Dustin Van Deman – Hines
Not many 10-year-olds growing up in East Texas commit to becoming a lawyer in elementary school, but young Dustin Van Deman was one of them—and he never deviated from his plan.
Growing up in the quiet town of Frankston—population 1,209 and home of Frank Beard, the drummer for ZZ Top—Van Deman says he didn’t come from a family of lawyers; he simply thought the profession suited his strengths.
Today, he’s a corporate counsel in real estate for Houston-based Hines, one of the largest real estate investment, development and management firms in the world.
Transitioning out of private practice and getting up to speed at an industry-leading company like Hines was not always easy, Van Deman says, but in his mind there’s no better place to work as a real estate attorney in Houston.
Now part of an ambitious young group of attorneys, Van Deman’s excitement stems, in part, from the incredible growth happening at Hines—owing to tenants’ and investors’ flight to quality real estate and the firm’s desire to be at the forefront of innovative and high-quality assets.
To keep pace, he’s involved in many of the product types in the Hines portfolio—including retail centers, office buildings, industrial complexes, senior living communities, multifamily projects and, most recently, self-storage.
“Hines participates and innovates in every sector of commercial real estate, and we are primed to grow,” Van Deman says. “I’m lucky I get to see a lot of different types of projects. Never a dull moment.”
Development through diversification
Founded in 1957, the privately held company has developed almost 1,400 properties and currently manages more than 500, in 205 cities across 24 countries.
That’s certainly kept Van Deman and the legal department busy on multiple fronts, including a new spoke of the business started two years ago: self-storage platforms. Here, the Hines team is actively developing and acquiring strategic properties to add to the mix of the firm’s diverse portfolio.
Last summer, he supported the business with two big-ticket items: handling the sale of a 550-unit apartment community and the sale of a large Class A office building in Florida, he notes, all while continuing to support the expansion of the firm’s third-party property management business.
In that space, the company is currently expanding its facilities management services for organizations valuing management services for large campuses or portfolios of office space.
“Those types of contracts entrust Hines with dozens of buildings to look after and maintain as a trusted advisor and partner to the client,” Van Deman says.
Keeping it real
It’s that love of working in real estate law—combined with the art of crunching the numbers in financial transactions—that created an optimal career for Van Deman.
Tapping into his interest in studying finance and real estate during his college and law school days, he graduated from the University of Texas at Tyler in 2011, and then made good on his childhood dream of earning a J.D. at Texas Tech University School of Law. He graduated from both schools summa cum laude.
Van Deman’s first job out of law school at Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr—initially in the Dallas office before transitioning to Houston—gave him a chance to put it all together, working in real estate law with a twin focus on finance and real estate transactions.
“I love the fact that real estate is tangible,” he says. “You can work on something and see the fruits of your labors afterward in the buildings themselves, and the communities you’ve helped enhance.”
A self-professed ‘numbers nerd’, Van Deman enjoys the business and financing aspects of this legal work—made better by working with his team to achieve the desired end result: a successful transaction.
“You’re trying to work toward the same goal,” he says. “It’s not, by nature, contentious like litigation can be.”
Taking the next step
When Van Deman was given the opportunity to join Hines in 2019—just five years into his legal career—his first thought was, “Why wait?”
While the decision to move in-house to the client side was not one he took lightly, doing so ultimately offered him an opportunity work on a wider variety of sophisticated transactions. It also allowed him to collaborate more closely with executives to assist in making calculated decisions and provided him the opportunity to flex his real estate muscles.
The transition would’ve been much harder without the support of his wife, Alie, a Houston native and attorney. Van Deman also credits his success to his mentors, including his boss Richard Heaton, a senior vice president and the head of legal at Hines, as well as the attorneys from his prior law firm.
“With a strong in-house team continuing to grow to meet Hines’ ever-evolving needs, it feels like I can help chart our destiny and create my own path,” he says.
Van Deman believes that first job out of law school is one that prepared him for this role more than anything else, enabling him to start out as a new attorney at Hines without being “green.”
“I had the chance to work on a wide variety of things,” he says. “In some law firms attorneys get pigeonholed into one task. There, I worked on acquisitions, dispositions, development deals and construction financing. That variety gave me the confidence I needed when tackling something new.”
His confidence in the leadership and direction of Hines as a whole, and the legal group led by Heaton, is what he says ultimately persuaded him to join their team.
“It was something I felt like I couldn’t miss out on,” he says.
Up until 2013, Hines didn’t have a dedicated in-house legal group, relying on a network of outside counsel. But in the past seven years, the firm has built a team of specialized attorneys in the United States and Europe, and a full administrative staff to support it.
Being part of a high-powered, global legal team is an exciting development Van Deman says he couldn’t have imagined all those years ago in Frankston.
“To be part of the growing legal group, proving ourselves and seeing how important it is to Hines and our investor partners is a great feeling,” Van Deman adds. “I know we’re helping guide the business in the right direction by asking the right questions and building trust. It keeps the practice of law fresh and our team on its toes … and it’s fun to push yourself and accept the challenges with a group committed to supporting excellence in the built environment.”
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