10 Tips for Practicing in Real Property Law

By Michella Hand

10 Tips for Practicing in Real Property Law

6.30.2022

By Michella Hand

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In February 2022, the Real Property Law Section participated in a law student roundtable discussion that provided current law students with a better understanding on the experiences, rewards, and challenges practicing attorneys have faced in real property law while offering insight on the various career opportunities available.

From this discussion the panelists, Antar P. Jones, Esq. from The Law Office of Antar P. Jones, PLLC and Nancy Connery, Esq. from Schoeman Updike Kaufman & Gerber LLP, compiled 10 tips for law students who are pursuing a career of practicing in real property law:

  1. Pay attention in your ethics class and make a commitment to be beyond reproach, ethically. If you practice in real estate law, you may handle large amounts of money that are not yours. If you wish to have a long career in law and to stay out of jail, you will need to be beyond reproach in your handling of money. You also need to understand the limits on your conduct imposed by the rules of ethics.  Ethics aside, reputation is important.  In small communities, where real estate lawyers know one another, reputation is critical; and even in New York City, real estate lawyers often know one another through multiple transactions.
  2. Take Landlord Tenant Law in law school, if possible. After the law of Contracts, Landlord/tenant law is at the center all real estate practices in New York – even if your practice is transactional (e.g. leases and sales). Thus, it is important for the future real estate attorney to know this area of law well.
  3. Learn about how to negotiate. In addition to being organized and good at arithmetic, negotiation is the skill real estate attorneys need to know most. The best way to learn how to negotiate, is by negotiating with the specific intent at getting better after each negotiation. The aspiring real estate attorney should also take Continuing Legal Education courses in negotiation and read books on the topic. The book Getting to Yes is considered by many to be the best introductory book on negotiating.
  4. Take other real estate courses if you can. Your school may offer courses in commercial leasing, affordable housing, zoning, environmental law, lending and other areas of real estate law.  The law concerning commercial leases is particularly important because it rests on a body of law that underlies many aspects of a real estate practice.
  5. Consider interning with either a firm or a governmental organization dealing with real estate. Interning at governmental organizations may be a great way for a law student to learn a lot about real estate in a short amount of time. For example, an intern for the Port Authority of NYNJ may be exposed to issues concerning very large airline leases at New York City area airports in addition to smaller vendor leases, landlord tenant issues, and bidding processes for vendors.
  6. Consider working for a title company as a first legal job. Working at a title company can be a way for young attorneys to rapidly get exposed many issues affecting real estate including how chain-of-title works, how deals are put together and what may make them fall apart.
  7. Keep up with the news in real estate. In New York City, this means, among other things, reading The Real Deal regularly along with the weekly real estate section of the New York Law Journal, and reading the real estate section in the New York Times every Sunday.
  8. Get involved in the real estate bar. By joining the NYSBA Real Estate Section, you will meet many great and experienced real estate attorneys. You may also join a smaller committee in the Real Estate Section. Doing so may expose you to specific substantive issues affecting real estate in New York State. Getting involved in a committee may lead to drafting articles for a journal. Drafting a thoughtful article on a pressing real estate issue for a journal may help you learn a cutting-edge issue and grow your reputation.
  9. Think about which specific area of real estate law you want to get involved in. Real estate is a huge area of law and covers many subcategories, including Real Estate Litigation, Construction Litigation, Residential Real Estate Conveyances, Commercial Real Estate, Commercial Leasing, Landlord Tenant Law, Financing, Affordable Housing, Condominium and other Common Interest Developments, Cooperative Housing, Real Estate Taxation, Zoning, Real Estate Investment Trusts, Partnerships, International Real Estate, and Accounting, to name a few. Thus, the prospective real estate practitioner should think carefully about specific goals as first steps in a career in real estate.
  10. You have many options. Consider: Do you want to litigate, which could involve you in landlord-tenant law, foreclosure law, environmental law, bankruptcy law, or general real estate litigation?  Or do you want to negotiate, in which event you may focus on, among other things, sales, leases and/or development work.  If you start your career in a large firm, you’ll be involved in major transactions.  If you start your career in a small firm, the transactions will generally be smaller, but not necessarily less interesting.  A great way to learn real estate at the beginning of your career is to work in a boutique real estate firm.  If you want to be a solo practitioner, you’ll probably start out in residential real estate or landlord-tenant litigation.  As alluded to above, working for a governmental entity is a great way to have a career in real estate. Many Federal, state and governmental entities have substantial real estate departments because they have large holdings in real estate.  In addition, both the City of New York and the State of New York have large environmental law departments.

For more information and resources for law students, please visit nysba.org/lawstudent

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