The UK property market is one of the most dynamic in the world, with London in particular attracting investment from all over the world. As a result, it’s an exciting place to be a property lawyer. If you think this is the area of law for you, here’s what you need to know
It is fair to say that for a long-time property law had a somewhat staid, dusty reputation. It was seen to lack the dynamism of corporate work or the cut and thrust of litigation.
Nor was it niche enough to get book-wormishly obsessive over in the way people do about IP, tax or employment law. In short, it was thought of as long on documentation and procedure, and short on interesting legal challenges you could get your teeth into.
If any area of law needed a facelift, it was property. And that is exactly what it got. Whether it was a US import or some bright idea from a marketing guru, somewhere in the nineties or noughties, ‘property’ law became ‘real estate’ law. In an instant, it sounded bigger, sexier and infinitely more interesting. Suddenly, trainees at top firms could hold their heads up high and proudly announce that their future lay in real estate law.
Now, nearly all the top firms refer to real estate rather than property. So, was this an example of putting lipstick on a pig or did real estate law really get exciting?
Let’s start by looking at the raw data
In our article Understanding candidate preferences is key for law firms seeking the best NQs, we looked at the most popular preferred practice areas chosen by final seat trainees and junior lawyers when creating a candidate profile on our platform. Real estate law (in this context commercial property, as opposed to residential property) was preferred by just 10% of candidates. This lagged some way behind commercial litigation (26.4%), corporate (25.5%) and employment (22.9%).
It seems that despite its rebrand, real estate law is still struggling to cast off its slightly dreary reputation. But is this fair? Are NQs missing out on a potentially rewarding work?
We think so. The real estate lawyers we speak to enjoy the sector, praise it for several reasons.
For one thing, you are dealing with a tangible asset. You can visit a development site when it is a bare piece of land or empty building and watch it evolve into a shopping centre, care home or hotel, for example. Plus, what a lot of people overlook is that many property deals are huge, often involving hundreds of millions of pounds.
Then there is the variety of work on offer. You might be involved in the development of an office block and all the complex planning and financing issues this entails. Or, on the transactional side, you’ll be buying and selling buildings, drafting and negotiating contracts, acting for landlords and tenants, and dealing with mortgage and finance work.
Most property work involves close interaction with your clients and their other advisers, such as chartered surveyors, so there is also plenty of client contact on a daily basis.
Much of the work also has real-world relevance. Acting for the client on a new factory or warehouse will involve business-led decisions and the need to meet critical deadlines.
Real estate lawyers therefore need a wide range of skills. You’ll have to be organised so that you can run complicated projects with multiple strands. You‘ll also need to develop a thorough understanding of the property market so that you know what is important for your clients. And, you must be flexible enough to turn your hand to different types of work be it investment, development, landlord and tenant, or financing.
The real estate market is cyclical and the global economic downturn that began in 2008 led to a large oversupply of real estate lawyers. Since then the market has been on an upward curve with vast amounts of overseas money flooding into the UK market, London in particular.
As a result, real estate lawyers have been in demand not just at the large City firms but at medium-sized and smaller firms too. That’s one way in which the real estate sector differs to other practice areas. Many firms outside the top 50 have outstanding real estate practices and you can end up doing excellent work disproportionate to the size of the firm.
Are you looking to be matched with law firms that are recruiting real estate lawyers? If so, why not create an anonymous candidate profile on NQSolicitors.com?