• Partner, King & Spalding
  • Duke University, English and economics, 1998
  • University of Virginia School of Law, 2002

Whether it’s romping around the pasture with horses or steering a real estate deal with nearly two dozen different parties, King & Spalding partner Kristina Kopf Thomas likes to get dirty with the messy details.

A Palo Alto, Calif., native, Thomas spent much of her childhood outdoors, sailing on San Francisco Bay or riding horses. Even now, “in my deep, dark fantasy world, I train horses,” she says. She abandoned that dream after realizing the field’s career opportunities are limited.

A New England college tour delivered her to the East Coast (though she arrived at Duke University, instead of the leafy, “A Separate Peace”-type campus that her mother preferred). A conversation with an economics professor persuaded her to consider a law career, despite her lack of enthusiasm for being an attorney.

One reason was Thomas’ aptitude for logic; her favorite part of the LSAT was the games section. “The things you like about game theory and strategy, you would like about law school,” the professor told her.

That predilection for logical thinking led her directly to real estate finance, says Scott Arnold, a former real estate practice group leader at King & Spalding who is now a principal with Iron Tree Capital.

“Anyone who has worked around Kristina knows what a keen intellect she has, and a steady temperament, which instills confidence in her clients and partners,” Arnold says.

Thomas’ preferred assignments are those requiring tactical thinking and long-term strategic planning. Those include the aforementioned multibillion-dollar real estate deal. Thomas advised GE Capital on the transaction, which involved the sale of partnership interests in more than 90 separate real estate assets and about 20 distinct parties. The deal took about nine months to close.

“There were all kinds of bets going on whether they could even do this,” Thomas says. “It sounds corny to say this, but it was fun.”

Joint ventures and capital raises also are enjoyable because they involve “thinking a lot about strategy and problem-solving,” she says. Her clients include several Atlanta-based real estate firms, including Cousins Properties, Brookdale Group and Clarion Partners.

She’s also done considerable work for Jamestown Properties, though she says she regrets not being able to be involved in the firm’s development of Ponce City Market in the former Sears building on Ponce de Leon Avenue. She’s excited about the market’s opening, as she lives close by in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood.

Although she still likes to sail and work with horses, Thomas spends most of her free time with her husband, Ed Thomas, a former Bain & Co. consultant who is developing a personal-finance mobile application, and her two children.

She’s also satisfied with her legal career, especially since it doesn’t involve a courthouse. Except for a clerkship in 2002 and 2003, Thomas has stepped inside a courtroom only once since law school, to contest a moving violation.

“I discovered a career that has nothing to do with going to court,” she says.

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