Austin legal team adds real estate heavy hitters

Jan 12, 2018
Nick Wagner
Richard Suttle Jr. left, poses with Michael Whelan, who is joining Suttle at the Armbrust & Brown law firm.

One of Central Texas’ preeminent real estate law firms is adding another high-profile attorney to its ranks — a move that brings three influential lawyers handling some of the region’s highest-profile zoning cases under one roof.

Michael Whellan, a former president and shareholder of Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody, is leaving to join Armbrust & Brown.

There, alongside David Armbrust and Richard Suttle Jr. — recognized as some of the area’s top real estate attorneys and lobbyists — the three will continue to shape the development landscape as they maneuver complex and often contentious zoning cases through the city’s political process and maze of land development rules.

The move is significant in Austin’s business and real estate community, said Andy Pastor, a managing principal with Austin-based Endeavor Real Estate Group, one of the region’s major developers.

“There are only a handful of professionals/attorneys in Austin with the unique skill sets that make up the top tier of entitlement attorneys,” Pastor said. “Having Richard, David and Michael under one roof is the first time in history that such entitlement talent, experience and knowledge will be able to collaborate and share their complementary but distinctly different skill sets.” 

Travis Phillips, a former shareholder of Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody, also is moving to Armbrust & Brown. Phillips represents clients in all phases of commercial real estate projects.

The American-Statesman is also a client of Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody.

“Both Michael’s and Travis’ depth of experience and relationships will add to our local presence and enhance our ability to compete in any legal discipline,” said David Armbrust, a founding partner of Armbrust & Brown.

Suttle has been a central figure in the many of the development battles that have shaped Austin’s growth since the mid 1980s.

Both he and Whellan are influential lobbyists, giving them access to city and county decision-makers and their staff — too much access and potential undue influence, some critics would say, compared with average citizens.

But in an interview Tuesday, Suttle said the city’s switch to single-member Council districts has given residents “as good if not better access than ever.”

Whellan agreed, saying the change has “amplified” the neighborhood perspective and voice. He said Austin’s 10 council members “provide thoughtful and appropriate deference to neighborhood representatives.”

Pastor said the city zoning and approvals process “is like a series of battles between and among multiple stakeholders and ultimately a City Council vote. Richard, David and Michael are respected in their ability to manage these conflicts and, with few exceptions, maintain relationships with both sides after the final vote.”

Suttle said the work he and Whellan do “comes with a big responsibility,” namely “balancing the things we all wish hadn’t changed about Austin with the things that need to change to make the city grow and prosper, and it’s nice to have a hand in guiding that.”

Over 34 years, Armbrust & Brown has built a reputation for its legal expertise in multiple areas — from litigation and estate planning to corporate and real estate transactions.