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 Sally Fletcher, Trainee, Withers 

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

My experience as a trainee in the real estate team was incredibly varied as the land law arena is diverse. I assisted on various property-related transactions, from purchases and sales of large rural estates to leases and licences documenting agreements between parties. The work is quite analytical as you are often required to scrutinise title deeds and documents going back many years in order to trace the origins of, for instance, an agreement in relation to a piece of land which is being acquired by a client. 

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

I mainly assisted with rural land-related transactions, but was also involved with the residential and corporate arms of the team. A lot of the work we do as trainees is assisting on the sale or purchase of properties. The negotiations leading up to exchange of contracts can go on for a few months, but there are numerous tasks which need to be undertaken during this time so a trainee is often working on short-term discrete tasks, but against the backdrop of a longerterm ongoing project. This is a good way of learning, as by the end of a transaction you have a grasp of the entire transaction. Examples of typical trainee tasks include producing reports on title for clients, preparing Land Registry applications, reviewing and drafting documents such as contracts and leases, and drafting responses to enquiries.

How does this seat compare with others you have completed?

The hours are generally more regular and the work more transactional in nature than in the litigious seats I have experienced. However, there is still a contentious element to the negotiations leading up to exchange of contracts when enquiries are being raised and terms agreed and this adds an interesting slant to the work. As a trainee, you will often be working on multiple deals at any one time (upwards of 20), rather than concentrating your time on just a few clients. This can initially be daunting so you need to be organised and able to balance numerous tasks. There are lots of opportunities to take on more responsibility as a real estate trainee—I did a lot more substantive drafting of documents and corresponded directly with clients, which was a great opportunity to develop my own personal style of communication and has been useful for my other seats.

Does your work put you in direct contact with clients? 

You frequently need to contact clients via email or over the phone in order to get their instructions or to update them on the progress of their matter. There is also a lot of contact with selling agents and lawyers acting for the other party to a transaction. I was also lucky enough to visit some of the estates we were instructed to assist in the sale/purchase of—this was a fantastic experience as it gave a real immediacy to the issues we were advising on and gave me a better understanding for the tasks with which I was later asked to assist.

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

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-term tasks or working on longer-term projects?

Trainees play an active part in real estate at BCLP. 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 into 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!