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Janet M. Johnson


Janet Johnson: Earning her clients' trust

Midwest Real Estate News Magazine
February 2013

In My Own Words

Schiff Hardin

Janet M. Johnson concentrates her practice in commercial real estate transactions and general corporate matters, particularly those involving the representation of closely held businesses and nonprofits.

She regularly represents publicly held and closely held corporations, developers, contractors, institutional investors, and nonprofit organizations and institutions, blending the unique requirements of nonprofits with their real estate development projects. She also has worked on the real estate aspects of independent power projects for non-regulated subsidiaries of public utility companies and independent ventures.

Her work frequently involves representing clients in negotiating purchases, sales, leases, and financings (including ground leasing and complex project financing transactions) for commercial real estate and land development projects. She has significant experience in ground lease projects, including residential and office condominiums, hotels, retail centers, office building projects, senior housing projects, and other types of commercial, mixed-use and educational institution projects. Ms. Johnson also:

  • Represents developers, users and objectors in Chicago metropolitan area zoning and annexation matters
  • Works closely with members of our firm's Construction Group on construction issues related to real estate projects
  • Counsels closely held business clients on corporate structuring, corporate governance, general business, real estate and family ownership matters
  • Counsels nonprofits on corporate governance and issues associated with unrelated business taxable income from real estate investments and development or redevelopment of unused or underutilized real estate assets

She currently serves as Secretary of the Board of Regents of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and as President of the Board of Directors of LCMS National Housing Support Corporation in St. Louis, Missouri. She served for 12 years as a member (and for six years as Vice Chair) of the Board of Directors of The Lutheran Church Extension Fund — Missouri Synod. This is a $1.4 billion fund which makes loans to congregations, high schools, colleges, universities, seminaries and other service organizations affiliated with The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod (LCMS). She also served for nine years on the Board of Directors of The Northern Illinois District of the LCMS and 12 years on the Board of Trustees of Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois.

In addition, Ms. Johnson has represented a community/church-based nonprofit in building and renovating affordable homes in the Chicago North Kenwood Oakland neighborhood for the past 16 years. She also has represented a Chicago-based nonprofit providing services to victims of domestic violence for the past 17 years in acquiring and rehabilitating an apartment building for use as transitional housing for its clients.


  • Representing a major Chicago-area nonprofit in developing more than 500 acres of land, including implementation of a master plan through ground leases for residential, commercial and office uses
  • Representing a Chicago-based educational institution in implementing its plan to renovate and modernize its campus
  • Representing a Chicago-based religious institution in redeveloping its headquarters site
  • Representing an entity developing multiple cogeneration projects to provide steam, electricity and hot water to steel plants and oil refineries by blast furnace gas from steel plant operations on ground-leased land
  • Representing a real estate developer in obtaining entitlements for development of more than 1,000 acres of farmland in Lake County, Illinois
  • Representing a real estate developer in obtaining revolving financing package secured by multiple properties in multiple states
  • Representing a Chicago-based manufacturer in acquiring a product line from a California-based competitor
  • Representing shareholders of a Chicago-area real estate developer in sale of stock to company management
  • Representing numerous commercial office, industrial and retail tenants in leasing and subleasing transactions


"Staying Alive! How New Lease and Other Leasehold Mortgagee Protection Provisions Really Work When the Ground Lessee Defaults," The ACREL Papers (Spring 2014)

"How to Avoid Eroding the Return on Investment in Ground Lease Rents – Unrelated Business Income Tax Issues for Real Estate Leasing by 501(c)(3) and Other Tax-Exempt Organizations and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)," (co-author) The ACREL Papers (Spring 2014)

"Two State Specific Issues that Can Affect the Economics or Feasibility of a Project on a Leasehold Estate: Transfer Taxes and the Right to Develop Condominiums," (co-author) The ACREL Papers (Spring 2014)

"Is There a Silver Lining to the Cloud Still Hanging Over the Economy?" Northern Illinois Real Estate Magazine (December 2012)

"Landlord's Duties and Liabilities," Chapter 7 in Commercial Landlord/Tenant Practice, Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education (IICLE) treatise (2007; Supplement in 2010)
"Current Issues Facing Landlords, Tenants and Subtenants," Illinois Real Estate Journal (March 2010)

"Changes To Illinois Eminent Domain Law Following Kelo Will Affect Redevelopment Initiatives," Illinois Real Estate Journal (March 2007)
"Digging into Ground Leases — Title Insurance Issues Policies and Endorsements for the Benefit of Parties to Ground Lease Transactions (Including Ground Lessees, Ground Lessors and Lenders)," The ACREL Papers (Fall 2005)
Principal editor: Home Buyer's Manual, Second Edition, Chicago Bar Association's Real Property Committee (2002)
"Selected Property Damage Insurance Concepts (Replacement Cost, Coinsurance, Agreed Value, and Improvements and Betterments)," The ACREL Papers (Spring 2001)
"For Real Estate Lawyers: A Practical Guide to Identifying and Managing Potential Environmental Hazards and Conditions Affecting Real Estate," 32 Real Property, Probate and Trust Journal 619 (Winter 1998)
"The Limited Liability Company: A New Vehicle for Real Estate Investments," Corporate Real Estate and the Law newsletter, the International Association of Attorneys and Executives in Corporate Real Estate (March 1994)
"Closing the Floodways: IDOT's Expanded Role in Approving Developments," CBA Record (February 1989)

Speeches and Presentations

"When is a Client a Client? The Perils of Doing Business with Current Clients and Opposing Former Clients," The John Marshall Law School Center for Real Estate Law, Chicago, Ill. (May 2014)

"Insurance Tips and Traps for Commercial Real Estate Owners and Tenants," CREW Chicago (April 6, 2014); Chicago Bar Association, Young Lawyers Real Estate Committee (March 26, 2013); Union League Club Real Estate Committee (Nov. 29, 2012)

"How RICO Can Make a Racketeer Out of a Real Estate Lawyer (or How to Avoid Being Tainted by One's Clients)," Ethics and Professionalism in Transactional Practice Seminar, The John Marshall Law School Center for Real Estate Law, Chicago, Ill. (May 2, 2013)

"What You Need To Know About Handling Real Estate Transactions in Other States – Ethical and Practical Issues in Multijurisdictional Real Estate Practices," Ethics and Professionalism in Transactional Practice Seminar, The John Marshall Law School Center for Real Estate Law, Chicago, Ill. (May 2, 2012)

"Understanding How Insurance Works in Real Estate Lease and Loan Transactions," Young Lawyers Section of the Chicago Bar Association Real Estate Committee Meeting, Chicago, Ill. (Jan. 22, 2013)

"Legal Issues Impacting Real Estate," Illinois Real Estate Journal's Annual Commercial Real Estate Legal Forecast Conference (January 2013, January 2012, January 2011, January 2010, January 2009, January 2008, January 2007 and January 2006)

"What Did I Just Draft? Understanding How Insurance Really Works," 2011 International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) U.S. Shopping Center Law Conference (October 28, 2011)

"What You Need To Know About Handling Real Estate Transactions in Other States," The John Marshall Law School Center for Real Estate Law – Ethics and Professionalism in Commercial Real Estate Transactions Seminar (May 11, 2011) and the Chicago Mortgage Attorneys Association Luncheon Meeting (May 17, 2011)

"Multijurisdictional Ethical Rules for Real Estate Lawyers," International Association of Attorneys and Executives in Corporate Real Estate (AECRE) Twentieth Annual Conference, Bellevue, Wash. (April 29, 2011) and the Chicago Mortgage Attorneys Association Luncheon Meeting (April 28-29, 2011)

"Trying Issues in Distressed Times for Landlords, Tenants and Subtenants," Chicago Bar Association, Young Members Section, (December 2010)

"Assignments and Subleases," Law Seminars International, Advanced Commercial Real Estate Leases Conference (September 2009, September 2008, September 2007 and September 2006)

"Real Estate Operating Strategies: 50 Ways to Improve the Performance of Owned and Leased Real Estate Assets," (panelist) CREW Chicago Luncheon, Chicago, Ill. (February 25, 2009)

"New Ethical Rules Impacting Real Estate Practice," Roosevelt University, Marshall Bennett Real Estate Institute — 2008 New Leaders Symposium, Chicago, Ill. (June 12, 2008)

"Life Cycle of a Loan," (panelist) Mortgage Bankers Association — Commercial/Multi-Family Servicing and Technology Conference, Chicago, Ill. (May 14, 2008)

Member of Practitioner's Panel in Response to Keynote Address: The John Marshall Law School — Kratovil Conference in Real Estate Law and Practice, Commercial Lease Transactions: The Lifeblood the Real Estate Industry, Chicago, Ill. (October 19, 2007)

"Certificates of Insurance — An Illusion of Protection," American College of Real Estate Lawyers Annual Meeting, Miami, Fla. (October 11-13, 2007)

"New Developments in Illinois Eminent Domain Law," (panelist) CREW Network Midwest Regional Meeting — "Urban Development Tools — Overcoming Eminent Domain, Bureaucracy and Other Impediments to Urban Development," Detroit, Mich. (May 3-5, 2007)

"Sustainability Through Long-Term Ground Leases," Conference for Catholic Facilities Management, Chicago, Ill. (April 30-May 1, 2007)

"Purchases and Sales — Trends in the Sale of Entity Interests Rather than Fee Interests," Law Seminars International — Real Estate Purchases and Sales Conference, Chicago, Ill. (March 19-20, 2007)

"Ethical and Practical Issues in Multijurisdictional Real Estate Practices," Illinois Institute of Continuing Legal Education — Third Annual Real Estate Short Course, Lisle, Ill. (February 7, 2007)

"'Top Ten List' - Insurance for Mortgage Loan Transactions," Chicago Mortgage Attorneys Meeting, Chicago, Ill. (December 13, 2006)

"Top Ten Things You Should Know About Insurance for Leases," (panelist) International Conference of Shopping Centers - US Shopping Center Law Conference, Orlando, Fla. (October 25-28, 2006)

"Corporate America: Ideas and Directions for the New Leasing Environment," Moderator and Panelist on Leasehold Title Insurance Endorsements, International Association of Attorneys and Corporate Real Estate Executives (AECRE) — Fall Forum, Chicago, Ill. (November 5, 2004)

"Due Diligence for the Commercial Real Estate Purchase," The Chicago Bar Association — Commercial Real Estate Sale and Purchase Agreements Seminar, Chicago, Ill. (December 4, 2000)

"Evidence of Insurance and the ACORD Forms," The Chicago Bar Association — Insurance and Real Estate Transactions Seminar, Chicago, Ill. (March 14, 2000)

"Issues in the Transition from Public to Private Housing," American Bar Association/The John Marshall Law School — Affordable Housing Seminar, Chicago, Ill. (October 22, 1999)

"Identifying and Managing Potential Environmental Hazards and Conditions Affecting Commercial Real Estate for Real Estate Lawyers," International Association of Attorneys and Corporate Real Estate Executives (AECRE) — Spring Conference, Scottsdale, Ariz. (April 24-26, 1997)

"An Overview of Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Projects," National Inter-Lutheran Housing Ministries Convocation, Chicago, Ill. (September 21-23, 1995)

Previous Experience

Prior to becoming an attorney, Ms. Johnson was an accountant at the Cherry-Burrell Corporation in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a manufacturer of commercial ice cream freezers, milk and other food mixing and packaging machinery, and pharmaceutical machinery.

Awards and Honors

Fellow, American College of Real Estate Lawyers (ACREL)
Hall of Fame 2012, Midwest Commercial Real Estate
Illinois Super Lawyers — Real Estate; Closely Held Business; Nonprofit Organizations
Leading Lawyer — Real Estate, Illinois Leading Lawyers Network
"Top Ten" Women Real Estate-Related Lawyers
"Top 100" Real Estate-Related Lawyers
"Top 100" Women Lawyers
"Top 100" Women Business Lawyers
AV Rated — Martindale-Hubbell
Norma H. Geis Outstanding Achievement Award — Chicago Bar Association Real Property Law Committee


University of Iowa College of Law(J.D., with highest distinction, 1980)
University of Iowa(B.B.A., Accounting, with highest distinction, 1974)

Professional Memberships

American Bar Association
Illinois State Bar Association
Iowa State Bar Association
Chicago Bar Association
Real Property Law Committee
       Past Chair
International Association of Attorneys and Executives in Corporate Real Estate (AECRE)
CREW Network
CREW Chicago
Board of Directors
     Immediate Past President (2014)
     President (2012 - 2013)
     (Vice-President 2010; President Elect 2011)

Civic and Charitable Memberships

Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.
Finance and Audit Committee
LCMS Housing Support Corporation