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Lica Tomizuka
Lica Tomizuka has worked on several downtown Minneapolis projects, including negotiations related to new and existing skyways. (Submitted photo)

Breaking the Ice: Hidden details add intrigue to real estate practice

Name: Lica Tomizuka

Title: Partner, Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath

Education: B.A., biology and Asian studies; J.D., University of Minnesota Law School

Lica Tomizuka, partner at Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath, knows people enjoy the convenience of skyways without considering who owns them or how they have a right to walk through a building’s second floor.

But Tomizuka enjoys digging into such hidden details as part of her commercial real estate practice. She has worked on several downtown Minneapolis projects, including negotiations related to new and existing skyways.

“It’s fun to have a hand in drafting these things that will have an impact on such a large community,” said Tomizuka, whose downtown projects include the Nic on Fifth luxury apartment high-rise and adjacent Xcel Energy headquarters expansion.

Tomizuka, who joined the Minneapolis Downtown Council board in February, said this is “an extremely unique and challenging time for downtown” with many working from home and crime increasing.

“People are hopeful that things will get better as businesses start coming back, vaccines are distributed and people feel comfortable traveling,” Tomizuka said.

Q: What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A: Look me in the eye, be positive and enthusiastic about whatever you’re talking about.

Q: Why did you study law and pursue it as a career?

A: I was in the Peace Corps in Zimbabwe from ’97 to ’99. Various branches of the Zimbabwean government were doing bad and unlawful things. I was a pre-med student until that point. I thought maybe going to law school might give me the tools to help address the injustices that were taking place in Zimbabwe. I’ve taken a couple of turns — I’m a real estate lawyer — but that was the genesis.

Q: What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A: “The Color of Law” by Richard Rothstein. “Daring Greatly” by Brené Brown. “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” by Daniel Kahneman. One that I want to read, that won the 2020 National Book Award is “Interior Chinatown,” Charles Yu.

Q: What do you like best about your work?

A: Working as part of a team with inspiring, kind and smart people at the firm and at our clients. I get to help clients with their real estate deals. I get to help advance diversity and inclusion within the firm and the community. I get to help organizations effect positive change in our community through board service.

Q: What do you least like about it?

A: I don’t have enough hours in the day.

Q: What do you do away from work?

A: Hang out with my husband and our two sons. They’re 6 and 9 and very active.

Q: If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do there?

A: Berkeley, California, is where I was born and raised, so I’ll always refer to it as my hometown. I would take my guest to see some beautiful views of the Bay and surrounding areas and have a meal at one of the incredible and inexpensive restaurants near the UC Berkeley campus.

Q: Is there an attorney or judge, past or present, whom you most admire? Why?

A: Charlie Farrell, a retired partner at my firm. He was my mentor, my sponsor, my “work dad.” He was always super proactive in giving me regular positive and constructive feedback. He shared with me that he was committed to seeing me succeed at the firm.

Q: What’s a misconception people have about your work as an attorney?

A: People might think that deals are like Legos. It comes in a kit and the pieces fit together really nicely. But the reality is that deals are more like three-dimensional sculptures with various materials. But you figure out a way to make it good enough. The glue holding the sculpture together — hard work, technical skills and also soft skills that you don’t learn from law school or from books.

Q: What’s a favorite book, movie or TV show about lawyers or the legal profession?

A: “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson. Very moving, very inspiring.

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