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Real Estate Lawyer: What Life is Like in the Profession

published February 21, 2023

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The Pros and Cons of Practicing as a Real Estate Attorney

Real estate attorneys have the important job of providing legal services related to the purchase, sale, and ownership of land and buildings. They advise their clients on a variety of legal matters, from helping draft sales contracts to resolving title disputes. They must understand the complexities of real estate law and be familiar with local, state, and federal real estate regulations.

Real estate lawyers work closely with buyers and sellers of real estate, helping to ensure that all parties involved understand their rights and responsibilities. They review contracts, title reports, and other legal documents, provide advice and counsel to their clients, and represent their clients in court if necessary. They must be knowledgeable of all real estate laws, regulations, and practices surrounding their client's particular transaction.

Real estate attorneys often specialize in one or more areas of real estate law, such as residential or commercial real estate, landlord/tenant law, tax law, zoning law, and foreclosure law. They may also provide counsel on mortgage agreements, loan documentation, and other loan-related issues. In addition to handling legal matters, real estate attorneys may also provide general legal advice or represent their clients in closing real estate deals.

To become a real estate attorney, individuals must first meet the educational requirements of their state. This typically includes completing an undergraduate degree from an accredited university and then graduating from an accredited law school. After completing the necessary education, lawyers must pass their state's bar exam in order to become a licensed lawyer.

Being a real estate attorney can be both rewarding and challenging. The job requires knowledge of real estate law and regulations, excellent communication and organizational skills, and the ability to listen to and understand the needs of their clients. Real estate attorneys can expect to work long hours, handle complex legal matters, and work closely with other professionals, such as brokers and lenders. However, they are also rewarded with the satisfaction of helping their clients navigate legal matters and ensuring that they understand their rights and responsibilities related to their real estate transactions.
Questions Answered In This Article

What is the average salary for a Real Estate Lawyer?

The US average annual salary for Real Estate Lawyers is $131,851.

Are there different job options in real estate law?

Individuals with a real estate law background can pursue careers in zoning regulations, housing regulations, auction project management, real estate transactions, tenant law, and land use.

What kind of tasks does a real estate lawyer typically perform?

A real estate lawyer typically oversees land transactions and advises clients on title transfers, zoning, and mortgage issues. They also may handle trespassing and intrusion violations.

What type of degree is required to practice real estate law?

To practice real estate law, individuals must first earn a bachelor's degree and then complete an accredited, 3-year law program. Once they complete this, they must pass the state bar exam to become a licensed lawyer.

What should students expect to learn when pursuing a career in real estate law?

When pursuing a career in real estate law, students can expect to take courses such as torts, civil procedure, contracts, and property. Upper-level coursework usually consists of electives such as antitrust law, real estate transactions, legal accounting, and commercial real estate law.

Real estate attorneys often start off doing something else. Possibly this is because real estate law is a natural compliment to many other legal specialties - from international corporate law, to divorce law, to environmental law.

Click Here to Read BCG Attorney Search’s Guide to Corporate and Finance Job Search Categories for More Information.

Real estate law could add more to your growing practice. Or, this specialty could be a good way for you to move to another legal neighborhood if you are not happy with the one you're in right now.

That's what John O'Brien did. O'Brien, alumnus of Loyola Law School in Chicago, has been practicing law for 32 years, 20 of those in residential real estate law and estate law. Now in solo practice, he is also the Chair of the Illinois Real Estate Lawyers Association.

O'Brien handled many divorce cases as a young attorney. It was "no fun" to work in such an angry environment, he says. Now, working in residential real estate law, O'Brien sees clients taking a step up in life, most of whom are happy with the process of buying a house.

Since most people buy houses on the weekends when they are not at work, a typical work week for O'Brien involves checking his fax machine at 8:00 on Monday and Tuesday mornings, and usually finding two or three contracts there waiting for him. Then he gets to work.

O'Brien contacts new clients, advises them of the requirements of the home-buying contract, his fees, and other details.

In the standard Chicago-area home-buying contracts (which O'Brien wrote), there are five days in which the buyer can have an inspector look at the house, and for the buyer's attorney to contact the seller about any changes requested before the sale goes through - a repair to a leaky faucet, or roof repairs, for example.

Another part of the contract includes an "attorney approval clause," which says that the contract is subject to attorney approval. O'Brien has only had to invoke this a few times. Once, a buyer loved the house, but the local schools could not meet the needs of her autistic child, so she had to change her mind about the move.

When the house is in the right condition for sale, and everything else is in place, then O'Brien will attend the closing personally. He handles about 700 real estate deals a year, which means that he could easily have more than one closing a day.

Overall, O'Brien says his work is a "family-related practice that has real rewards."

If you love to organize, you like the feeling of completing one project and moving on to the next, you have good negotiating skills, and enjoy the fine details of contracts - then real estate law could be for you, says Lisa Abrams, author of The Official Guide to Legal Specialties (published by Harcourt Legal, and the National Association for Law Placement). Abrams, an attorney, is also the Associate Director of Career Services at the University of Chicago Law School.

Jace McColley, a third-year student at the New York Law School, a private stand-alone law school in Manhattan, is drawn to real estate law because it shows actual results, and is not as theoretical as other areas of law. McColley likes the variety of practice within the specialty, including zoning, landlord-tenant, real estate development, and the mortgage industry, and that "each specialization has a whole field built around it, and a whole field of practitioners who specialize in those areas," he says.

McColley started his school's Real Estate Law Association in 2002, which now has 80 members. He sees real estate law as a good skill to have under your belt, no matter what area of law you want to pursue.

One specialty, many ways.

Real estate law is a good specialty to combine with others, says Lisa Abrams. It can be part of a family law practice, when it comes to dividing assets and property. It can be part of estate planning, in setting up trusts to distribute property. Also, there are jobs out there for real estate attorneys who are staff attorneys at law firms, says Abrams, arranging for house purchases and real estate transactions for the firm and its attorneys.

Real estate law can be an addition to an already busy general practice, a niche in a larger field, a stand-alone endeavor (as with John O'Brien's residential real estate practice). It can also be the basis for working in a field you wish to pursue - such as environmental law or international law.

Susan A. Bernstein chose to combine environmental law with real estate law after 15 years working for various public agencies, including a stint as Assistant Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), writing environmental regulations.

Gradually making the decision to make a career move out of the public sector, Bernstein left the DPH, attended the New England School of Law in Boston, and hung out her own shingle in 1997.

Bernstein's solo practice in Boston helps clients navigate the thick and complicated field of environmental regulations needed in most commercial real estate transactions. For example, if a client wants to purchase land and build an office building on it, before the lenders will ante up the funding, there has to be an environmental assessment of the site and the project. This assessment, called "due diligence," is just the first step, says Bernstein.

Any one commercial real estate transaction involves due diligence, the acquisition of and compliance with several environmental permits, managing cleanup of existing toxins on the site, and/or setting up a corporation to buy the property. Before you get started practicing this combination of commercial real estate law and environmental law, "there is a lot to learn," says Bernstein. [For ways to get your feet wet, see "Advice" below.]

Doing international real estate law involves equal parts legal knowledge and diplomacy. "The practice of international law requires first and foremost the cultural skills for dealing with human beings who speak different languages, live in different socio-economic situations, and are familiar only with their own legal systems," says Marcantonio Pinci, who has been practicing since 1990 and is Managing Partner of Pinci & Associates, with offices in New York, Brussels, Athens, and cities throughout Italy.

Pinci's current firm handles a wide range of international legal services, including corporate, banking and securities, employment and labor, aerospace, oil and gas, and entertainment law. So why include real estate?

Pinci went to law school at the University of Milan, and Georgetown University Law Center in Washington D.C., and studied international mergers and acquisitions. When first starting his international law career at a firm in Milan, Pinci was assigned to do some real estate work.

Turns out, says Pinci, "for tax reasons, most large real estate transactions in Italy are carried out 'in corporate form,' i.e. you transfer the shares of a company that owns the real estate, rather than the real estate itself." So Pinci used his corporate law training to work on real estate transactions for clients who were not in Italy - doing corporate law while learning real estate on the job.

Interested in these kinds of jobs? Click here to find Real Estate jobs.

Now, real estate law is a core part of Pinci's practice in international business law. The real estate work often involves facilitating negotiations among a long list of individuals and entities - for example, developers, banks, and corporations, often located in different countries - and then drafting the contracts and other documents needed to close the deal.

So, if you want to do international real estate law, you not only need the legal skills, but also the language, diplomatic, and organizational skills to manage transactions spanning multiple nations.

Making a living.

The economy - local and national - impacts real estate and opportunities to practice real estate law. You should consider the market, agrees John O'Brien, when planning your career. Large cities have more housing and more housing turnover than most small towns, for example, and so they might be good places to practice residential real estate law.

In Illinois, the housing market right now is "very hot," says O'Brien; there is a lot of work out there for real estate attorneys.

By the same token, residential real estate law is probably not going to make you rich or work you to death. While corporate real estate may be a different story, O'Brien says he makes a comfortable living in a "home-for-dinner" practice. Banks and escrow companies are not open on weekends, nor past 5:00, so neither is his practice.

One of the good things about practicing law in general is that it is a varied and flexible profession. Lawyers work in a "constantly changing environment," says Peter Wittenborg, Executive Director of the Real Estate Bar Association for Massachusetts (REBA). From 1972 to 2000, Wittenborg was a real estate attorney, and then he became the branch manager of a title insurance company before taking his post at REBA.

The real estate market is cyclical with the overall economy, yes, but there is always work in real estate law, says Wittenborg, who has first-hand knowledge of the variety in this field.

Witenburg's first job, after returning to Massachusetts from law school at Vanderbilt in Nashville, was as a law clerk to the chief judge of the land court. Firms became interested in him because of his experience there, and he started off in residential real estate law. In the 1980s, Wittenborg shifted to working on commercial real estate transactions, and then later represented national lenders. "I have no regrets," he says.

Real estate law is not only an interesting specialty for legal practice, but also could stand you in good stead if you decide to make career changes down the road, says Jace McColley. If, for example, you do work as a real estate attorney for a few years, and then decide to leave legal practice, you could go into mortgage banking work, or real estate sales, and use your legal knowledge well in those fields.


  1. For attorneys considering a lateral career move, Lisa Abrams recommends that you connect with real estate attorneys in your bar association, look into doing pro-bono work, and try to find continuing legal education classes specifically focusing on real estate law.
  2. What you learn during your first five years out of law school is what "comprises your value to your clients," says Susan A. Bernstein. If you are a young attorney just out of law school, she says, getting a job with a government agency is a good way to get on-the-job knowledge. You can learn a lot, and you have career options when you've got the experience. If you love your government work, you can stay; if you want to move on, you can use that regulatory knowledge in a law practice in the same field.
  3. To be involved in international real estate, Marcantonio Pinci recommends that you: "Live, study and gain work experience (not necessarily in the legal or real estate field) abroad, as much as possible." Also, if you have already established a legal practice and want to expand overseas, or are being assigned overseas, he recommends that you "study the foreign legal systems, and develop relationships with lawyers in such foreign countries."
  4. To get a job in any type of real estate law, you need to network. "You have to do it," says Jace McColley. When he started the Real Estate Law Association at his law school, McColley contacted several alumni to come and speak to the group, and he kept in touch with them. For law students, he recommends either joining or starting a specialty group at your law school, and to take as many real estate law classes as you can. This "gives you more to offer to employers," he says.
  5. Lisa Abrams seconds that, if you are a law student, you need the classes in the specialty. And, in addition to those real estate-focused classes, Abrams recommends that you take legal drafting classes to learn how to draft contracts, as well as classes on environmental law, corporations, and secure transactions. You can also attend local zoning meetings and work in law school clinics to hone your interpersonal and negotiating skills, Abrams says.
  6. Reality does differ from the classroom. For example, the real property law classes in law schools have little to do with actual real estate legal practice, says John O'Brien. If you are a law student interested in entering this field, don't rely on the classroom alone. Check out your state bar association and see if it is offering real-world courses in real estate, or any specialty, says O'Brien. For example, the Illinois State Bar Association is offering a series of seminars for law students on real-world real estate law topics such as how to set up a deed.
  7. There are two kinds of lawyers, says Peter Wittenborg - those who make love, and those who make war. If you are not the warring type, and enjoy "pragmatic problem solving," real estate law could be for you. If you are an attorney who is already doing transactional law, the transition to this specialty could be an easy one, says Wittenborg.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Does A Real Estate Lawyer Do?

The primary responsibilities of a Real Estate Lawyer include preparing and reviewing documents, negotiating terms and conditions, and transferring titles. People and companies may seek their assistance when they are unsure about the real estate laws and regulations related to purchasing or selling real estate. Real Estate Lawyers can represent their clients in court when a breach of contract or real estate fraud occurs. Real Estate Lawyers spend most of their time representing buyers and sellers in real estate transactions and providing consultation services. Their working hours can be long as they serve the diverse needs of their clients. Zoning, title transfers, and mortgage issues are dealt with by these lawyers over long hours. Land developers, property buyers, and asset transfers are all examples of real estate matters handled by real estate lawyers. Lawyers ensure that documents are compliant with current property laws and regulations. They draft legal documents like deeds, contracts, agreements, as well as obtaining required permits and titles. Documents must be prepared for the appropriate authorities. The Real Estate Lawyer must also make sure that their clients comprehend all the ramifications of the documents they are signing, as well as the terms of the agreements. At all times, they must comply with the applicable standards and protocols.  A real estate lawyer's duties and responsibilities include:
  • Legal Advice: They offer legal advice on property management, zoning violations, agreements and restrictions related to real estate, property taxes, and value estimations.
  • Negotiation: They resolve real estate disputes involving encroachment, trespassing, injuries, and defining boundaries.

How Do You Become a Real Estate Lawyer?

You can become a real estate lawyer by completing the following steps:

Education and Training

Many employers do not only seek Real Estate Lawyers with higher education but also with experience in real estate transactions. As a Real Estate Lawyer, one must complete a bachelor's degree, pass the Law School Admission Test, complete a 3-year graduate program at a law school accredited by the American Bar Association, and pass the bar examination in the state in which they will practice. Even though no pre-law majors are specified, courses in public speaking, analytics, economics, and logic will prepare one well for law school. Juris Doctor (J.D.) degrees cover topics such as legal writing, constitutional law, civil procedures, and contracts. A Real Estate Lawyer can also earn a Master of Laws (LL.M.). After graduation, continuing education may be required. The completion of ethics and fraud courses would prove that you are committed to following the law and maintaining high standards of practice.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, lawyers who gain legal work experience during law school are more attractive to employers. In order to gain relevant experience during law school, start applying for internships with various law firms. By joining the American Bar Association's Real Property, Trust, and Estate Law division, you can also network with other attorneys and acquire new skills and prestige. There are also state associations of real estate lawyers. Members of these organizations can enhance their skills and gain new employment and advancement opportunities. Commercial real estate lawyers are often hired by large firms, along with environmental lawyers and full-time litigators. A few Real Estate Lawyers work for government agencies, such as building and zoning departments. Some work for corporations, financial institutions, real estate development companies, or title companies. Real estate attorneys who practice independently focus on residential real estate transactions.

Finding a Job

From 2014 to 2024, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 6 percent job growth for all lawyers. The real estate market also influences the availability of Real Estate Lawyer positions. Thus, the demand for these jobs will decrease if the economy is in recession and fewer real estate transactions occur. If you relocate, you may have more job opportunities, but you will have to pass the bar exam of another state. A successful Real Estate Lawyer job search begins with a strong resume that highlights your skills and experience. We provide Real Estate Lawyer resume samples to provide guidance on creating a resume. Searching online for Real Estate Lawyer employment opportunities will precede a well-crafted resume. When searching for openings, be sure to use your professional network, including contacts you made through your internship or through any law associations you may have joined. A cover letter that emphasizes your interest in the position, as well as your qualifications, is essential when applying for a job. Take a look at our collection of cover letter samples if you need some inspiration.

Do Real Estate Lawyers Make Good Money?

In the US, the average Real Estate Lawyer earns $131,851. A Real Estate Lawyer's average bonus is $8,306, which represents 6% of their salary, while 100% of people report receiving a bonus each year. The average total compensation for real estate lawyers in Los Angeles is $167,953, 27% higher than the US average.

Is Real Estate Lawyer A Good Career?

Commercial, industrial, and residential properties can all be handled by real estate attorneys. These attorneys need to understand land laws and housing regulations. There are those who specialize in dealing with landlords and tenants, while others handle sales and purchases of properties.

In a real estate transaction, real estate lawyers advise and represent clients. These professionals may work for various firms and companies and may specialize in different aspects of the law.

Job Options in Real Estate Law

Real estate law students are equipped with the skills to advise clients on residential, industrial, and commercial properties. Among the many possible careers for individuals with a real estate law background are zoning regulations, housing regulations, and auction project management. They may also specialize in real estate transactions, tenant law, or land use.

A real estate lawyer might work for a real estate firm, but also with a construction firm, a private business, or a non-profit organization. Many lawyers own their own practices.

Job Expectations

Having a real estate lawyer oversee land transactions can alleviate some of the stress for all parties involved. Typically, they handle title transfers, zoning issues, and mortgage issues. These legal professionals should keep up with current trends and laws that could help their clients maintain their land legally. Trespassing and intrusion violations are often handled by real estate lawyers.

Requirements for a Career in Real Estate Law

Real estate attorneys must first earn a bachelor's degree and then complete an accredited, 3-year law program. Torts, civil procedure, contracts, and property are some of the lower-level courses law students typically take. The upper-level coursework usually consists of electives, such as antitrust law, real estate transactions, legal accounting, and commercial real estate law. Students who complete law school earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.). In order to practice law, lawyers must pass a national exam as well as other state-administered exams.

Job Outlook and Salary

Approximately 4% of lawyers are projected to be employed between 2019 and 2029, which is about average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS determined that the median annual wage of attorneys was $126,930 in May 2020.

After receiving a bachelor's degree, a real estate lawyer must attend law school for three years. They become licensed to practice law once they graduate school and pass the state bar exam. As part of their education, they may take courses in commercial law, real estate transactions, and legal accounting to prepare to enter this field.


Here is one place to start: there are 2,631 jobs for real estate attorneys on LawCrossing right now.

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published February 21, 2023

( 1530 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.