As safe as houses...
Property law is a thriving area of practice, especially during periods of economic boom. The value of land, as an immovable 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...Simon Bailey, Associate, Ashfords
What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?
The first thing I do when I get into the office is have a shower as I am lucky enough to live close enough to the office that I can run in every day. Once at my desk I check my emails and set a priority for what needs to be done that day. The post is then delivered at about 9.30am (which is obviously a lot smaller a pile then it used to be) so that needs to be checked and delegated appropriately for filing and scanning. Then it is usually a cup of coffee or tea before I attack the workload!
How do you handle and organise/prioritise your workload?
When things are busy I often write a to-do list the evening before I leave the office for the following day. I find this helps relieve any stress as it is important to switch off as best you can when out of the office. That list often needs to be re-jigged if anything urgent comes in overnight or first thing the next day. Our job as solicitors is fundamentally driven by client need, therefore prioritising work is often simply what piece of work is the most urgent. This is often a tricky task as you can have four or five “urgent” pieces of work. The more experienced you become, you gain a better understanding as to what can be placed into the “very urgent” pile and what is simply “urgent” but can wait for a few hours. For junior lawyers and trainees, I would often advise asking their supervisor or more senior team members for their view on priorities if they are ever unsure. What sort of daily responsibilities does an associate have in property law?
How do these differ from a trainee?
Associate responsibilities generally include doing a lot of the more complex drafting and matter management, in-depth correspondence and giving advice. A lot more of your time is also spent supervising other more junior members of the team, checking their work and giving feedback. It differs from a trainee role which is normally more task-specific. While trainees in our team do run some small files, generally this role is the task of associates and partners. More experienced associates are also encouraged to maintain client relationships which means doing more value-added work such as training sessions, attending business development events and secondments.
Can you give us an idea of the sort of projects you manage from day to day?
I have been lucky enough at my previous firm and my current firm to have been exposed to a very broad range of work which ranges from commercial property investment acquisitions and disposals, landlord and tenant work, energy (solar, wind, power stations), development and regeneration work and insolvency.
What sort of clients do you generally deal with on a day-to-day basis?
At present, I act for a number of local authorities on their commercial property acquisition programmes, and a number of development and regeneration sites across the UK, assisting with their day-to-day property management work. I also act for a well-known restaurant chain on their landlord and tenant work including acquisitions, disposals and lease renewals. In addition, I act for a large port and logistics park in Essex. It is a very broad range of work which keeps things interesting and every day different!