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The Legal 500 Hall of Fame highlights individuals who have received constant praise by their clients for continued excellence. The Hall of Fame highlights, to clients, the law firm partners who are at the pinnacle of the profession. Starting with the United States, the criteria for entry is to have been recognised by The Legal 500 as one of the elite leading lawyers for six consecutive years. Fewer than 500 partners across the entire United States have made it into the inaugural list. These partners are highlighted below and throughout the editorial.

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Infrastructure was the major talking point for the US construction industry in 2016. With years of cuts and ageing roads, rail systems and water pipelines, it has been estimated that $3.6tn is needed to renew the country’s infrastructure and, as a result, many states have already begun to invest in revitalizing the country. Funding has been a concern, as the US market was not quick to take up the public-private partnership (PPP or P3) model, however this attitude has shifted, and many law firms are seeing state authorities open up to this relationship, with numerous PPP infrastructure projects taking place throughout the country. The Golden Gate Bridge PPP is a key project, which is now in an arbitration phase. The new administration has promised major spend on infrastructure and this is keenly awaited by both developers and state authorities.

Closely linked to the ageing infrastructure, and driven by the growing US population, is the national need for affordable housing. This permeates across the country, as New York, Houston and the West Coast are seeing developers build mixed-use, multi-story housing, many with thousands of residential units built in with commercial, retail and green spaces. These developments echo the demand for urban living that is affordable and that focuses on helping communities thrive. In order meet these social demands, many states have also imposed affordable housing requirements on developers. The $20bn Hudson Yards development in New York is the largest real estate construction project in the US currently and is paving the way for mixed-use, high-rise developments, with several residential buildings combined with business, retail and entertainment venues. Social infrastructure is also a major growth area and, as a further result of an increasing and ageing population, healthcare has seen an uptick; there are numerous medical and hospital facilities under construction, particularly in the northeastern and southern states, with many being funded through the PPP model.

Most lawyers report a downturn in the appetite for formal dispute resolution, as both owners and contractors are looking to lower the costs of litigation and arbitration. Mediation is fast becoming the preferred form of resolution, as it considerably lowers costs. Law firms are receptive to this and are typically shifting focus to suit the needs of clients. Texas, and particularly Houston, remains the center for energy disputes, and with the drop in oil prices many Texas-based firms are working with energy owners on high-value disputes. The Panama Canal arbitration continues to be one of the largest ongoing disputes, with Mayer Brown and Vinson & Elkins LLP representing the canal authority and White & Case LLP acting for the consortium.

The practice of land use and zoning law is a regional, even local one, as laws, policies and regulations are all dictated by the state and city authorities. Accordingly, different states across the country have idiosyncrasies that can only be managed by lawyers who are well versed in the policies and procedures of the local authority. This is also a highly political area of the law, and as such requires political nous and strategic management in order to obtain the necessary approvals. The ranking table highlights firms which are able to manage the entire approvals process and includes practices with expertise across numerous jurisdictions as well as those with a focus on one or a few key jurisdictions. Land use practices are often small and typically based around the detailed knowledge of just a handful of individuals.

The major centers for real estate and infrastructure development, and therefore land use, are California and New York, but many states and cities across the country are in development phases, including Florida, Texas, New Jersey and Washington DC. The West Coast is renowned for its onerous and highly public planning processes; the California Environmental Quality Act 1970 (CEQA), which places strict environmental requirements on developers, continues to see amendments and updates, including in relation climate change and renewable energy constraints. The involvement of the public in planning approvals also places added obstacles for land use lawyers across the country. New York land use attorneys often have to deal with complex air rights and rezoning matters, but also have an ‚Äėas of right‚Äô system in place where developers do not need to go through such substantial approvals processes, making development a quicker process at times.

The need for affordable and multifamily housing in urban areas is a national trend and many states have placed a requirement on developers to produce a certain amount of affordable housing, often in some of the most expensive residential areas in the country. The volume of infrastructure projects is on the rise and with the new administration in place from January 2017, the country - including land use and real estate attorneys - is waiting to see if there will be a much-needed increase in infrastructure spend.

Despite getting off to a comparatively slow start after a bonanza 2015, the 2016 US real estate market remained highly active, with product types such as self-storage, multifamily and hospitality proving particularly popular with real estate acquirers. Furthermore, there was no let-up in foreign buyers - ranging from sovereign wealth funds to insurance groups - whose investments included more than $85bn in US commercial assets. Chinese investors continued to lead the charge, albeit with a change of strategy, moving focus from trophy office buildings in New York to real estate in secondary gateways such as Miami, Seattle and Boston. Notwithstanding, New York still enjoyed its fair share of the action, with one of the larger deals being the $1.65bn purchase of 1285 Sixth Avenue by RXR Realty.

Beneath the thriving exterior, however, a number of concern areas were noticeable. The CMBS market dropped sharply in 2016 and was further undermined by new regulatory changes, scheduled to take effect on December 24, requiring lenders to retain a 5% slice of each CMBS deal for five years. In addition, China announced in November a clampdown on foreign acquisitions, including halting foreign real estate purchases of more than $1bn by state-owned enterprises. The anticipated rise in US interest rates, which never arrived in 2016, coupled with the new Donald Trump presidency - heralding a more isolationist foreign policy - are additional factors that might make 2017 a trickier year for real estate lawyers.

In the REIT space in 2016, while law firms reported increased M&A activity, the capital markets sector (including public offerings and equity transactions) slowed. Due to high interest rates - a common threat for mortgage REITs - the majority of public REITs traded at disappointing levels and generated dividends below asset value, which is why companies relied more on strategic expansions or disposals of business units rather than securities offerings on public indexes. In addition, a new regulation from the IRS and Treasury Department put a halt to tax-free REIT spin-offs from corporate businesses, which presents a challenge for lawyers to structure around. While the spin-off restriction was included in the 2015 PATH Act, it reinstated a rule (that had been inactive since 2008) by which companies engaging in spin-offs cannot convert to or become part of a REIT for the following ten years without tax bill consequences.

On the non-traded front, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) rules changed the way brokers report the values of shares, thus enforcing a diversity of asset classes in a portfolio. The most successful ones currently lie in the hospitality, lodging, data center and single-family home sectors.

In September 2016, the Standard & Poor 500 instigated another major change in the market by introducing REITs as a separate sector - the first addition since 1999. For investors, this will mean necessary portfolio restructurings and the reallocation of assets to ensure they are weighted properly. It could also mean that the new division attracts even more capital than it did as part of the lower-performing financials group, whose dividend yield will now drop.

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