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As a third year corporate attorney looking to transfer to real estate, how should I approach this?

published July 21, 2014

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I'm a third year corporate attorney with solid transactional and finance experience. I am looking to transition into real estate law. How should I approach this when submitting to a law firm?


We are currently in a real estate attorney boom, so right now is the perfect time to make this transition. Though firms can be extremely tough on credentials and may not typically be open to a shift in practice area, there are times when the market dictates an exception - right now one of those exceptions is real estate law.
Here's the reason why: the recession created somewhat of a vortex for real estate. Hardly anyone graduating from law school in 2009 through 2011 went into real estate law, since there was no work in this area. Now that the market is recovering (particularly in the field of real estate), there is a high demand for attorneys with these skills, but there are very few attorneys with the "goods." This situation has created optimal opportunity for those looking to transition into this field.

How to address the issue in your cover letter and resume:
Interested in these kinds of jobs? Click here to find Real Estate jobs.

Determine your relatable skills and highlight them. Look at the description of the position that interests you. Does it call for real estate finance? (Real estate finance is a very HOT area at the moment). If so, you will want to highlight your finance background on your resume, even though it does not immediately relate to real estate. These are skills that are transferable. The same is true for any other transactional skills they pinpoint in the job order. If you have exposure to these areas (even if it's not in a real estate sense), put it on there - front and center.

Feature any non legal real estate experience. If you have any non legal exposure to the area of real estate, you will want to include this on your resume. This could consist of past experience as a real estate agent, that you have a real estate license, real estate investments, or if your family has a real estate business. Anything you can document in this area will also serve to convince the firm of your true enthusiasm for the area.

You are quick to learn new skills. This point is best expressed in the cover letter. You know and they know that you do not have the immediately transferable skills the firm is ideally seeking. Your responsibility is to show them what you DO have and follow that with the fact that you are quick on your feet and pick up new skills expediently. The firm will have to train you in this new area, so put them at ease by letting them know that this training should not take too much time or effort. Address in the cover that you are quick to learn new things and include examples of how you picked skills up swiftly in the past. See if you can incorporate any quotes or comments that support this assertion from supervising attorneys, clients, past employers, or even law school professors.

Be open taking a haircut with respect to your entry year level. Understand that you are transferring into a new practice area that will require some training. In all actuality, you will not be at the level of a third year attorney that started his or her career in the real estate arena. Be open to negotiating your entry level from the outset. By addressing this in the cover letter, you advise the firm that you are well aware of the extra hurdle and respect their position. If you make this transition, it can actually be beneficial to your career in the long run to take the haircut now because this will work to assure that you are on a partnership track at your new firm. You do not want to be considered a third year real estate attorney if the other third years at the firm all have more real estate experience than you do (or if a second year at the firm has more real estate experience than you do).

Transitioning to a new law practice is never easy. As a third year, you want to make this shift sooner rather than later. It will become more difficult as you get more senior, especially as you move from a mid level to a senior associate. Now, you have the market on your side, so go for it!

Sometimes, it all comes down to supply and demand.
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