This guide will walk you through the education and preparation needed to become a real estate lawyer. Learn about the expectations, job duties and licensing requirements you’ll need to kick off your career.
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What Does a Real Estate Lawyer Do?
Real estate lawyers spend their time representing buyers and sellers in property transactions and providing consultation services. You’ll work long hours dealing with legal issues related to zoning, title transfers and mortgages. Your daily responsibilities could include the following:
Meeting with clients to ensure documentation aligns with current property laws and regulations.
Overseeing contract negotiations and regulations related to land or residential developments.
Assisting clients with the purchase of property or asset transfers
Preparing and reviewing documents.
Negotiating favorable terms and conditions for clients.
Representing clients in court against breach of contract or real estate fraud allegations.
Drafting legal documents such as deeds, contracts, agreements, permits and property titles.
Preparing and submitting documents to the appropriate authorities.
Walking clients through the legal ramifications and process of the documents they’re signing.
Conforming to the standards and protocols in federal, state and local laws and regulations.
Offering legal advice on property management, zoning violations, restrictions and agreements on real estate, property taxes and value estimates.
Negotiating real estate disputes like encroachment, trespassing and injuries, defining boundaries and working toward resolving conflicts.
How Do You Become a Real Estate Lawyer
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 6% employment growth for all lawyers from 2014-2024. However, the availability of real estate lawyer positions will depend on the real estate market and your professional skills. To prepare for this industry, you’ll want to follow this academic and professional development path:
Complete your bachelor’s degree:
There’s no mandatory undergraduate program, but an aspiring real estate lawyer can develop career-specific skills and knowledge from college courses in public speaking, analytics, economics or English.
Pass the LSAT:
Your Law School Admission Test score, partnered with your undergraduate transcripts, helps determine which law school application requirements you meet. The higher your score, the more graduate school opportunities you’ll have. Most aspiring law school students take a few months to study and prepare for their LSATs.
Complete an accredited legal graduate program:
Complete a three-year graduate program at a law school accredited by the American Bar Association. Real estate lawyers can benefit from a general Master of Laws (LL.M.). Your career can also benefit from a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, which covers legal writing, constitutional law, civil procedures and contracts.
Gain practical experience from law clinics or internships:
Lawyers who gain legal work experience in law school are more appealing to potential employers. Therefore, while attending law school, start applying for internships with various law firms to gain relevant work experience. One should also network with other attorneys and acquire new skills and prestige by joining the American Bar Association's Real Property, Trust and Estate Law division.
Pursue additional courses or certifications:
A real estate lawyer can benefit from additional coursework in ethics and fraud to demonstrate their dedication to high legal standards of practice. Sign up for internship courses that place you in building and zoning departments for local muni acquires and counties.
Pass your state’s bar exam:
To legally practice in a chosen state, you’ll need to register and pass your local bar exam. The difficulty of this exam can vary depending on the state you wish to practice. Most law graduates take six months to a year off to study and prepare for the bar exam.
Join professional legal associations:
Membership in these organizations provides lawyers with resources to enhance their skills and scout potential employment or advancement opportunities.
Once you pass your local bar exam, you’re ready to pursue your real estate law career. A successful job search begins with crafting a high-quality resume highlighting your skills and experience. Our library of real estate lawyer resume samples helps you see how your fellow job seekers frame their extensive legal knowledge and experience.
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Real Estate Lawyer Skills
Real estate lawyers should be at ease with conflict resolution, knowledgeable about legal terminology, and able to work long hours, especially at the beginning of their careers.
Interpersonal soft skills:
Insights from a Real Estate Lawyer
We spoke to Brian J. Thompson, based in Chicago, who he is a Real Estate Lawyer and CPA, to get an inside look at how to become a Real Estate Lawyer. Here’s what he had to tell us.
What is the common career path for Real Estate Lawyer?
Very frequently real estate lawyers study business as an undergrad - a background in finance or real estate finance might be helpful. However, no particular undergrad major is required to become a real estate lawyer.
What should someone consider before becoming a Real Estate Lawyer?
Those considering becoming a real estate lawyer should consider whether they enjoy detail-oriented legal work and corresponding via email and phone with realtors, mortgage lenders, buyers, sellers, other attorneys, and title company employees. You should also consider that this area of the law is quite cyclical and you will encounter times in your career that are very busy or quite slow.
What type of person excels in this job?
You are likely to excel as a real estate lawyer if you can understand the legal process and you are good at networking with realtors and mortgage lenders to develop a referral base for new clients.
What are some of the most important skills for Real Estate Lawyer to have?
The hard skills needed for success as a real estate attorney vary somewhat depending upon who you represent, either (1) buyers or sellers of real estate or (2) developers. An attorney who represents buyers and sellers needs to understand the real estate acquisition process from contract to closing including inspection reports, title insurance, the deed, bill of sale, affidavit of title, and the closing statement. An attorney who represents developers needs to understand all of those same issues and a bit of corporate law as it relates to the formalities of Limited Liability Companies and corporations. As for so-called soft skills, it is helpful to be a good written/verbal communicator and have an awareness of deadlines and details.
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being a Real Estate Lawyer?
Buying or selling real estate can be one of the most stressful life events next to divorce or the death of a spouse. I enjoy making the process go as smoothly as possible for my client(s) and all parties involved in the transaction.
How Much Do Real Estate Lawyers Get Paid?
Even though job growth may not be strong as other sectors, compensation in this field is quite high. Real Estate Lawyers working in a large firms or becoming a partner increases one’s salary. Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics the median hourly wage for Real Estate Lawyers in 2015 was $55.69. The lowest-paid Real Estate Lawyers make less than $26.86 per hour, while the highest-paid can earn equal to or more than $90.00 per hour. The bulleted list below will include Bureau of Labor Statistics data for the top 10 states for median wage from highest to lowest.
Top 10 States for Real Estate Lawyer Salary
Real Estate Lawyers in the following states make the highest median hourly wage in the U.S.
Real Estate Lawyer Resources
Do you want more information? We put together this list of additional resources to help you as you continue to explore a career as a Real Estate Lawyer:
On the Web
NY Real Estate Law Blog
Includes cases and commentary on real estate and property law
Real estate and Construction law Blog
contains current information on real estate, construction, environmental and land use law
Association of Real Estate License Law Officials (ARELLO)
contains rules, laws, and a licensee registration verification database
American Bar Association
contain information to promote and uphold the legal profession
Real Property, Trust & Estate Law
forum for lawyers
Real Estate lawyer Books
Real Estate Law
covers real estate topics with examples and simple explanations
Practical real Estate Law
provides information on the intricacies of real estate law and transactions