Practice area highlights
James H. Abrams gets to see San Francisco in a
way few people do.
He doesn’t just enjoy visiting the newly en-
larged San Francisco Museum of Modern Art;
he helped get a fire station moved to make the
He’s not just another music lover enjoying the
dazzling SFJAZZ Center—the first standalone
building in the country designed for jazz—he
worked with First Republic Bank on financing
From the Presidio to the burgeoning port
along the bay—both of which are included in the
sweeping views from his 40th-floor office at Four
Embarcadero Center—Abrams has helped shape
the landscape of his adopted city.
A partner at Greene Radovsky Maloney Share
& Hennigh, Abrams all but fell into the practice
of law after early careers in government and real
estate. He spends considerable time on pro bono
work in addition to his paying projects, and one
often leads into the other.
Even though he often serves in the classi-
cally capitalist worlds of finance and real estate,
Abrams, 63, is just as liberal socially as in 1968,
when he was a middle school student in St.
Louis, knocking on doors for Eugene McCarthy.
He maintains an interest in politics, and in the
past five presidential elections has volunteered
as a voter-protection lawyer, both in his native
Missouri and in Nevada. In Missouri, he says, he
saw voter suppression ranging from demands
for photo identification when it wasn’t required,
to forcing people to stand outside in the rain
even though there was room inside.
Abrams came West to earn his undergraduate
degree in political science at Stanford University,
following that with a master’s in public policy
at UC Berkeley. After working for the Urban
Institute and the House Rules Committee in
D.C., he returned to California as Ronald Reagan
swept into office. He spent five years in Bank of
America’s government relations department,
then three years handling finance and planning
for the senior executives in charge of real estate.
“It was only three years, but I talk about it like it
was forever,” Abrams says. “In terms of my cur-
rent career, it was formative.”
James H. Abrams
MALONEY SHARE &
Future by Design
How real estate lawyer James Abrams has helped shape his adopted town
BY DAN FOST
“I knew I did not want to work at a big law firm,”
He fell in love with real estate work, and as the
bank was downsizing in the late 1980s, Abrams
merged his interest in real estate with an old
dream of going to law school. He pursued his JD at
Berkeley’s Boalt Hall.
he says. Instead, he started as a summer associate
at Greene Radovsky. More than 25 years later, he’s
“At a large firm, you can get pigeonholed, but
I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of different
things,” he says.
He has represented both lenders and borrow-
ers, giving him valuable insight into how each
side approaches a deal. “I think it makes me a
much better lawyer,” he says. “More practical and
His knowledge of real estate also helped him
in his personal life. He bought his home in the
South Beach neighborhood in 2002, just after the
dotcoms went bust.
Abrams is a wine-lover and collector, and his
firm has represented Francis Ford Coppola from
the filmmaker’s earliest forays into the wine
business. “He started small, with a small plot
in Napa, and now he’s a major wine producer,”
It’s Abrams’ job to help Coppola buy and finance
vineyards and facilities. “It’s the dirt,” Abrams
says. “It’s the best part.” He also helps wineries
with issues involving water—that all-too-precious
resource in California—and negotiates easements,
railroad track crossings, and all sorts of other real
Abrams loves the performing arts and regularly
attends the city’s opera, symphony, ballet and
modern dance performances. He’s played the clarinet since grade school. Though he doesn’t perform
publicly, he still takes lessons—at the Community
Music Center, a little-known gem occupying a Victorian in San Francisco’s Mission District. Abrams
is the CMC’s pro bono attorney.
As that neighborhood started to gentrify, the
owners of the Victorian next door wanted to sell;
Abrams helped the CMC close the deal. With ac-
claimed architect Mark Cavagnero on board, the
nonprofit, founded in 1921, is now preparing to
unify the two buildings.
“At a large
to do a lot