By Anna Johansson • January 16, 2018•Careers
Real estate law has become a popular specialty, thanks to the growth of real estate investments and house flips made attractive by the media.
There are abundant rules, guidelines, and paperwork that go with transferring expensive properties from one person or company to another, and most realtors and buyers rely on experienced attorneys, rather than risking errors. Mistakes in legalities can get landlords, investors, buyers/sellers, realtors, brokers, and others in trouble.
If you started out in a different specialty, such as corporate or environmental law, switching to real estate law can be simple. It’s a great complement to many other legal specialties, and the learning curve is short for those looking for a new career.
However, know there will be competition, and not everyone survives the fight. Here are some things you should expect before starting your real estate law practice.
1. Your Type of Real Estate Law
One of the first goals for practicing real estate law is choosing the type of real estate law that you like best. You’re a more marketable candidate if you spend most of your time in one specific area.
The most successful real estate lawyers choose a more specific niche; for example, commercial or residential real estate law. You can go one step further and choose to work only with apartment complexes, realty brokers, fix and flippers, etc. You could also choose only to work with taxes, errors and omissions, or insurance, getting narrower and narrower in this field.
2. A Typical Day in the Life
According to Julie Schwartzberg, an editor of Practical Law and a former real estate attorney, it’s hard to outline a typical day because things will vary based on the transaction you’re working on.
“A typical day may include performing extensive due diligence, which would include reviewing title, surveys, third-party reports, and other items pertinent to obtaining a comprehensive legal understanding of the project,” she says. “Other days may be spent drafting, reviewing and negotiating documents necessary to complete the particular transaction, such as loan documents, purchase and sale agreements, leases and other ancillary documents.”
She also says that your day could be consumed by meetings and collaboration with others involved in the real estate transaction. If you’re the kind of person that likes to do the same thing every day, you might struggle in the real estate sector.
3. Adaptability is Required
Because of the constantly changing lineup from day to day, your ability to adapt in any situation is very important. Also, you must anticipate issues and be prepared to mitigate them when they arise. Cases in real estate are often much shorter than in other areas of law, so if a deal falls through, you often close the case and move on to the next without a second thought. If you’re the kind of person that’s good with change, this shouldn’t be a problem for you.
4. Long Hours in a High-Paced Environment
When asked about the least favorable aspect of real estate law, Schwartzberg shared:
“The most common complaint relates to the long hours put in by practitioners in order to timely close transactions. Other common complaints involve the unrelenting pressure in large law firms to maintain high billable hours and high collections. These demands can take a toll on a lawyer over time.”
Deals are closed over a period of months, not years, and your clients will be ready to move on to the next case. Sometimes that puts extra pressure on you to work more quickly and efficiently than you might be used to.
5. Attention to Detail is Paramount
There are intricate line items and pages of paperwork for the simplest of real estate transactions. When you start working with larger commercial deals, it all becomes more complex. Your ability to spot errors and address minute details will set you apart.
“If you love to organize, you like the feeling of completing one project and moving on to the next, you have good negotiating skills, and enjoy the fine details of contracts - then real estate law could be for you,” says Lisa Abrams, author of The Official Guide to Legal Specialties. “If not, you’re probably better off in a less nit-picky form of law. The slightest detail could mean millions in differences, so real estate law is best left for those who are good with that.”
There’s a little bit of what it will be like to practice law in the real estate market. If you’d like to learn more, the best thing to do is spend a day or two shadowing an experienced real estate attorney, asking them questions and learning from the process. It can be a highly rewarding and interesting career choice.