What does it take to be the leading real estate attorney—now not most effective inside the state, not simplest inside the usa, but inside the entire freaking world? Nina matis, the contemporary champion (in line with the 2006 who’s who felony awards), doesn’t have a clue. Matis, fifty nine, admits that even she is flabbergasted with the aid of her profession. She’s a accomplice in her firm, katten muchin rosenman, and a member of its government committee and board of directors. She’s additionally wellknown counsel and executive vp at istar economic inc., a finance agency focused on the industrial real estate enterprise and based totally in the big apple metropolis. Whilst pressed, she’ll communicate about what’s labored for her: smarts and personality, really. Also being at the proper vicinity at the proper time. And—curiously—now not putting goals. “you can’t are expecting lifestyles,” she says rely-of-factly one heat august afternoon over tea at chicago’s peninsula resort. “you could’t plan it. You need to go together with it. You need to keep your eyes open and take gain of what’s offered.” matis, exuding power and looking more youthful than her years, is dressed in a teal silk shirt jacket, dressy black pants and pointy leather shoes—evidence of her lifelong flair for fashion. While she’s perfectly at domestic within the stylish two-story ballroom wherein a cellist and violinist play classical tune for a crowd nibbling on delicate sandwiches, matis is hardly ever one to put on airs. Raised in a middle-magnificence circle of relatives on big apple, she has a nononsense, down-to-earth first-class that extends to her work, in which customers are pals as well as enterprise buddies. Lots of her customers had been along with her for more than 25 years. “we've great trust,” she says. “they realize i agree with they may be greater to me than the supply of a bill.” matis is also deeply dedicated to her family. A dedicated sister, daughter and mom, she proudly recalls how, on the current wedding of her son and most effective toddler, garson fischer, 30, a chicago lawyer, “everybody” became there: her fiancé’s kids and grandchildren as well as her “stepchildren”—the offspring of a person she lived with for a decade. What’s captivating approximately this down-to-earth, pinnacle-ranked legal professional is that she in no way meant to turn out to be a lawyer inside the first area—least of all in the company international. Both parents set a high bar. “[my mother] become very competitive approximately my brother [louis] and that i doing properly in school. I used to be sort of hewlett excessive college. I did the yearbook and cheerleading. I was very “rah, rah!” the question wasn’t in case you were going to college. It became wherein.” when matis changed into in 5th grade, her mom, eileen, now 80, got her grasp’s degree and taught primary school for years. Her father, robert, who passed away seven years ago at age seventy five, held a grasp’s diploma in metropolis planning. Like his father, he owned a pawnshop. According to louis matis, fifty six, a biotech entrepreneur from connecticut, his sister may be very much like their father: an eternal optimist who is extraordinarily dedicated to circle of relatives. Whilst matis headed off to smith university in 1955 (harvard and yale weren’t alternatives for girls, she reminds us), she hoped to emerge as a health practitioner. However science beaten her, so she switched to political science and determined a passion for studying records, politics and the soviet union. She even fantasized approximately turning into an envoy to the soviet union, but upon interviewing for a variety of access-degree jobs in washington, d. C., in hopes of working her manner up, she determined such jobs held little enchantment for her. “some thing my grandiose concept turned into, [being an ambassador] became not going to be my career.” at that factor, she set her attractions on regulation faculty and enrolled at the big apple college. “in my own family, you either became a attorney or a medical doctor,” says matis, who ended up following inside the footsteps of her maternal grandfather, a legal professional. She additionally may also have been inspired by means of her fantastic-uncle, jay lovestone, one-time head of a splinter american communist celebration, and an adviser to the heads of the afl-cio. While she graduated in 1972, she’d hoped to practice labor regulation. “i concept [that] could be brilliant,” she says. “helping individuals who couldn’t help themselves.” at some point of the summer time earlier than her 1/3 year of regulation faculty, although, matis traveled by myself for 3 months thru europe. Besides gaining a superb experience of self-sufficiency, she met a person, an american, on the educate to zurich. They discovered they were inside the identical law school class, started to peer each other and sooner or later became engaged. After commencement, the couple settled in chicago, and matis landed on the firm now called arnstein & lehr. “i informed them i actually desired to be a litigator,” recalls matis. “they stated they needed a person in company law.” she took the job but held out hope, telling the legal professionals inside the litigation department that she still desired to do trial law. “they laughed,” she says. “they stated: ‘the head of litigation will in no way lease a lady litigator.’” standard, although, the company was pretty gender-blind, she says. “the best issue being a lady intended to them turned into that in positive instances they needed to be more courteous.” matis didn’t even realise she became the first female legal professional on the company, and while she located out, she didn’t placed a lot idea into what that intended. “i by no means thought, ‘i’m a woman so i have to attempt harder.’ … i wore what i desired: crimson fits, lengthy skirts, short skirts. It simply had to be suitable in my mind. They didn’t recognize what i have to put on.” matis recalls praying she wouldn’t get fired earlier than her one-12 months evaluate. She turned into shocked once they instructed her that her paintings changed into extra special. “for a long term i felt like i used to be a fraud and a phony,” says matis. “[but] that drove me.” whilst she got pregnant in 1975, the company, uncertain the way to handle her approaching motherhood, despatched a accomplice’s spouse to ask a physician how a lot paid depart they ought to supply matis. “that changed into unparalleled,” matis says. “i hadn’t even requested for that. It was unbelievable how modern they have been.” it was additionally at arnstein & lehr that matis met her mentor, stuart greenberger, who would trade the direction of her professional existence. A senior companion with whom she labored closely for numerous years, greenberger called her in the course of her maternity leave that summer of 1976: “we’re leaving [the firm] and you’re coming as a companion,” he informed her. Matis didn’t hesitate. “i couldn’t pass it up. He become a excellent lawyer.” while she offered to go back her maternity pay to arnstein & lehr, her now-former bosses wouldn’t have it. “implausible,” she still says today. Over the next decade, in her new role at greenberger and kaufmann, matis labored at greenberger’s facet doing excessive-stop real estate deals: the marriott in chicago, copley area in boston, and pebble beach in california amongst them. When greenberger became diagnosed with brain most cancers in 1985 (he died a year later), he felt the handiest manner to preserve the firm alive turned into to merge with every other firm. “one purpose [for the merger] he stated turned into that he didn’t assume every other partner within the firm should genuinely carry within the commercial enterprise,” matis recollects. “it wasn’t like [that comment] became directed at me however given i used to be a partner, i felt a bit put down by means of it.” as a end result, while the company merged into katten in 1986, matis admits her self belief turned into a chunk shaky. But matis soon observed her value. Allan muchin, a founding partner with katten, says he instructed her it became her name that got here up again and again as the one to fill greenberger’s footwear. “i advised her, ‘you can do something you want.’ she had precise judgment. She is aware of the way to do the deal. Not just what’s wrong with it,” muchin says. Then there was a assembly in aspen, with a client she assumed stayed with the firm out of loyalty to greenberger. As a substitute, she turned into instructed, it become sincerely because of her. Not handiest did they price her abilities as a lawyer, they observed how each day whilst the clock hit 4:30 she’d name home and ask, “how changed into college?” “we love that about you,” they advised her. Matis says that her being a lady in a person’s international has probable helped extra than hurt. A lot of fellows she’s handled recall her. “i was the most effective one who became truely exceptional inside the room. I had a new york accent and didn’t wear a blue suit.” as for sexism, which include being fallacious for a secretary within the early years of her profession, she by no means allow it trouble her. She laughingly recollects one time in chicago when she walked in for a patron assembly. One of the experts on the opposite aspect of the deal requested her to get them a few coffee. “my client almost fainted. I didn’t care,” she says. “i served them all coffee. Then the purchaser brought me as his attorney. They felt lousy. I informed them it was k, i get coffee for my secretary all of the time.” that secretary, diane wilkens, likens matis to a sister. They’ve labored together for 28 years. “she treats absolutely everyone like they are the most vital individual within the international,” says wilkens, calling matis relatively generous with both time and money. She’ll never forget about the way matis supported her while wilkens’ father died in 1993. “she got here to the wake at 2 p. M. And stayed until 10 p. M. She become back the next morning for the funeral and went to the grave. Not many human beings, tons less bosses, could extend themselves like that.” matis has additionally made a point of being a very good mentor to the company’s younger attorneys, including andrew small, who became employed in 1989. Small says matis is the purpose he came again for a second interview. “i used to be so impressed together with her. She become very sincere and simple,” he says, recalling how their 20-minute interview on the university of chicago morphed into hours. As a mentor, he says, “she usually gave me a little bit more responsibility than i thought i ought to deal with.” matis is the overall suggest for katten patron istar economic and consults on all of their deals. “i really like doing the business side,” she says. “i like the deal, the negotiation, the buying.” in keeping with ceo jay sugarman, “the primary deal i ever did become with nina. I never wanted every body else as my legal professional.” he calls her tireless. “she’s the best i recognise at reducing through a criminal logjam.” matis, who robotically handles transactions valued in extra of $500 million, is aware of what works for her. “i can be a complete ache within the ass, however i realize it so i’m lighthearted approximately it,” she says, adding that one colleague at istar refers to her style as “nina’s world.” “it’s a manner of doing commercial enterprise,” she explains. “simply pronouncing what desires to be said and cutting via the crap.” she also cuts through the crap approximately herself. She admits she may be shy, hypersensitive and now not very organized. Her disorganization is legend on the company. Wilkens remembers how matis, who raised her son as a single mom for several years, might regularly forget about to call a person returned and would miss paying payments at home. Wilkens supplied to assist; matis in the end common. Provides small with fondness, “i used to call her a savant. I used to say she should out-negotiate all people i ever met, but may want to get lost on the manner to an airport she’s been to 100 times.” if matis has any secrets to success, they relate to what she tells the firm’s summer pals, particularly the women: “the simplest man or woman you need to recognize the way to be is your self. The idea of being a certain manner to achieve success disturbs me. Pick the components you can do.” as for herself, she’s lightened up. “ten years in the past i felt if i’m no longer brilliant at [something], like golfing, i don’t need all people to see me do it. Now i’ll do it,” she says. “you discover ways to be a person of well worth. It doesn’t suggest you’re the nice at everything.” no, simply the satisfactory in real estate regulation. Inside the complete freaking international.