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  • Writer's pictureUnderberg & Kessler

Patrick L. Cusato Featured in Rochester Business Journal Article

Updated: Apr 3

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Underberg & Kessler Managing Partner, Patrick L. Cusato, was recently featured in the Rochester Business Journal article "New leader takes helm at Underberg & Kessler, leads new strategic plan." The article (reprinted with permission, PDF file here.) highlights Pat's leadership role, his work as Chair of the Real Estate & Finance Practice Group, and his commitment to clients and organizations championing the real estate industry.

New leader takes helm at Underberg & Kessler, leads new strategic plan

Patrick L. Cusato is the new managing director at Underberg and Kessler LLP. “It’s been a busy three months. I’ve been in management here for a while, so a lot hasn’t changed. But there are other things that come with the position,” said Cusato, who moved into the leadership role Jan. 1.

Cusato has been on the firm’s management committee for 15 years, but as managing partner he will chair the committee and run all the management meetings. About four years ago, Cusato became the financial partner on the management team. Cusato, who has been with the firm since 1987, took over from Thomas F. Knab, who was Managing Partner for two years. Before that, Anna E. Lynch was Managing Partner for 17 years.

As Managing Partner at the 28-attorney firm, Cusato oversees everything from day-to-day operations to finance to technology, while simultaneously working with the practice group leaders. “The big thing we’re getting into is updating our strategic plan,” said Cusato, noting that the firm prepares long-term outlooks for one, three, five and even 10 years.

Meanwhile, Cusato expects to carry the same caseload.

“I do A-to-Z in real estate transactions and finance transactions — everything from basic house closings to very sophisticated low-income housing tax credit deals. I do a lot of affordable housing work,” he said.

Paul F. Keneally, a Partner at Underberg & Kessler, said Cusato is “an incredibly intelligent real estate lawyer.”

“He’s really passionate about getting the best service and results for the clients in all their different real estate matters,” Keneally said. “He’s super practical, very focused on the task at hand, with a very efficient manner, and not a lot of hyperbole or wasted effort or extra work that the client doesn’t need.”

Katherine H. Karl, a Partner at Underberg & Kessler, described Cusato as “a very loyal, smart, hard-working, dedicated professional.”

“I can’t think of anybody who knows the firm better or works harder than Pat does … If he’s involved with something, he’s very often in a leadership role,” she said. “He masters a subject and then shares the knowledge he has in the community and often speaks and puts together panels or shares his experience in any number of real estate topics. In particular, he’s very passionate about trying to assist with a real shortage of affordable housing.

“Instead of wringing his hands about it he brings people together and spends a lot of time trying to collaborate with other people and agencies that have similar kinds of goals,” she said.

Cusato is vice president of the Bishop Sheen Ecumenical Housing Foundation Board of Directors. He is a past president of the Foundation, past chair of the Project Development Committee and past chair of the Foundation’s annual fundraising gala. He is also an executive board member of the Mortgage Bankers Association of the Genesee Region, and he advises the board on legislative developments.

Cusato is on a task force that includes representatives of the real estate industry, such as the Greater Rochester Association of Realtors, the Mortgage Bankers Association of Greater Rochester and the Rochester Home Builders Association. The group has produced a report outlining the issues involved in the housing shortage and is attempting to get the attention of politicians and local leaders to support the construction of more affordable housing.

Last month, there were only 260 houses for sale in all of Monroe County, but 10 years ago the number was 2,600, Cusato pointed out.

High interest rates are just one factor that impacts the housing market. Changing government regulations and building codes are becoming a more significant influence Cusato said. The initiative to find and implement solutions to the housing shortage has been branded as Re-imagine ROC Housing. Another part of this initiative is to encourage municipalities to embrace affordable housing. Cusato helped organize an effort with developers to counter the opposition to affordable housing and new senior citizen housing.

“Do you not understand seniors are stuck in their homes? They want to go somewhere maintenance free,” he said. “They want to go somewhere it’s going to be cheaper for them to live. They can’t afford to take care of the house anymore and that house is no longer fully on the tax rolls because they’re getting all kinds of exemptions.

“Let them move somewhere that’s affordable. The property goes on the market and an individual or a family buys it, and it goes fully back on the tax rolls,” he added.

Part of Cusato’s duties include leading the firm’s strategic planning. The process starts with data showing which practices areas are the most profitable and developing methods for handling those matters more efficiently. “We’re going to match that with how we want to market and develop some of these items that are more productive for us and whether we have the right technology to do that, and do we have the right employees,” he said.

In the coming years, the firm will have to deal with a changing labor market, he said.

He said law firms are facing the retirement of a lot of seasoned attorneys while it’s not clear if there will be enough young talent coming out of law schools to replace them. “It seems like eventually there will be a shortage. While there are still tons of people going to law school, not as many are choosing the day-to-day practice of law. They are finding in-house positions or using that law degree to do other things,” Cusato said.

As a result of the financial crisis of 2008, there was a big migration of lawyers out of the big cities, but that has trailed off, he said. The trend picked up again during the COVID pandemic. “We picked up a very talented attorney who was originally from Webster who was working in Manhattan and had enough about nine months into COVID and started looking for jobs up here,” he said.

Another new attorney at the firm, originally from Rochester, is moving back after working downstate, Cusato said.

He believes many young lawyers will spend a few years in a big city at a large law firm and eventually work their way back to a smaller market, such as Rochester, often because barely 10% of the associates at those large firms become partners. He also sees technology as continuing to play an important role in the legal profession, within limits.

“Technology is a fantastic tool, and you can do things faster and easier. Clients don’t always want to interface with you over technology, whether it’s email or other things. The personal touch is still very, very important to clients,” he said.

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