Real estate lawyers in demand

Real estate is one of the most fickle industries around — hot when the economy is growing and cold when it is not. The good news is that real estate is growing again and that means more jobs for attorneys.

Robert Half Legal, a legal staffing agency, reports that the real estate lawyer is the third most in-demand legal position in the South Atlantic region. Real estate is the second-fastest-growing legal industry in the South Atlantic region and the fourth fastest in the Mountain and Pacific regions.

At Brooklyn Law School, real estate law has become the most popular specialization. Graduates are finding more jobs in the specialization’s niche areas such as cooperative and condominium representation, said Professor David Reiss, who also serves as the program director of the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship.

If you have the time and money, Reiss thinks additional training in real estate can certainly help attorneys specialize their experience in the law. Course and certificates seem to be the best option in regards to both time and money.

“Taking a few relevant courses might make sense for most people instead of devoting the time and money that an LL.M. in real estate would entail,” he said. “Certain kinds of certificates can also help you stand out from other candidates, like the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certificate. It does not involve nearly as much time or money as an LL.M. degree would, but it does signal a level of knowledge and commitment to a particular practice area.” 

Don’t worry about getting your real estate license (unless you already have one). Spreading yourself too thin will be more harmful than productive, Reiss said. Attorneys also need to consider the requirements and restrictions of their individual jurisdiction.

"In some jurisdictions, such as New York, members of the bar are exempt from the various requirements necessary to become a licensed real estate broker,” he said. “But in my experience, lawyers are better off doing one thing well — being good lawyers — rather than being a jack of all trades.” 

As with a lot of specialized areas of the law, real estate law has plenty of niche areas in which lawyers can further delve into. This can make you more attractive to clients and employers. 

“Specializing in areas of the law relating to real estate can make a lot of sense — co-ops, condos and HOAs; construction law; land use; finance; affordable housing; and foreign investment programs, to name a few,” Reiss said.

Richard Hermann, a professor at Concord Law School who has written extensively about legal careers, recommends earning certificates in niche areas of the law, as they are inexpensive ways to increase your qualifications.

“Many such programs are available, and quite a few are online and inexpensive,” he said.

While real estate can be up and down, Reiss said real estate law could be a good field even during slower economic times.

“No matter what the economy as a whole is doing, clients are still buying and selling properties, financing and refinancing them, and entering into property leases,” he said.

To prepare for careers in real estate law, Brooklyn Law School encourages job applicants to have very focused resumes, which increases their marketability.

“We find that students with focused resumes can make a compelling case to a range of real estate employers, even if their overall GPA is not high,” Reiss said.

Participating in bar association committees is also highly recommended for networking and learning purposes. Reiss says it is important to notify your network that you are transitioning into a new specialization.

“A good word about your work ethic and ability to learn can help compensate for a lack of direct experience,” Reiss said.

All that said, Reiss recommends attorneys be sure of their specialization interests before getting too far into the field.

“You should keep in mind that once you specialize, many people will pigeonhole you in that area,” he said. “So you want to make sure that you like the practice area and that there is a sufficient flow of work to keep you busy.”