The lie of the land...

Land law, as the name suggests, is the set of rules that govern the land and anything attached to it, such as trees or buildings, or anything in it, e.g. treasure or oil.

People who work in this area of law have the task of fighting or defending disputes over land matters, such as rights of way and boundary issues. These cases may involve matters which involve landowners, private individuals or the state.

Why is it important? What does it involve?

Almost everyone will have to deal with some elements of land law at least once in their life, whether you buy a house, walk up and knock on someone’s door or decide to cut down a neighbours overhanging tree.

A great deal of the work of a lawyer specialising in this area involves going through deeds, agreements and the land registry records to see if you can decipher who owns what and what rights people may or may not have over pieces of land.

You will need to have excellent attention to detail and highly-motivated to be able to concentrate on long paper trails and deal with the often unclear intentions of the individuals involved. Some of the disputes might require you to go back and refer to documents that are hundreds of years old.

Research is a key part of this area of law. Furthermore, you will frequently be required to draft legal documents and liaise with the land registry, other lawyers and law firms that are sometimes located on the other side of the country, or even the world.

Break it down for me a little bit!

Land law has evolved significantly over hundreds of years. Working in this area of law can be particularly interesting and stimulating. Although the remuneration is not as high as you might expect in corporate or commercial law, it can still be lucrative; especially when you consider the high value people place on land. After all, a man’s house is his castle!

A ‘Day in the Life’ of Jack Ticehurst, Trainee in Land Law at Berwin Leighton Painser LLP.

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

Trainees can expect to be fully involved in a wide range of tasks. During my seat I have negotiated and drafted leases, licences, authority letters, and notices, to name a few documents. On both sides of a transaction trainees are involved in reviewing documents and either raising or answering enquiries. Trainees will also be a primary point of contact and information for the lawyers on the other side, the client, and colleagues in other teams. I have also written transaction reports to clients and certificates of title for lenders, produced SDLT returns and land registry applications. As with nearly all seats, trainees also have research tasks and matter management roles.

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

I have been involved in a couple of long-term, regeneration/development projects during my seat.  These often take many years from instruction through to completion so as a trainee you get to see phases of these projects and how it fits into the overall scheme. Throughout my seat I have usually had at least one asset or share transaction running. These tend to be the matters that demand most of a trainee’s time, whether buying or selling. They are generally fast-moving and involve a lot of cross-specialty involvement and are the matters that I have most enjoyed; it’s rewarding to see the asset you have bought/sold whether it is a building in the West End or a City skyscraper. As well as these matters, trainees can expect to have as many as 30 smaller files on the go: leases, licences and other management matters. Trainees are expected to take ownership of these files and they provide a great opportunity to cut your teeth and enhance your experience.

How does this seat compare with others you have completed?

The first thing that struck me was the number of matters I inherited from the previous trainee, trainees in this team really have to dive straight in.  I had done two litigious seats previously and moving from having 3-5 matters to 30 was a bit of a shock. It is impossible to flit between all of your files daily so familiarising yourself with a matter but prioritising them is essential. I have had to become much more organised. The other significant difference is the extent of client contact, which is great and the amount of responsibility trainees are given.

Does your work put you in direct contact with clients?

Almost every day. You are encouraged to pick up the phone and take a personal approach rather than hide behind emails. The same is true at meetings or on conference calls, trainees are not just observers and are often in the best position to answer questions. 

Interview with Lauren Marie Doherty, trainee in the land law department at BLP.

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

Typical trainee tasks in real estate are likely to include:

- Managing your own files

- Drafting and negotiating leases and licences

- Drafting other documentation, such as rent authority letters, rent review memorandums and notices

- Preparing and filing SDLT Returns, including communications with the client to obtain the necessary information

- Chasing parties for documents and action steps in line with tight deadlines

- Enquiries management on larger corporate transactions. Some major deals will use large extranet sites in order to set up an enquiries section for all parties to raise enquiries (questions) with the seller. Trainees are required to monitor those enquiries and feedback to the rest of the team on a daily basis.

- Drafting and submitting land registry applications

- Undertaking research

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

Trainees play an active part in real estate at BLP. From my first day in the department, I was given a set of my own files to run with (supervised where necessary) and have worked as part of a team on a range of different share/asset transactions. The smaller files allow you to take ownership of your work and build lasting client relationships, while the larger transactions allow you to carry out discrete tasks and work as part of a team.

I’m currently drafting several leases and licences for one of our key retail clients, which has enhanced my drafting and communication skills. I am also working as part of a team on a large corporate sale in which our client is selling its freehold interest in the property to then lease back only two floors from the new owner.

How does this seat compare with others you have completed?

A seat in real estate is very different from all other departments as there is always a diverse range of work to get involved in. The great thing about real estate is that you manage your own files, from initial client instructions and heads of terms, right through until billing the matter. No minute of the day is left unoccupied so the need to manage different workstreams and the ability to prioritise tasks are skills a trainee will need to display in order to make the most out of this seat.  

Does your work put you in direct contact with clients?

From the moment I step in to the office, to the moment I leave, I am constantly talking to clients (whether it be negotiating a lease, or calling the client for information). Often it is a lot easier to call a client in order to obtain information, instead of emailing and having to wait for a reply, which often becomes a very impersonal process. Fee earners really like it if you get ‘stuck in’ and contribute where you can – enthusiasm is key. For example, only yesterday I was asked (unexpectedly) to retrieve some deeds from a client’s office. In the end, the client asked me to spend the whole day with them answering questions in relation to the deal!

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