Becoming a Real Estate Attorney: Pros and Cons
Unlike some attorneys, real estate attorneys often spend more time preparing documents and researching case law than litigating in front of a judge or jury. Below are a list of pros and cons to help you decide if a career in this field is right for you.
|Pros of Becoming a Real Estate Attorney|
|High pay (median salary close to $135,000)**|
|Opportunity to be your own boss (22% of lawyers were self-employed in 2010)*|
|Work in a rewarding career advocating for clients*|
|Advancement into partnerships is a possibility after gaining experience*|
|Cons of Becoming a Real Estate Attorney|
|Extensive educational requirements (approximately seven years of post-secondary study)*|
|Must pass state bar examination to obtain a license*|
|Continuing education is required in 45 states*|
|Long work hours are often necessary*|
Source(s): *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salary.com
Essential Career Information
Job Description and Duties
Much of the work that a real estate attorney performs involves preparing documents and researching current law or past rulings rather than standing in front of a judge or jury while litigating a case. However, you might represent a company or individual in court when a breach of contract or real estate fraud occurs. Working long hours dealing with legal issues related to zoning, title transfers, mortgage lending and construction is a normal part of the job. Companies will also consult with you when they are unsure about how to handle a situation or don't know how laws or regulations may affect business decisions when buying or selling real estate.
As a real estate attorney, you should be an analytical thinker who can define a legal problem and come up with the solution. Strong ethics and sound judgment are necessary, and you must effectively and accurately communicate your ideas and position to your client, judges and other legal professionals. One inaccuracy could result in huge financial losses or possibly a criminal infraction, and you may find yourself under stress to produce the outcome your client desires. You must also show confidence in your abilities in order to gain your client's trust.
Career Prospects and Salary
The field of real estate law may become more competitive as companies hire fewer lawyers but more accountants and paralegals to perform some of the job duties of a real estate attorney. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of all types of lawyers is predicted to grow at an average rate of ten percent from 2012-2022. Despite this projected growth, if the economy is in recession and fewer real estate transactions occur, the demand for these attorneys will decrease. Although job growth may not be strong, compensation is quite high. Based on data from Salary.com, the median yearly salary for real estate attorneys in October of 2015 was $134,744.
What Are the Requirements?
The path to becoming an attorney is determined by each state's bar association. Generally, all lawyers will need to earn a bachelor's degree and complete a law degree at a school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). Although the field of undergraduate study is not specified, taking courses in economics, math, public speaking, government and real estate will prepare you for law school.
Admittance to the 200 law schools approved by the ABA, as of August 2011, is very competitive, and scoring high on the often-required Law School Admission Test (LSAT) could give you an advantage. While pursuing a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, you'll study legal writing, constitutional law, civil procedures and contracts. Specializing in real estate law may be an option at some schools. You can earn your law degree in about three years.
After graduation from law school, you'll need to pass your state's bar exam before you can work as an attorney. Depending on the state, you'll be required to take one or a series of exams testing your legal knowledge and character. The BLS reported that as of 2011, 45 states also require attorneys to complete continuing education courses each year or every three years. Completing courses in ethics and fraud ensures the state that attorneys are following the law and operating under high standards of practice.
What Real Employers Want
Employers who place job postings for real estate attorneys usually state the type of work experience and number of years in the industry they desire. Multiple years of real estate transaction preparation and contract negotiation are generally required, and employers also seek out attorneys who can communicate well and perform duties with minimal supervision. Read the following real job listings found in April of 2012 to discover what actual employers want when hiring a real estate attorney:
- A law firm in Washington, D.C., was hiring a real estate attorney with experience in executing the stages of real estate and commercial transactions, including negotiation and documentation. Candidates had to possess strong writing skills, enthusiasm and ingenuity in addition to three or more years of experience.
- A company in Dallas was looking for a real estate attorney with over ten years of experience in negotiating contracts and supervising junior lawyers at a large firm. High levels of accuracy and efficiency were required and candidates had to be able to work independently.
- A law firm in California that focused on real estate, construction defects and homeowner association issues was seeking a real estate attorney. Applicants needed excellent computer, research and writing skills and high motivation.
Gaining an Edge in the Field
Develop Excellent Communication Skills
Real estate attorneys spend a lot of time talking to groups of people, whether presenting information in court or sharing ideas and opinions with clients. Brushing up on your written and verbal communication skills will show clients you know what you're talking about, giving them confidence in your abilities. The BLS states that attorneys who can relocate or who gain legal work experience while in law school will be more appealing to employers. However, relocation would necessitate taking an additional bar exam after moving to a new state.
Join Real Estate Organizations
You could 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. Additionally, you could choose to become a member of a state real estate lawyers association. These organizations provide attorneys with resources to enhance their skills in addition to helping them find employment and advancement opportunities.
Alternative Career Paths
If the education and licensing requirements for real estate attorneys seem too complex and difficult, you might want to consider becoming a paralegal. These professionals research laws and past cases and gather other information needed for case litigation. Paralegals also prepare documents for attorneys and assist them during trials. An associate's degree in paralegal studies or a bachelor's degree and paralegal certificate are usually necessary, but most training will occur on the job. The BLS projected an 18% increase in the employment of paralegals and legal assistants during the 2010-2020 decade, and the mean annual salary in May of 2011 was close to $50,000.
Real Estate Broker
Another alternative to real estate law is a career as a real estate broker. Brokers assist clients in purchasing or selling homes, commercial buildings and land. They also create legal documents and negotiate contracts. Although licensing requirements may vary by state, to work as a broker, you must usually hold a high-school diploma, complete a set number of real estate courses and pass an exam. Proof of experience in real estate sales is also required to obtain a license.
Real estate brokers can expect to see an eight percent rate of growth from 2010-2020, based on data from the BLS. Although this rate is slower than average, pay for brokers is decent. In May 2011, the BLS estimated that real estate brokers earned a median yearly salary of around $59,000.