As safe as houses...

Property law is a thriving area of practice, especially during periods of economic boom. The value of land, as an immoveable asset, has always been high throughout history and there will always be a market to buy, lease, sell, or develop it.

As a lawyer in this field, you could work on residential or commercial property matters, or you could do both. Commercial property work can be further divided into private and public sector projects. If you get your teeth into property law, you might provide legal services for individuals, groups, companies, investors, developers, public bodies or governments.

What does property law involve?

For most people, purchasing a property is the single biggest transaction they will ever make. Often, they will commit to a large level of debt, which they may be paying off for the rest of their working life.

As a property lawyer, you could be involved in many types of property-based transactions. At the start of your career, you will work on drafting contracts and related documents, and progress towards negotiations between parties. In most firms, junior lawyers often handle small value property matters on their own.

A number of people in property law choose to specialise, whereas others prefer to be general practitioners and work in all areas of property.

The daily tasks of a property lawyer include negotiating property transactions, structuring arrangements for conveyancing or investments, and preparing documentation, such as contracts, to finalize transactions. Solicitors will also collect relevant property information from surveyors and confirm that the party selling the property is the rightful owner.

What makes a good property lawyer?

To be successful as a property lawyer, you’ll need attention to detail and the ability to meticulously collate and present information. You must be logical in dealing with all concerned parties. Your drafting skills should be first-class and you’ll need to have a thorough understanding of the various laws and regulations that govern property.

Furthermore, your negotiation and communication skills should be top-notch, since most of the work involved is of a consensual nature. Client management is also important and you’ll need the ability to convert complex jargon and terminology into simple terms for your clients.

A ‘Day in the Life’ of Natalie Glenn, Second Year Trainee at Taylor Wessing

What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?

I usually arrive at the office between 8.30 and 8.45 in the morning. As soon as I get in I turn on my computer, make a cup of coffee and check my emails.  I then review my 'to do' list, which I made the night before, and check my calendar so that I can plan my day accordingly. I like to get up to speed with emails first thing in the morning, before the rush, so that I can get myself organised or the day. 

Could you give us a quick breakdown of how you spend the average day in this seat?

First, I like to thoroughly proofread any documents or important emails I drafted the night before. I tend to send quite a lot of emails in the morning, usually in response to queries from clients or lawyers on the other side of a transaction, or to request information needed to progress a matter forward. I try to get more urgent tasks completed before lunch if I can.

As a trainee on a property transaction, I am responsible for tracking our progress with regards to any outstanding information or conditions precedent to be satisfied, and keeping other fee earners updated on the status of the transaction. I also draft or update a number of documents on a daily basis, including letting documents, certificates or reports on title and letters, that are needed as part of a transaction. I usually meet my fellow trainees for lunch, either in the firm’s canteen or outside on the terrace if it is sunny.

Although we have a fantastic team of paralegals who can assist with this, I have also prepared a number of Land Registry applications and forms which has helped me to understand the more procedural aspects of a property transaction.

How much do you correspond with senior colleagues and clients on a daily basis?

I have enjoyed quite a lot of client contact during my seat (either with clients directly or with their agents) and this is something a Real Estate trainee can typically expect on a daily basis. I am often contacted directly, either with queries or with more general requests for information.

I will correspond with senior colleagues on a daily basis as well, either to take instructions or to update them on the progress of a matter. Senior colleagues are also on hand if you need to run something past them or ask a question.

What sort of responsibilities do you have as a trainee in property law? Are you tackling hands-on project work or undertaking more general research and protocol training?

Compared with other departments, I have undertaken less general research tasks and have been tackling more hands-on project work. You have a great deal of responsibility as a Real Estate trainee which is part of what makes it a really worth-while seat and the work has been really varied.

A ‘Day in the Life’ of Nez Zein, Second Year Trainee at Trowers & Hamlins

What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?

The first thing I do is start up my computer, head downstairs to our canteen, grab my breakfast with a couple of other trainees, and then head back upstairs to review my to-do list from the day before and update it with what I expect to get done today. I tend to check any overnight emails on my BlackBerry on the train in so I already have a vague idea of my workload for the day.

In just a few words, could you explain the sort of work you do in real estate law?

Drafting of core transactional documents, transaction management and dealing with client queries.

Could you give us a quick breakdown of how you spend the average day in this seat?

This varies depending on what I have on at a specific time. Splitting my time between the pure Real Estate transactional work and the Government funding aspect always ensures that I have a manageable amount of work on at any one time. If a property deal is nearing exchange my day will predominately be focused on the transactional side; negotiating documents, making final amendments to such documents and reports; and if necessary, managing fee earners from other departments. At Trowers, training is taken very seriously and so a couple of days a week we will likely have some sort of training session in the afternoon, which breaks up the working day quite well.

How much do you correspond with senior colleagues and clients on a daily basis?

At Trowers, you will be supervised by a partner for most tasks so you are constantly in discussions with partners within the department (and in some cases in other departments). Trowers strongly encourages teamwork and has implemented an “open door” policy. Coupling that with the general attitude of senior colleagues makes it very easy for me to pop in throughout the day to sign certain things off or ask questions. Client contact will vary from department to department, however in my current seat, my supervisors ensure that I am running my own files and am the first port of call when it comes to client queries.

Does your training put you in direct contact with clients?

Yes, my supervisor ensured from the start that I was always the one to reply to a client's query with the aim of getting the client to eventually contact me directly and this has worked extremely effectively. Not only do I conduct the usual trainee tasks such as taking attendance notes at meetings, I am the direct port of call for most of the client's queries and have been able to create a working relationship with many.

What sort of responsibilities do you have as a trainee in real estate law? Are you tackling hands-on project work or undertaking more general research and protocol training?

The department gives back what you put in to it. As real estate projects take approximately a year to go from start to finish, it is difficult to see the entire process through in a transaction as our seats are 6 months long. However, recently I went around and asked whether any of the fee earners had any short-term transactions coming up. There were a few going and I have now taken a couple on, so I am managing everything from the title report to drafting the sale and transfer agreements.

Why did you choose to take this elective?

Our Housing and Regeneration department is a true driving force within the firm. With the political environment as it currently is, I thought it would be very interesting to see how this affects the real estate within the country. The department works on private developments and public sector developments so you see the impact governmental decisions make on each side of the coin. I knew from researching the department the emphasis that is put on commerciality and from sitting in the department it is easy to see that the weight of our work is on the commercial and political aspects before even discussing the law.

What kind of projects have you been working on so far? Do you tend to take on short-term tasks or work on longer-term projects?

I tend to deal with both types, short and long-term. We get any ad-hoc queries from clients on previous developments or other things that may not be a sale or purchase, such as queries regarding the client’s current rights on a certain property or whether we can release a charge over a property. These tasks are usually forwarded to me to deal with directly with the client. I am also involved in some large real estate projects where I am given very high level tasks under the supervision of partner.

How does this seat compare with others you have completed?

All my seats have been different. I started in Corporate, then I went to Oman and now I am here. I feel in the Housing and Regeneration department you really do feel like you are a 2 year PQE solicitor instead of a trainee. I get very good work but this comes with a lot of responsibility. You tend to see that whilst your training contract progresses, you are exposed to more high level work as fee earners get to know your capabilities.

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