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Fresh out of law school in 2003, Tracy Porter spent her first year of practice as a litigator but decided that sort of work didn’t suit her. So, she moved on to real estate law.

“It seems that the real estate lawyers I spoke to generally enjoyed what they did more than most other lawyers that I talked to,” said Porter, who followed their advice, then went big: she now works at Healthpeak Properties Inc., (NYSE: PEAK), the largest publicly traded real estate company by market value based in Orange County.

Irvine-based Healthpeak invests in private-pay healthcare real estate, including medical office buildings, senior housing facilities and life science campuses.

The company’s portfolio contains approximately 8 million square feet of life science space, 21 million square feet of medical office buildings, and 26,000 senior housing units, according to Porter.

As Healthpeak has gotten larger by size and market value—it now counts a valuation of about $18 billion, the third highest of a public company based in OC—so have Porter’s responsibilities.

She was promoted in February to senior vice president and head of the legal group in charge of real estate transactions and asset management support at the real estate investment trust, leading a team of three attorneys, two paralegals and two support staff.

Porter and her crew support Healthpeak’s investments and asset management teams on all legal facets of Healthpeak’s portfolio, from deal structuring to closing and through the life of an asset.

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Her work was recognized this month, when she was one of five winners at the Business Journal’s General Counsel Awards, held on Nov. 13 at Hotel Irvine (see stories on the other winners, pages 1, 4, and 6).

Porter won the Special Counsel award, designed for lawyers focusing on a specific area.

It’s the second year running an official from the REIT has won a GC award; Troy McHenry, who serves as executive vice president, chief legal officer, general counsel and corporate secretary at the firm, won last year.

Century City Start

Porter started out as a young lawyer with O’Melveny & Myers in Century City, before moving on to real estate work at Allen Matkins and then Latham & Watkins. She joined Healthpeak—until last month HCP Inc.—in 2013.

Porter told the Business Journal Healthpeak was particularly attractive because of “the involvement and the role that the legal department plays here.”

“From the beginning of a deal to the end it is very much a partnership,” she said, adding the work brings “personal satisfaction and really feeling invested in what I’m doing.”

“Being in-house you’re really much more connected to the work that you’re doing because you’re involved from the beginning to the end,” she said. “You’re living with it, that investment, that asset, that deal, that structure, whatever it is for the life of the time that you own it.”

The company has bought or announced plans to buy more than $2.5 billion worth of property over the course of the year, according to regulatory filings.

Porter grew up in Southern California, majored in communications at University of California-Los Angeles with a business minor, graduated in 2000 and headed east for the Georgetown University Law Center—one of the best law schools in the country.

Capitol Hill

“It was a very cool place to go to law school,” she said of her time at Georgetown law, close to Capitol Hill. “I was always a debater. I’ve always had a lot of opinions and people used to joke that I should become a lawyer.”

Porter likes “working side by side with our business teams, tax and accounting and getting to pull back the curtain behind the deals and understanding all the different things that go into deciding a deal before you get outside counsel involved to draft the documents and negotiate, which now I get to oversee.”

“We always have multiple things going on and there’s literally never a day that looks the same in terms of what I’m doing and what issues that might pop up,” she said.

“I was actually a litigator for the first year of my career out of law school, but decided that was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Long Commute

She and her husband, Dameon Porter, live with their 8-year-old twins, a boy and a girl in Woodland Hills, which is a lengthy commute from Irvine.

She makes it clear she won’t push them into following her professional footsteps.

“If they ultimately expressed an interest and had a desire, I wouldn’t discourage it,” she said. “If either one of them ever expressed interest in becoming a lawyer, I think I would be able to share a lot of lessons learned.”

For instance, she said when she graduated from law school, she didn’t really realize the full array of ways you can be a lawyer, something she hopes her kids would be aware of if they go that route.

“I certainly wouldn’t discourage it, but I definitely would want them to understand or have a little bit more of an idea of why they want to be a lawyer,” Porter said. “There’s a lot of really cool things that lawyers do.”

She describes herself as a “big UCLA sports fan,” squeezing in her alma mater’s football games with her family when they can.

“My husband is a high school football coach, so we are usually at his games on Friday nights, and then spend the weekends at flag football for my son and soccer for my daughter.”

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