Janet M. Johnson combines a rare blend of accounting, business and non-profit board experience with many years as a commercial real estate lawyer in her role as a trusted advisor to clients seeking to maximize the return on their investments in commercial real estate. When working with closely-held businesses and non-profits, she focuses on understanding how the real estate asset is used in their businesses and operations in order to accomplish their corporate goals and mission.

For companies leasing their space, she focuses on the dollars and cents part of the lease term, including those that will cost the tenant money in the long run. These issues include operating expense pass-throughs, repairs and maintenance, and insurance and indemnification obligations. Janet brings knowledge gained from years of speaking and writing on the subject of a landlord’s duties and obligations in commercial leases.

Janet pays close attention to the health of client’s business or organization as a whole. In addition to real estate matters, she counsels clients on corporate structuring, corporate governance, general business, real estate and family ownership or related business income tax matters. She also guides 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.

For non-profit clients seeking to maximize their income from underutilized real estate, ground leases have long been a vehicle of choice in which Janet has years of experience. Negotiating a ground lease that will be financeable for the lessee, and yet provide the lessor with the controls it desires over the nature and use of the leased parcel has been an area of concentration by Janet during most of her career.

Where zoning and other entitlements are needed to develop a real estate project, Janet’s experience in zoning and annexation matters in the suburban area Chicago allows her to focus with the client on what aspects of the client’s project or business will provide the compelling reason for a municipality to approve their plans. When the situation requires, Janet works closely with colleagues in the Construction practice of Schiff Hardin to develop successful strategies for her clients. Projects have included condominiums, hotels, retail centers, office buildings, senior housing projects and other types of commercial, mixed-use and educational institution projects.

When it comes to financing or purchasing or selling real estate assets, Janet’s experience in representing borrowers, lenders, purchasers and sellers allows her to understand what is driving the other side in order to forge compromise positions that will enable the deal to get done.

  • Experience

    • Janet represented 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.
    • She helped a Chicago-based educational institution in implementing its plan to renovate and modernize its campus.
    • A Chicago-based religious institution was represented by Janet when redeveloping its headquarters site.
    • She represented 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. 
    • Janet worked with a real estate developer in respect to obtaining entitlements for development of more than 1,000 acres of farmland in Lake County, Illinois.
    • When a real estate developer needed assistance obtaining revolving financing package secured by multiple properties in multiple states, Janet guided them through the process.
    • Janet has also represented a Chicago-based manufacturer in acquiring a product line from a California-based competitor, shareholders of a local real estate developer in sale of stock to company management and represented numerous commercial office, industrial and retail tenants and landlords n leasing and subleasing transactions.
  • Credentials


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

    Bar Admissions

    • Illinois
          • Insights

            Other Publications

            "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)

            Speeches & Presentations

            "What You Need To Know About Handling Real Estate Transactions in Other States – Ethical and Practical Issues in Multijurisdictional Real Estate Practices," State Bar of Texas 36th Annual Advanced Real Estate Law Course, San Antonio, Texas (July 10-12, 2014), and Ethics and Professionalism in Transactional Practice Seminar, The John Marshall Law School Center for Real Estate Law, Chicago, Ill. (May 2, 2012)

            "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)

            "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)

          • Citizenship

            Civic and Charitable Memberships

            Janet has been a sought out member of many professional organizations serving on the Programs, Insurance and other Committees of The American College of Real Estate Lawyers, and has regularly been asked to present papers on cutting edge insurance, leasing, ground leasing and ethics topics for real estate lawyers. She has been a founding member of advisory board for The John Marshall Law School’s Center for Real Estate, one of the first law schools in the country offering an LLM in commercial real estate transactions for practicing lawyers, and has taught the Commercial Real Estate Transactions course in the program and presented programs on ethics and other topics pertinent to real estate lawyers for the Center.


            Janet also invests her time and experience into local and national nonprofit organizations close to her heart. She currently serves as President of the Board of Directors of the Lutheran Church –Missouri Synod (LCMS) National Housing Support Corporation in St. Louis. Closer to home, she has represented a community/church-based nonprofit in building and renovating affordable homes in the Chicago North Kenwood Oakland neighborhood and represents a locally-based nonprofit that provides services to victims of domestic violence in acquiring and rehabilitating an apartment building for use as transitional housing for its clients.


            As a member of a board, she uses her experience in strategic thinking and planning and board governance to assist the organizations in furthering their missions.


            She currently serves as President of The LCMS Housing Support Corporation, based in St. Louis, Missouri, and as Immediate Past President of the Board of CREW Chicago, a member chapter of the CREW Network, an organization of over 9,000 women engaged in all of the professions associated with the commercial real estate industry.  Prior to serving as President of CREW Chicago, Janet served on the Board and in other capacities for CREW Chicago.


            Over the years she has also served other Boards in the following capacities:

            • Secretary, Board of Regents, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana (2007-2013).
            • Vice Chair (six years) and Member (12 years), Board of Directors, The Lutheran Church Extension Fund – Missouri Synod, a $1.8 billion fund that makes loans to congregations, high schools, colleges, universities, seminaries and other service organizations affiliated with LCMS.
            • Member, Board of Directors, Northern Illinois District of the LCMS (9 years)
            • Member, Board of Trustees, Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois (12 years)

          "The Real Estate Professor"

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          "Although nonprofit management teams can include real estate experts, the small staff sizes typical of nonprofi ts mean they rarely do. This means Johnson must often explain incredibly technical and detailed aspects of real estate law to laypeople. Some lawyers might fi nd this frustrating. But “the professor” enjoys teaching." Read Article

          Janet Johnson: Earning her clients' trust

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          "Johnson boasts a long client list populated with publicly held and closely held corporations, developers, contractors,institutional investors and nonprofit organizations and institutions. Johnson often helps these clients negotiate purchases, sales and leases. She also plays an important role in helping her commercial real estate clients qualify for financing, including synthetic leasing and other complex financing transactions." Read Article