Remember your property law class in law school? Whether you have a positive memory associated with it or not, learning about real property (real estate) is a foundational skill for a well rounded attorney. Real estate law, as a practice area, as a good skill to have as a part of a firm or as a part of a solo practice, regardless of your primary area of focus.
Attorneys and law students who enjoy practical results, organizing, coordinating and completing project based tasks, often will find real estate law rewarding.
There is a diverse array of specialties within real estate practice, from zoning, landlord-tenant, real estate development, to the mortgage industry; with each specialization containing entire industries built around it.
In large firms, the real estate practice often deals with commercial real estate transactions. Real estate attorneys are involved in due diligence, the acquisition of and compliance with several environmental permits, managing cleanup of existing toxins on the site, and managing a transaction for the purchase and sale of a property. Often, real estate attorneys in large firms also work with leasing, real estate investment trusts, lenders, and title insurance companies.
As the world is going global, the prospect of international real estate practice has also captured the attention of many real estate practices. Attorneys interested in this field develop legal knowledge and diplomacy skills. One the one hand, the practice of international law requires the cultural skills for dealing parties from different legal systems and norms; on the other hand, the practice of real estate law requires an intimate knowledge of local laws, norms, and practices. Experience in international real estate transactions will lead an attorney to become in demand in various settings including corporate, banking and securities, tax, labor and employment, and mergers and acquisitions.
There is one important “con” to consider, however. When real estate is “hot,” the practice is highly lucrative. But when it is not—real estate practice and opportunities often slide down with it. Just as real estate is dependent on the market, the practice is also dependent. Certain cities will have more matters than others; and when economic times are good, there will be work to do. The “pros” might be worth it though: banks and escrow companies are not open on weekends, nor past 5:00, which means that real estate attorneys generally get to have dinner.
Real estate is a constantly changing industry and environment, cyclical with the overall economy. With proper planning, this is a rewarding career path career path. Not only is it an interesting specialty for legal practice, but also could stand you in good stead if you decide to make career changes down the road in the real estate industry.
If you are considering this practice area, consider:
- Connecting with real estate attorneys and seeking CLE materials focusing on real estate practice
- Develop relationships with other professionals in the real estate industry (from surveyors to agents)
- Learn how to draft contracts and conduct due diligence
- Learn about local zoning processes and your local rules
- Speak the language of the industry and learn about the business of real estate
Qualities necessary to ensure success in this practice area include attention to detail, the ability to anticipate issues, and the ability to provide guidance to clients to help navigate and close a transaction. The ability to juggle competing demands is also important, since many lawyers find themselves working on multiple projects at the same time and need to effectively prioritize their daily workload so that they do not miss critical deadlines. And as this is often a deal heavy practice, remember—work the skills required to close the deal.
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