As a property lawyer, you will handle all the issues that relate to property (real estate), be it buying or selling houses or land, or you will draw contracts between tenants and landlords.
You will have two primary functions, on as a litigator and the other to handle the legal aspects of property transactions. Real estate lawyers mediate real estate transactions gone sour.
You can even be highly specialized, in litigating fraud cases such as disclosure fraud and mortgage fraud, or concentrate on land use, subdivision, and zoning laws. Among other categories, there is residential or commercial real estate.
How to become a real estate lawyer
Becoming one requires an extensive amount of education and plenty of hands-on experiences.
I. First of all, you will need a Bachelor’s degree.
There are a few degree requirements that you need to satisfy. To get accepted to law school, you will need a four-year bachelor’s degree; law schools do not require any particular major. I advise you to find a topic that fascinates you and in which you can do great.
Make sure you attend an authorized undergraduate college or university. The best way to check that is to visit the U.S. Departement of Education Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
Public speaking is a necessary skill that you have to master. The ability to speak with anyone is a great skill for any lawyer, not just for those who work in real estates.
Property attorneys meet with a variety of people during their workdays, from clients, or potential ones, opposing counsel and even judges or arbitrators.
You should be comfortable and confident speaking to diverse constituencies, often off the top of your head.
While in college look out for opportunities to engage in public speaking, such as debates clubs, competitions, or even acting as tour guide for the school. However, do not neglect opportunities to strengthen your research and writing skills. Sing up for upper-level electives that allow you to write long research papers.
I can not stress out enough on high grades. Law school entries is a numbers game, and the two important numbers are your undergraduate grade point average (known as GPA) and your score on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT).
To gain the strongest admissions case possible, you should try to get the highest grades possible. Admissions representatives view a high GPA as an indication that you are motivated and work hard (TIP: so do law firms).
To get into a certified law school, you will need a GPA around 3.0 or higher. Candidates admitted to the Top 50 schools have a GPA over 3.5.
You should work in close collaboration with faculty.
A critical element of your application will be letters of recommendations from professors who know you. To get strong letters of recommendation, you have to try to work with faculty as a research or teaching assistant.
This experience will allow the professor to write detailed letters of recommendation in support of your admission to law school.
Seek to become an intern with a real estate lawyer. That way you will get an early taste of the life of a property lawyer while in college.
Intern or work part time for a lawyers or law firms that need administrative and support staff assistance in the summer but also during the year.
Network at its finest, and it is never too early to begin building your contacts. If you do a great job working for them in college, then when you finish law school you can revive the relationship and likely get a job.
II. Applying to Law School
You need to register for the LSAT, that takes place four times a year, in June, September, December, and February, on Saturdays. Make a free account at the Law School Admission Council’s website, then find a test date and location.
As LSAT is probably the most important factor in your law school application, you have to take it very seriously.
The main points of the LSAT are reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning. Some companies offer their help, but you can also study on your own.
- Local libraries or bookstores are great places to start. You will find copies of old LSAT exams, but try to look for the most recent to take as practice exams.
- To get into a certified law school you might need a score of 152, taking in count that the LSAT is scored on a scale from 120 to 180, with 180 being the highest.
The LSAT contains five multiple choice sections and one unscored essay, but only four out of five sections count toward your score, the fifth one is experimental and does not count. However, do not just skip it as you do not know in advance which section is experimental.
Try to read up ahead of time on the test rules so that you can follow them to the letter, failing to follow the rules could disqualify you from taking the test.
You can find the rules on the LSAC website here.
If you failed, do not panic as you can take the LSAT more than once. However, you need to know that schools may choose to accept your higher score, or they may decide to average the two, plus you have to pay each time you take the test.
Usually, test takers might increase their score only two to three points on a retake, so bear in mind that you might not want to retake it unless you were scoring higher in your practice exams.
After you are happy with your scores, register with the Credential Assembly Service, know as CAS, all law schools use it.
You will send them your transcript, letters of recommendation, and evaluation. CAS will then create a packet that will send to each law school you apply, and the service requires a fee. Make sure that all your get all your documents promptly to CAS, as law schools will not move on your request until it has your packet from CAS.
You will also need a personal statement. Law schools require that you write a brief statement, about 500 words, on a topic of your choosing. Try to make it as personal, engaging, free of errors and short as possible.
If the school wants you to write on a particular topic, follow their directions, also if they give you word limit. Going over, by even a few words, and your chances of admission can disappear.
Also, try to draft necessary addendums. They can help explain something that looks odd in your application, and it can provide context for many information that might come as a negative in the eyes of the Admissions Committee members.
III. Picking a law school
You should find appropriate schools using your GPA and LSAT score. You can use the LSAC calculator to gauge your likelihood of gaining admission to particular schools. Enter your undergraduate GPA and LSAT score to see your chances at any ABA-accredited law school.
Keep in mind the area. Unless you attend a top 10 school, you most likely will be practicing in the state where you attend law school. Most of them place their alumni in the local legal community.
Pay attention to the school’s location and make sure you feel comfortable living there and ask any projected faculty of law for its job placement statistics.
The number of students who get a full-time job that requires a JD after graduation is the most relevant.
Do not forget about the costs, try to compare them. Law school tuition now ca exceed $40,000 a year at many private schools, while adding up the living expenses you might find yourself borrowing close to $200,000 to complete a three-year degree.
Out-of-state law students tuition is often comparable to the tuition of private schools. If you want to move to a state and hope to qualify as an in-state resident, contact the law school’s admissions office for more information.
The best way to get hands-on legal experience while in law school is to participate in a clinic. Being a member and a Director in the past year in our Law Student Association, we managed to found one, whit the help of our professors, and it is doing a fantastic job on helping us develop.
Many law schools have clinics where learners represent low-income clients while under the supervision of a faculty member or even lawyers.
Some of them offer real estate clinics or have real estate institutes, schools such as Brooklyn Law School and John Marshall Law School.
In a real estate clinic, students may serve low-income cooperative boards or other non-profits and assist them with loan and co-op unit closing, shareholder meetings, and drafting by-law or lease amendments.
If you wish to follow the property lawyers career you should find schools with a real estate concentration or certificate.
The core curriculum for firs year students is pretty much the same at any law schools, but after the 1L, the classes available might be very different.
Many law schools offer a real estate certificate. These institutions will offer many upper-level electives in areas such as Construction Law, Municipal Law, Basic and Advanced Real Estate and Land Use Regulation.
Do not forget to apply to multiple law schools; this increases your chances of being accepted. If you do not get admitted, you will have to wait a year before reapplying.
IV. Earning you Law Degree
Check all the required classes. Except for the case in which you attend an accelerated or part-time program, the law school will take three years.
The first one will give you the foundation courses in torts, contracts, property, civil procedure, criminal law and constitutional law.
You might end up taking 1L classes with the same people so network with them because they may be the source of career opportunities and contact down the road.
Law school is not all about learning and doing; you should make friends along the way.
It can be very isolating, as all students are striving to do the best they can to master complex and challenging material and you end up spending much of your time alone in the library. Regularly put the books away and try to meet other people, join a sports league or a student organization just to unwind.
A good way to meet other people is participating in a study group. This will help you with exam preparation, share notes, and outlines, and have a group of friends to talk through difficult issues.
Also, if you join a study group stick with it, no one likes people who are participating in a group only to drop out after a month.
Study as hard as you can, your grades will follow you around your entire career. Even if the importance of grades decreases over time, poor grades could keep you out of opportunities and jobs, at least initially.
It is decisive to do well in your 1L if you want to practice real estate law at a large firm. They will hire summer associates based on your 1L grades, so plan on getting grades at the top of your class.
If you want to get an idea of how well you need to do to compete with large organizations, visit your career services office and ask what large firms or corporations come onto your campus to interview. Career Services also have information on the GPA required to be hired by these companies.
Becoming an intern with a real estate lawyer is a must. Some law schools help their students placing them with a property attorney, either at a title insurance company or a law firm.
You can help out with a variety of tasks such as title, closing, contract and other problems, so be prepared.
Working as a summer associate for a real estate lawyer is another great thing so keep that in mind. You can also get paid for your help, but money should not be the primary purpose of a summer job, instead focus on building your reputation.
Doing a good job for them might just secure your position after you graduate.
The Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination, known as MPRE, is needed to practice in all but three jurisdictions in the United States. The exam is consists of 60 questions which test your comprehension of legal ethics. You will take this exam in your third year of law school.
V. Obtaining your law license
You will need to pass a bar exam, so apply for admittance to a state bar. Each state bar admits its lawyers and administers its bar exam.
Contact the bar of that state in which you wish to practice; they will present you with a list of the essential steps to take.
In the majority of states, you have to pass a written exam before you are officially accepted in the bar, and this exam usually includes an essay portion as well as a multiple choice test.
You can take the exam twice a year, one time in the summer and the other in the winter, but keep in mind that you will have to pay each time you take it.
As usual, you will prepare for the bar exam, but after your experience in law school, you should know how to prepare for it in your way. Not all people learn the same, but you need to plan widely for the bar exam.
Usually, people try to take a bar prep program, which runs for several months, and it can cost several thousand dollars. If you can not afford a full prep course, then you should try to seek out old study guides issued by bar prep companies, many people sell their old manuals on eBay and other online retailers.
In addition to passing the bar, you have to fill out the background survey; that consists of a character and fitness review.
You begin the review by completing a detailed survey of your employment history, education, and criminal/financial history.
Common problems include criminal convictions, financial irresponsibility, such as bankruptcy, and accusations of plagiarism, so stay away from those. These may not totally block you from entry, but be ready to discuss them with the character and fitness committee.
If something looks suspicious to the committee, it will call you in for an interview. Be honest when filling out your background survey, it is better to be upfront than trying to hide something and get caught.
The bar exam is ordinarily a two-day exam.
The first one consists of multiple-choice exam covering topics such as contract, constitutional law, evidence, torts and criminal law. The second day will be made up of essays on state-specific topics. It can take several months to receive your score so be patient.
Getting a job as a property lawyer
The first thing you will have to do is an interview on campus. If you want to exercise real estate with a large law firm or with a large corporation, then you will presumably need to sign up for on-campus interviews (OCI).
Before the start of your 2L year, large law firms interview students for summer associate positions at their company (or in-house) for the following summer.
If they like you, they will probably extend an offer to join them after you pass the bar exam. The Career Services office will send you exact terms for competing in OCI, such as providing a resume and obtaining copies of your transcript.
Follow all the policies to the letter. Otherwise, you could be prohibited from participating in interviews.
You can even search only job postings. Usually, smaller firms advertise online. Check Craiglist, job aggregators like Indeed.com, and with your state bar association, which may have a jobs board. You will then forward a resume, cover letter, and writing sample, so have those ready to go.
Another way to find jobs is to engage with attorneys for informational interviews, after taking the bar exam.
Identify real estate lawyers whose practices you would like to learn more. Draft a letter and introduce yourself, and make sure you mention who gave you their name.
In the letter, show them that you are not asking for a job, this way you will have a better response. The goal of the interview is to create a primary contact, and if you make a good impression, the lawyer will remember you later for a full-time job or a part-time contract work.
Draft five questions about the lawyer’s practice and be engaged during the meeting, take notes and ask follow-up questions. You can even ask the attorney if he knows anyone else you can meet with, and do not forget to send a thank-you note afterward.
If you did any networking in the years and worked as an intern, you can contact former employers. It is a great move to find a job if you loved working for them.
If you cannot find a job after passing the bar exam, re-connect with attorneys you used to work for during the summer or part-time during school year. Do not be picky; you will need to build your reputation.
If you work for low wages and do a great job, then the attorney may come back to you with additional work.
Get your first job to gain legal experience, even if real estate law is your dream. You could serve for a general business lawyer and help him out with real estate work as one part of his practice.
Even if you can not find something to do in the real estate business you can still try to get experience on it in your free time, for example, do pro bono practice.
Volunteer at a local legal aid group and help non-profits with their contract disputes, real estate closing or any other legal problems.
Another great way to gain experience and reputation is by writing bar articles on real estate law, offering seminars to small businesses on property issues, or sitting on a local government board that handles land use and zoning.
As a rule of thumb always try to grow your reputation and network.
A typical day as a property lawyer
The day to day work of an estate attorney will include numerous duties. Real estate brokers and agents are always looking to use your services for contract filing, real estate deals, and listings and for the process of transferring property from one individual to another.
Most in-house positions like this can require a significant amount of expertise and a working background in property deals methods.
As a plus, the majority of the best legal jobs can come off real estate attorneys who work for themselves. These are private attorneys who are offering their services to a significant number of businesses and individuals.
As an example, you can collaborate with a person selling your home. You can find yourself working for firms that are purchasing property and need legal representation in doing so; they eventually can become your regular partners, but you will also have clients that contact you whenever there is a need.
Some services that you will be asked for can involve property management. Landlords often require the services of a real estate attorney to manage their legal conflicts and transactions.
You will find yourself rewriting contracts for tenants, writing up legal forms for termination of leases and handling a title search on a potential property that the company wishes to buy.
Real estate attorney salary
The national average pay for them is $79,000.
The city in which you practice and your experience level will have an impact on your paycheck.
Skills such as negotiations, public speaking and management will also have a thing or two to say in your salary.
Property attorneys that work for an extended time of their career and have a relevant experience are also reported to have higher earnings.
For example, individuals that have less than five years’ experience earn around $66,000 annually on average, and those that have between five and ten years benefit of a notably larger average of $99,000. Moreover, old hands that claim more than two decades on the job can enjoy an average earning of $131,000.
As off job satisfaction, property lawyers have reported a 4 out of 5 rating, having medical, dental and vision as health benefits.