From Contract to Closing, Real Estate Law Offers Lucrative Legal Staff Opportunities
by Ursula Furi-Perry
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Real estate paralegals handle large parts of the transactions they work on. "My daily tasks and responsibilities can include processing new legal orders from lenders, drafting purchase and sales agreements, reviewing title examiners' reports for title issues and exceptions, inputting information into real estate conveyancing software," said Cheryl Copeland, a real estate paralegal in Massachusetts who entered the field with a background in real estate sales. "I'm also now getting involved in real estate development. There's a lot to do, and most of it has to be done before I leave work for the day." Legal assistants are often involved in preparing pre-closing and post-closing packages and recording deeds. In addition, paralegals are often the clients' only contacts, making for endless correspondence and phone calls.
Paralegals must know not only the procedure behind real estate transactions, but also the theory behind real estate law, "like how to read a title binder or act if there's a problem with the survey," said Secol. "They also need to know different areas of the law." When representing an estate, for example, paralegals should be familiar with relevant estate law questions; when involved in a corporate transaction, they need to know some corporate law. "There are many, many crossovers in law, and you really need to be a well-rounded paralegal," Secol said. Good math skills, prior real estate experience or knowledge, and continuing education in the area also help real estate paralegals and legal assistants succeed.
As most clients come to real estate law firms at exciting times in their lives, the job can be quite rewarding. "People thank you for a job well done," said Secol, citing helping people and contributing to the happiness of new homeowners as great sources of job satisfaction. Copeland stated, "I find the completion of each transaction very satisfying. Then I'm ready for the next assignment."
Yet keeping clients happy can prove to be a challenging endeavor for the paralegal. "It's a very stressful time for most people. It's the largest investment they'll ever make, and in most cases, it doesn't go the way they planned it," Secol explained. The closing date may be pushed back in many cases; title imperfections may arise; some transactions may also cost the client more than he or she imagined. "You have to be a politician and have to have a really good sense of keeping people calm," said Secol. Still, she noted, "My biggest reward is assisting my attorney in the resolution of these issues so our client can proceed with the transaction and get on with [his or her] life."
Lack of time often presents another challenge in this busy field, and multitasking is not an option, but a must. "When there are many transactions in different stages in the process, time management is critical and challenging," Copeland said. "Sometimes it's difficult to see above the stacks of paperwork to be processed."
And with the continued boom in real estate, the work is not about to diminish in the foreseeable future. Copeland noted that even in in-house transactions where mortgage companies choose to handle their own paperwork, there is often a need for experienced real estate attorneys and legal staff when more complicated questions arise. "Real property will always be purchased and sold," said Copeland. "Since so much of an individual's net worth is invested in real estate, it is carefully guarded and of much concern. From this standpoint, there will always be opportunities for real estate paralegals."