Become a Real Estate Lawyer
A real estate lawyer deals with the purchase and sale of commercial and residential real estate, negotiates leases, and handles zoning issues. Becoming a real estate lawyer requires an extensive amount of education and plenty of hands-on experience. The process requires a college degree, a law school degree, and a passing score on the bar exam.
Earning a Bachelor’s Degree
- Satisfy degree requirements. To qualify for law school you will need a four-year bachelor’s degree. Although some schools have “pre-law” majors or concentrations, law schools do not require any particular major. Find a subject that interests you and in which you can do well.
- Make sure you attend an accredited undergraduate college or university. To check, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s (“DOE”) Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
- Gain experience in public speaking. The ability to speak with anyone is a great skill for a lawyer, including real estate lawyers. Real estate lawyers meet with a variety of people during their workday, from clients, potential clients, opposing counsel, and even judges or arbitrators. You need to be comfortable speaking to diverse constituencies, often off the top of your head.
- While in college, look for opportunities to engage in public speaking. These opportunities can be in debate clubs, public speaking competitions, or even acting as a tour guide for the school.
- Also look for opportunities to strengthen your research and writing skills. Sign up for upper-level electives that allow you to write long research papers.
- Earn high grades. Law school admissions is basically a numbers game, and the two most important numbers are your undergraduate grade point average (GPA) and your score on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). To make the strongest admissions case possible, you should try to get the highest grades possible. Admissions committees view a high GPA as an indication that you are motivated and work hard.
- To get into an accredited law school, you will need a GPA around 3.0 or higher. Applicants admitted into the Top 50 schools generally have a GPA of at least a 3.5.
- Work closely with faculty. Another key element of your application will be letters of recommendations from professors who know you. To get strong letters of recommendation, you should try to work with faculty as a research or teaching assistant. This experience will allow professor to write detailed letters of recommendation in support of your admission to law school.
- Intern with a real estate lawyer. You can get an early taste of the life of a real estate lawyer while in college. Intern or work part-time for a real estate lawyer. Many lawyers and law firms need clerical and support staff assistance in the summer but also throughout the year.
- It’s never too early to begin building your network. If you do a good job working for a real estate attorney in college, then when you graduate law school you can revive the relationship and potentially get a job.
Applying to Law School
- Register for the LSAT. The LSAT is offered four times a year, in June, September, December, and February. It is offered on Saturdays. There are special sessions for those who observe a Saturday Sabbath.
- Create a free account at the Law School Admission Counsel’s (“LSAC”) website.
- Find a test date and location. To do this, start on LSAC’s Law School Admission Counsel’s website Dates and Deadlines page. The last date to take the exam for fall admissions is typically September/October. You may be able to take the December or February test, but by then many law schools will already have filled most of their classes.
- Study for the LSAT. The LSAT is probably the most important factor in your law school application, so take it seriously. It tests reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning.
Test prep companies offer tutoring, but you can also study on your own.
- Your local library or bookstore should have copies of old LSAT exams. Find the most recent to take as practice exams.
- The LSAT is scored on a scale from 120-180, with 180 being the highest. To get into an accredited law school, try to get a score around the fiftieth percentile, which is around a 152.
- Sit for the test. The LSAT comprises five multiple choice sections and one unscored essay. Four of the five multiple choice sections count toward your score. The fifth is experimental and does not count toward your score. You will not know in advance which section is experimental.
- Read up ahead of time on the test rules so that you can follow them to the letter. Failure to follow the rules could disqualify you from taking the test.
- Consider retaking the LSAT. You can take the LSAT more than once. Schools may choose to accept your higher score, or they may choose to average the two. You have to pay each time you take the test.
- On average, test takers are able to increase their score only two to three points on a re-take. You may not want to retake the test unless your score was far below what you were scoring on practice exams.
- Register with the Credential Assembly Service (CAS). All law schools use CAS. You will send them your transcripts, letters of recommendation, and evaluation. CAS then creates a packet that it sends to each law school you apply to. The service requires a fee.
- Make sure to get all documents to CAS in a timely manner. A law school will not move on your application until it has your packet from CAS.
- Ask professors for letters of recommendation. Ask early. Sometimes professor agree but then forget as they get busy. Only ask professors who you are sure can write a positive letter of recommendation and do not press if faculty are hesitant. A hesitant professor might write a weak letter of recommendation.
- Also think of getting letters from employers. If you worked part-time for a real estate attorney, then a detailed letter from your employer could help your application as well.
- Some recommenders may need to be prompted to complete the letter. Send a friendly email reminder, or stop in to chat.
- Write your personal statement. Law schools require that you write a short (about 500 word) statement, on a topic of your own choosing.
You want your personal statement to be engaging, free of errors, and brief.
- Follow the directions. If the school wants you to write on a specific topic, write on that topic. Also, if they give you a word limit, stick to the limit. Going over, by even a few words, can harm your chances of admission.
- Feel free to write about your interest in real estate law. However, it’s a good idea to only write on the subject if you have something meaningful to say. The best personal statements are often based on anecdotes, so write about real estate law if you have some experience with it.
- Draft necessary addendums. An addendum can help explain something that looks bad in your application. It provides context for any information that might raise “red flags” in the eyes of the Admissions Committee members.
- Red flags include criminal convictions, punishment for cheating or plagiarism, or semesters with very low grades. An addendum might also clarify why one LSAT score is much higher than another. Remember to explain in your addendum, not make excuses.
- Your addendum does not need to be lengthy. For example, you could simply state, “I would like to explain why my first LSAT score is 20 points lower than my second. Two days before the first exam, I contracted the flu. Since I was afraid that cancelling would result in my not being able to apply to law school this year, I went ahead and took the exam although I was sick. During the second exam, I felt much better and scored closer to my averages on practice exams.”
Picking a Law School
- Use your GPA and LSAT score to find appropriate schools. You can gauge your likelihood of gaining admission to specific schools by using the LSAC calculator. Enter your undergraduate GPA and LSAT score to see your chances at any ABA-accredited law school.
- If you have a 3.5 GPA and a 155 LSAT, then you have an 80% chance of getting into Brooklyn Law School but only a 50% chance of getting into Pittsburgh Law School.
- Pay attention to location. Unless you attend a top 20 school, you most likely will be practicing in the area where you attended law school. Most law schools place their alumni in the local legal community. Accordingly, you should pay attention to the school’s location and make sure you feel comfortable living there.
- You should always ask any prospective law school for its job placement statistics. Pay attention to the number of students who get “full-time jobs requiring a JD” after graduation. This is the most relevant statistic. Other statistics, such as “those working full-time,” might include people who are working full-time in a job that doesn’t require a law degree.
- Compare costs. As you compare law schools, you should always pay attention to costs. Law school tuition now exceeds $40,000 a year at many private law schools.
Factoring in living expenses, you could be borrowing close to $200,000 to complete a three-year degree.
- Tuition for out-of-state law students is often comparable to the tuition of a private school. If you want to move to a state and hope to qualify as an in-state resident, contact the law school’s admissions office for information.
- Look into real estate clinics. A great way to get hands-on legal experience while in law school is to participate in a clinic. Many law schools have clinics where students represent low-income clients while under the supervision of a faculty member. Some law schools offer real estate clinics or have real estate institutes. These schools include Brooklyn Law School and John Marshall Law School.
- In a real estate clinic, students may represent low-income cooperative boards or other non-profits. Students will assist with loan and co-op unit closings, shareholder meetings, and drafting by-law or lease amendments.
- Find schools with a real estate concentration or certificate. The basic curriculum for first year students is pretty much the same at any law school, but after the first year, the classes available might be very different. Many law schools offer a real estate focus or certificate. These schools will offer many upper-level electives in areas such as Land Use Regulation, Basic and Advanced Real Estate, Construction Law, and Municipal Law.
- Apply to multiple law schools. Applying to more than one school increases your chances of being accepted. If you don’t get into any school, then you will have to wait a year before applying.
Earning Your Law Degree
- Take required courses. Unless you attend an accelerated or part-time program, law school will take three years. In your first year, you will take foundation courses in torts, contracts, property, civil procedure, criminal law, and constitutional law.
- You may end up taking 1L classes with the same people. Get to know your “section” because these people may be the source of career opportunities and contacts down the road.
- Make friends. Law school can be very isolating, as all students are striving to do the best that they can to master complex, difficult material. You will spend a lot of time alone in the library. Be sure to periodically put the books away and try to meet other people. Join a sports league or a student organization just to unwind.
- Another good way to meet people is to join a study group. In addition to the comradery, you will also get help with exam preparation, share notes and outlines, and have a group of people to talk through difficult legal issues with.
- If you join a study group, however, stick with it. No one likes people who join a group only to drop out after a month.
- Study hard. Your grades will follow you around your entire career. Though the importance of grades decreases over time, poor grades could keep you locked out of jobs, at least initially.
- If you want to practice real estate law at a large firm, then doing well in your 1L classes is critical. Large firms will hire summer associates on the basis of your 1L grades. If you want to work at a large firm or in-house at a large corporation, then you should plan on getting grades at the top of your class.
- To get an idea of how well you need to do to be competitive with large employers, visit your career services office and ask what large firms or corporations come onto your campus to interview. Career Services should also have information on the GPA required to be hired by these large firms.
- Intern with a real estate lawyer. Some law schools help place students with a real estate attorney, either at a title insurance company or at a law firm. Students will help out with a variety of tasks, such as title, closing, contract, and other problems.
- Externships can be taken for credit. If your school does not allow externships for working with a real estate attorney, then you could think about working part-time after your 1L year.
- Work as a summer associate for a real estate lawyer. During the summers you can work for attorneys as a clerk or a summer associate. You should begin looking for these opportunities in the spring semester. Larger firms will advertise through your school’s Career Services. However, you can also send out a copy of your resume and transcript and ask if a position is available.
- Although you may be paid, money should not be the primary purpose of a summer job. Instead, you should begin building your reputation. Be sure to do your best work.
- If you do good work, then your employer may remember you later when you are looking for a job. Be sure to hang onto contact information, such as phone numbers or emails, and send an occasional email to check up or just say “hi.”
- Be sure to get writing experience in your summer jobs. Employers usually ask for a writing sample when you apply for a job, and it is best to have a “real world” writing sample, such as a contract you helped draft for an employer, than something written for a legal writing class.
- Pass the MPRE. The Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) is required to practice in all but three jurisdictions in the United States. The exam is made up of 60 questions, which test your knowledge of legal ethics. You will take the exam in your third year of law school.
Obtaining Your Law License
- Apply for admittance to a state bar. Each state bar admits its own lawyers and administers its own bar exam. Contact the bar of the state where you wish to practice. They will provide you with a list of the necessary steps to take.
- Register for the bar exam. In almost every state you have to pass a written exam before you can be admitted to the bar. The exam typically includes an essay portion as well as a multiple choice test.
- The bar exam is typically offered twice a year. There is usually a summer exam (offered in June or July) and a winter exam (offered usually in February). If you have to take the bar exam over, you have to pay each time you take it.
- Prepare for the bar exam. You will need to prepare extensively for the bar exam. Most people try to take a bar prep course, which usually runs for several months. Costs can reach several thousand dollars.
- If you can’t afford a full prep course, then you might want to seek out old study guides published by bar prep companies. Many people sell old guides on eBay and other online retailers.
- Fill out the background survey. In addition to passing the bar exam, you also need to pass a character and fitness review.
You initiate the review by completing a detailed survey on your employment history, educational history, and criminal/financial history.
- Common problems with character and fitness include criminal convictions, financial irresponsibility (such as bankruptcy), and accusations of plagiarism. These may not completely block you from admission, but be prepared to discuss them with the character and fitness committee. If anything looks suspect to the committee, it will call you in for an interview.
- Always be honest when filling out the background survey. It is better to be upfront than try to hide something and get caught.
- Sit for the bar examination. The bar exam is typically a two-day exam. One day consists of a multiple-choice exam covering topics such as contracts, constitutional law, criminal law, evidence, and torts.
The other day will be made up of essays on state-specific topics.
- It will take several months to receive your score. In Illinois, for example, those who take the exam in July will not receive their results until the first two weeks of October.
Getting a Job as a Real Estate Attorney
- Interview on campus. If you want to practice real estate with a large law firm or with a large corporation, then you will probably need to sign up for on-campus interviews (OCI) and interview. Before the start of your 2L year, large law firms and corporations interview students for summer associate positions at their firm (or in-house) for the following summer. If they like you, they will probably extend an offer to join them after you graduate.
- Your Career Services office will send out detailed requirements for participating in OCI, such as preparing a resume and ordering copies of your transcript. Be sure to follow all policies to the letter, otherwise you could be prohibited from participating in interviews.
- Search online for job postings. Smaller firms often advertise online. You can check Craigslist, job aggregators like Indeed.com, and with your state bar association, which may have a jobs board. You will be asked to forward a resume, cover letter, and writing sample, so have those ready to go.
- Smaller firms often want applicants to already have passed the bar exam, so you may not be able to search for these jobs until you have the results of the bar exam.
- Set up informational interviews. Another way to find jobs is to meet with lawyers for informational interviews. After taking the bar exam, you should identify real estate attorneys whose practices you would like to learn more about. Draft a letter (not an email) and introduce yourself. Be sure to mention who gave you their name.
- In the letter, explicitly state that you are not asking for a job. You will get a better response this way. The purpose of the interview is to create an initial contact. If you make a good impression, the lawyer may remember you later for a full-time job or for part-time contract work.
- Draft at least five questions about the lawyer’s practice and be engaged during the meeting. Take notes and ask follow-up questions.
- Ask the attorney if she knows anyone else you can meet with. Be sure to send a thank you note afterwards.
- Contact former employers. If you cannot find a job after passing the bar, re-connect with attorneys you worked for during the summer or part-time during the school year. They may have overflow work for you to do, such as research assignments, contract review, or closings to attend.
- You can also cold call other real estate attorneys and ask if they have any overflow work. If you do not have a job, you should be most focused on building your reputation and not be picky about how much you get paid. If you do good work for low wages (or even for free), then the attorney may come back to you with additional work.
- Get a first job. Even if real estate law is your dream, you need to start with a first job to gain legal experience (and pay the bills). Ideally, you could work for a general business lawyer, who may do real estate work as one part of his or her practice. Otherwise, you will need some sort of legal job in order to get legal experience.
- Regardless of your first job, you can try to get real estate law experience in your free time. For example, you can do pro bono work. Volunteer at a local legal aid organization and help non-profits with their contract disputes, real estate closings, and other legal problems.
- You could also increase your familiarity with real estate issues by writing bar articles on real estate law, offering seminars to small businesses on real estate issues, or sitting on a local government board that handles land use and zoning.
- Grow your reputation. As your career advances, be sure to raise your profile by offering continuing legal education courses, joining bar association committees, and joining real estate bar associations. Many states, like Illinois, have a Real Estate Lawyers Association. Members are invited to events and seminar, and work together to address the concerns of the profession.
- You can also seek board certification in real estate law, if your state offers it. Ohio, for example, offers two specialist certificates in real estate, one in Real Property—Business, Commercial, and Industrial Law and the other in Real Property—Residential Law.
- To earn the certification, attorneys must show that they devote a significant portion of their practice to real estate law, take advanced courses in the field, and submit references. In many states, they also must pass a written exam.
- Ask one of your professors who has practiced real estate law in the past for suggestions on which classes will be most helpful to a future attorney.
- The key to getting a job is to meet as many people as possible and be willing to work for little or no money initially. Your reputation is your best asset and, starting out, you have no real reputation. Always do your best and be open to new work opportunities.
- The cost of law school continues to skyrocket while the job market remains saturated with lawyers. You need to think carefully about whether law school is a sound investment for you before signing up.