LD: How did you come to found Glaser Weil? What opportunities has it provided you over the years?

PW: The founding of Glaser Weil was a result of a pivotal decision. My colleagues and I were all partners and associates at a prominent, well-established firm that, over time, had grown excessively large and bureaucratic. In response, we made the bold choice to start our own firm. It was an unconventional move at the time, and we were not entirely sure how it would unfold. What we quickly discovered was that many clients are fiercely loyal to their individual lawyers rather than to the firm those lawyers work for.

Establishing Glaser Weil allowed me to cultivate a thriving practice in corporate and real estate law and gave me the opportunity to actively engage in meaningful community activities. In 2008, I assumed the role of managing partner; during my tenure, my focus has been on diversifying our client base, supporting my partners to be even more successful and attracting talented lateral hires.

LD: You are the Weil of Glaser Weil. Can you speak to your relationship with Patty Glaser?

PW: Patty and I did not start out as close friends during our time at our previous firm, mainly due to our differing roles – I focused on corporate and real estate matters, while she was in litigation. I tend to favor building a consensus, whereas Patty can be more direct and assertive. Together, we strike a balance that helps us find effective solutions, which has led to a very complementary relationship. And now, of course, she is one of my best friends.

Our working dynamic is built on trust and mutual respect, and we align on fundamental values – one of which is the belief that our success is a collective endeavor. We both recognize the importance of all of us, not just one of us, winning.

LD: Speaking of which, which accomplishments are you most proud of, in terms of both the firm’s development and any particular legal matters the firm has handled over the years?

PW: The achievements I am most proud of are twofold. First, the reputation and respect Glaser Weil has garnered in the legal community, and second, our active involvement in various community and civic activities.

One noteworthy legal matter that stands out for me is our work with the CityCenter project, which involved advising MGM Mirage on one of the largest privately funded construction projects in U.S. history. This $9B, 20-million-square-foot, mixed-use project in Las Vegas faced significant challenges, especially when the 2008 financial crisis hit, pushing the project to the brink of bankruptcy and affecting its critical international investor. Our dedicated team of lawyers collaborated closely with the project’s managers and other consultants, numbering more than 500 individuals. Notably, the ultimate client was the iconic entrepreneur Kirk Kerkorian, whom we represented until his passing. Mr. Kerkorian sought us out because of our ability to devise innovative solutions to help him achieve his complex goals. CityCenter held special significance for me, as it coincided with my first year as managing partner and presented significant challenges that I had to navigate. The experience instilled in me a mindset that has continued to guide me throughout my tenure as managing partner.

LD: Looking back, how did you first become interested in law? Was there an early experience that really helped shape the course of your young professional life?

We all seek recognition and importance, and as a leader, part of my role is to ensure that each team member understands their significance in our collective effort.

PW: It all began during my undergraduate years, when I was a history major with a particular fascination with American legal history. I was drawn to the subject, and as a graduate student I focused my research on antidiscrimination laws after the Civil War, a period rich in historical significance. In addition to the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education, the Jim Crow laws intrigued me because they shed light on the complex relationship between laws and societal attitudes. I discovered that during a transitional period in the late 1800s, there were no rigid Jim Crow laws in place in various regions. African Americans could still use public transportation without the imposition of strict segregation. It was only when these laws were introduced that systematic segregation took hold. This realization deepened my interest in the intersection of law and society.

LD: Coming back to the present, can you talk a little about some of the challenges associated with serving as managing partner that have surprised you, and how you have dealt with those?

PW: Serving as managing partner comes with a distinct set of challenges, many of which you cannot prepare for and aren’t addressed in law school. Much of what I’ve learned has been through experience, including several disappointments and failures, and observing other leaders in the field.

I’ve observed over time that lawyers are often risk-averse, and I learned the benefit of understanding when to step outside the box and take calculated risks. Challenges do arise, and I often joke with my colleagues about how many times they have heard me say no. (It’s not many.) I remain open to new ideas as long as they make sense. I’ve learned the importance of admitting when you’ve made a wrong decision and being willing to change course. That can be difficult for leaders, but both are valuable skills. In both professional and personal contexts, acknowledging mistakes and offering a simple apology can often quickly resolve conflicts.

LD: How do you describe your leadership style?

PW: I have found that building consensus and working closely with my partners have been essential. It’s important to engage with everyone – the most-tenured professionals at the firm and laterals alike – to make sure they all have an opportunity to contribute their voices and feel like integral parts of our firm’s fabric. That is often not a quick process; it’s about acknowledging and valuing individuality while aligning everyone in the same direction. We need to have common values in how we operate the business.

LD: What are the largest strategic priorities of the firm today?

PW: One of the most rewarding endeavors and a strategic priority for us in recent years has been to identify and nurture the next generation of leaders within our firm. Many have wondered what the future holds for Glaser Weil when senior figures like Patty and me eventually step aside. In response, we have taken a proactive approach to developing this next generation.

To support this strategic goal, we have welcomed the addition of a chief business development and marketing officer, Carla Cogan, who also holds the title of chief strategy officer, to advise on all things strategic across the firm. Since Carla joined the firm, we have expanded processes to identify exceptional lawyers who not only excel in their legal skills but also possess the leadership qualities necessary to guide our firm forward. We are actively working to ensure that Glaser Weil continues to thrive in the future.

LD: How do you spend most of your time?

Serving as managing partner comes with a distinct set of challenges, many of which you cannot prepare for and aren’t addressed in law school.

PW: First and foremost, I’m actively involved in recruiting efforts, ensuring that we bring in top talent to contribute to our firm’s growth. Managing our real estate footprint is another significant focus, as it plays a vital role in our operations and strategy. A substantial portion of my time is also dedicated to addressing day-to-day administrative tasks and managing the basics – what I call “blocking and tackling.”

Dealing with the dynamics of a law firm with over 100 lawyers can be challenging. I find myself regularly working to keep everyone on the same page, despite the diverse range of personalities on the team. In this environment, it’s not uncommon for colleagues to drop by and request a few minutes to discuss a matter. As any leader knows, they’re not in your office to tell you they’re having a great day and they just want to share it. These encounters often revolve around addressing their concerns.

It is important to me and essential for the health of the firm to ensure everyone feels valued, as they genuinely are. We all seek recognition and importance, and as a leader, part of my role is to ensure that each team member understands their significance in our collective effort. For the past 35 years, we’ve been more than a business – we’ve been a family. It’s about nurturing and supporting people, not just as employees but also as individuals with lives outside the office. Patty shares this outlook. We have worked hard to create a family-like environment, where we support one another during times of crisis or need.

LD: You are in the midst of a significant rebranding. Why is that important to the firm? How’s that going, and how will it reflect where the firm is headed?

PW: We want to ensure that our firm’s identity and messaging accurately reflect who we are today and where we aim to be in the future. Our firm has evolved over the years, and it’s important that our brand evolves with it.

The rebranding process is progressing well, and we are excited about the direction it’s taking. It’s not just about a new logo and website; it’s about aligning our visual identity and messaging with our core values, our strategic priorities and the high level of service we provide to our clients. It reflects our commitment to collaboration, innovation and adaptability to meet the ever-changing landscape and challenges of the legal industry. We want our brand to resonate with our clients, both existing and potential, and to communicate our dedication to providing exceptional legal services.

In essence, this rebranding is an investment in our future, aimed at ensuring that our firm remains vibrant and relevant as we continue to serve our clients and community for many years to come.

LD: For many years you were chair of the Skirball Cultural Center Board of Trustees, and you have headed a number of other civic and community organizations. Can you speak a bit about your community involvement and what these associations mean to you?

PW: I’m proud to have served eight years as chair and to continue to serve on the board of trustees of the Skirball Center. The Skirball does great work for the community and is a safe place that welcomes diverse communities and promotes connections among them. The world needs more of that right now. The organization has contributed greatly to the cultural fabric of Los Angeles.

LD: What do you want your legacy to be?

PW: An aspiration for my legacy is to leave behind a firm that is well prepared for the future. In our efforts to develop the next generation of leaders, we are equipping them with all the necessary tools for success. It’s now their responsibility to seize those opportunities and make our collective vision a reality.

Glaser Weil is a dynamic firm that takes pride in its identity and is dedicated to preparing a new generation to carry the torch for at least another 35 years. I hope my legacy is one of effective, forward-thinking leadership and positioning the firm for sustained success in the years to come.