How To Become a Real Estate Lawyer
Updated March 10, 2023
Real estate lawyers play important roles in the purchase and sale of property. They make sure property transactions follow the laws and that ownership transfers from seller to buyer in a legally binding way. Their skills and knowledge help protect all parties involved in a transaction and allow the property market to function securely. In this article, we explain how to become a real estate lawyer and their responsibilities, requirements and salary.
What is a real estate lawyer?
A real estate lawyer has a law degree and specializes in the legal aspects of property transactions. They work in both legal offices and courthouses. When a property transaction occurs, the vendor or buyer employs a real estate lawyer to ensure the transaction follows the laws. They review residential or commercial properties as well as undeveloped land. They also work for landlords or tenants leasing properties.
Real estate lawyers' work extends beyond ensuring property transactions proceed smoothly. They also interfere in property disputes when one party fails to honor their side of an agreement. These situations often require a real estate lawyer's help to solve the problem and represent either of the parties in the resulting court case.
Real estate lawyers understand all the laws people must follow in all matters that involve buying, selling or renting property. One of their job responsibilities is explaining property law for their clients. They also demonstrate a high level of ethics.
Related: Real Estate Attorney vs. Realtor
What does a real estate lawyer do?
A real estate lawyer performs any legal duties involved with a property transaction. When a residential or commercial property is about to transfer from one owner to another, the real estate lawyer prepares documents for both the seller and the buyer to sign. They perform research to make sure the vendor has rightful ownership of the property and that the property is free of debt. They also search for the legal title deeds to the property.
Once a real estate lawyer confirms a property's sale is legal, they get both parties to agree to and sign the documents. Real estate lawyers follow a similar process with property rentals and provide the landlord and tenant with leasing contracts to sign.
If two parties disagree about a property contract, the real estate lawyer helps negotiate a settlement between the sides. They identify the cause of the conflict and find a resolution. If the two parties cannot agree, they prepare for a court hearing.
Related: Learn About Being an Attorney
How to become a real estate lawyer
Aspiring real estate lawyers need to complete a long course of study ending with the bar examination. Follow these steps to become a real estate lawyer:
1. Earn a bachelor's degree
Complete a four-year undergraduate degree to prepare to apply for law school. Real estate lawyers commonly major in legal studies but can earn nearly any degree, including business or economics.
2. Pass the LSAT
After earning your bachelor's degree, you need to take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). The LSAT is an examination that tests your critical and analytical abilities. Passing this examination is required to apply to American Bar Association-approved law schools.
3. Attend law school
Once you gain admission to law school, you spend the next three to four years studying for a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree that allows you to practice law in the United States. In your last year or two of study, you can specialize in a specific area of law. This is when you can choose to study for a career as a real estate lawyer. While studying for your J.D. you need to:
Complete 90 credit hours and earn a grade point average of 2.0
Complete all your courses
Fulfill the in-residence requirement
Meet the writing intensive course requirements
Fulfill the experiential course requirements
While in law school, get experience by doing internships at law firms. Employers expect lawyers applying for entry-level jobs to have skills in negotiating contracts and real estate transaction preparation, which you can gain during internships.
4. Take the bar exam
After you graduate from law school, you need to pass the bar exam to get the attorney's license required to practice law in the U.S. You should take the bar examination in the state you plan to work in. Bar exam formats vary by state but typically last six hours and include multiple-choice and essay questions.
5. Find a job
Many states have real estate lawyers' associations that help new graduates network and learn about career opportunities and developments in the real estate legal field. Join these associations, and apply for entry-level real estate lawyer jobs.
6. Continue learning
After earning a law degree and passing the bar exam, take courses and attend seminars and conferences regularly to refresh your knowledge and stay up to date with new legal developments. Many employers expect real estate lawyers to pursue these continuing education opportunities themselves.
Related: How To Become a Lawyer
Salary and job outlook
Real estate lawyers earn an average base salary of $53,803 per year, according to Indeed Salaries. This figure depends on the location, size and success of the law firm. If you are a self-employed real estate lawyer, factors that can affect your income include:
The income level of your clients
Where your business is located
Your ability to gain new clients
Real estate lawyers are typically busiest and earn the most money during good economic periods with strong housing markets. Those who work for the government can expect less fluctuation in salary. If you work for the government or a private firm, you can expect to also receive retirement benefits and health insurance. If you own a real estate law business, you are responsible for purchasing health benefits and calculating your income and savings after deducting business expenses.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects real estate lawyers' employment prospects to grow 4% between 2019 and 2029, which is the average for all occupations. People continue to buy and sell homes, and governments continue to process land deals to add to their infrastructure. Developers are among real estate lawyers' most lucrative clients during strong economies, because they build housing, shopping and business complexes.
Skills for a real estate lawyer
Real estate lawyers need soft skills that they have naturally and hard skills, such as legal concepts and terminology, that they gain during their education. Skills real estate lawyers commonly need to be successful in their careers include:
Communication skills: Real estate lawyers need good verbal communication skills to form working relationships with clients, explain unfamiliar legal concepts and make their cases in court. They also need strong written communication skills when creating legal documents, contracts and memos.
Negotiation: These legal professionals spend a significant amount of time negotiating with clients and should have the skills to find resolutions all parties agree to.
Social skills: Real estate lawyers should have the interpersonal skills to help clients relax and have confidence in their skills before negotiating a deal or attending a court hearing.
Analytical skills: Real estate lawyers read through and assess large amounts of information to determine what is legal or how to resolve a dispute.
Investigation: These lawyers perform research and find detailed information about properties, laws and cases.
Real estate lawyers need to keep themselves informed of changing laws and how they affect their clients and cases. To monitor industry changes and keep their skills current, they should participate in networking groups with other lawyers and attend lectures and seminars hosted by legal associations.
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