Firstly, 'real estate' and 'property' lawyers are the same thing! The terms are used interchangeably.
The work real estate lawyers do centres on all types of buildings and land.
There are two main categories of real estate:
commercial real estate (dealing with land/buildings used, managed or owned by businesses generally for the purpose of making a profit); and
residential real estate (land/buildings used as residential homes).
Real estate law is not just about buying and selling land. Real estate law can include leasehold management, commercial development, investment, security, disputes of land ownership and a variety of other transactions.
Common Real Estate Transactions
Conveyancing property - this is transferring property from one person (or company) to another. This will include looking at title (title means the qualify of legal ownership) issues, easements (rights) over land, contracts and transfers to do with the land, third party rights in the land, covenants over the land etc.
Dealing with leasehold land - this will include any transaction that can arise from the property or land being held under a 'leasehold title'. A leasehold title is ownership of land pursuant to a 'lease'. Leasehold titles can crop up in both commercial and residential contexts.
Development - where land or buildings are purchased with the intention to build or develop (i.e. a company purchases a large area of land to build a block of flats or a shopping centre).
How do Real Estate Lawyers fit within the wider law firm?
The real estate team tends to be one of the biggest teams in a law firm.
Real estate lawyers will specialise in a particular type of real estate law such as residential conveyancing, mortgage lending, property finance, social housing etc.
Real estate law can touch upon other areas of law too. For example: a real estate lawyer dealing with a big commercial development may come across planning issues so will call upon a specialist planning lawyer to provide advice/guidance.
Real estate lawyers can be called upon by other teams too. For example: a corporate lawyer dealing with an acquisition may need a property lawyer to deal with any property issues that arise during the deal.
In March 2019 when Disney acquired 21st Century Fox, the real estate team at DLA Piper deal with the real estate aspect of the acquisition which involved 350 properties worldwide.
Typical tasks of a Real Estate Lawyer
Negotiating sales, purchases, leases and various other transactions
Drafting a range of legal documents such as transfers, agreements for sale, leases etc.
Reviewing information received from third parties such as surveyors, local authorities (i.e. planning permission etc.) and the land registry (i.e. title registers and deeds)
Prepare title reports for buyers and lenders (known as 'report on title' and 'certificate of title' respectively)
Deal with registration of land at the Land Registry
Manage the transfer of money and handover of property on completion of a sale
Advise clients on a variety of property issues or concerns including obtaining planning permission, managing property portfolio investments, dealing with third party rights etc.
Skills required to be a Real Estate Lawyer
Great attention to detail (real estate is a high risk area for negligence)
The ability to manage a big caseload so being organised and being able to multi-task
Good drafting skills with the ability to consider the practical implications of your drafting
Advising (clear and concise)
Ability to look at the bigger picture.
New to Real Estate?
If you are about to start a real estate seat as part of your training contract or if you're about to start your role as a real estate paralegal, check out the following useful starting points:
Land Registry - you'll spend most of your time on the Land Registry website! You'll have an individual login which will enable you to download title registers, plans and various other property deeds. You'll also submit various applications via the business portal and find out if land is registered or not.
Land Registry Practice Guides - there are 79 guides available on the Land Registry website which cover most property transactions so a very useful tool to understand a transaction and what you need to do!
Practical Law (PLC) - search 'resources for those new to property law' for guidance on different types of property transactions!