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by Vault Law Editors | February 26, 2024


Real estate lawyers work in a variety of areas, including purchases, sales, joint ventures, and financings for projects, as well as navigating the state and local land use regulations. Clients can include owners, developers, landlords, tenants, investors, REITs, and lenders involved in a real estate market. Real estate finance attorneys help to secure financing of residential and commercial buildings and complexes.  The practice can be similar to project finance but with different types of projects. Real estate finance attorneys are often drawn to the work because of the tangible result at the end of the day. Land use attorneys help developers get local and state approval for their projects. Attorneys will negotiate with various government entities and advise clients on regulations that affect their developments. Real estate law is practiced both in large and small law firms, and there are many in-house opportunities with the various players in commercial real estate markets.

In our 2023 edition of Practice Perspectives: Vault Law's Guide to Legal Practice Areas, attorneys from law firms with top-ranked Real Estate practices share insights about their practice, including what a typical day is like and what training they recommend for interested jobseekers. Keep reading for their insights!

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

Linda Bartosch, Partner—Dechert: Every day I start out with a plan for how the day is going to go, and usually by 10 a.m. that plan has gone completely out the window! We deal with surprises and emergencies on a regular basis, so it is important to be flexible and have the ability to adapt and multitask. I spend much of my day on the phone with clients, opposing counsel, and colleagues. I review documents critically and collaborate with others to draft new provisions. I also get to teach and mentor my junior colleagues, and I love seeing the look on someone’s face when they suddenly get it! I always try to find some time to learn something new every day.

Julianne E. Befeler, Partner—Fried Frank: My typical day involves checking in with deal teams on various transactions; speaking with clients, opposing counsel, and others involved in my deals; teaching and mentoring associates; and attending to various administrative matters. In addition, a large part of my day is spent reviewing, drafting, and commenting on legal documents. Our deals often have short timelines, so it is important to prioritize, be cognizant of deadlines, and do what needs to be done to shepherd our deals to a successful and timely closing. Lastly, I participate in a number of committees, including our department’s DE&I committee.

Diane McCabe, Partner—GoodwinOn any given day, I advise and strategize with clients regarding proposed deal structuring, including joint venture formation, existing transaction restructurings and modifications, financing transactions (including mortgage and mezzanine debt, preferred equity and recapitalizations), and acquisitions and sales. You’ll also find me reviewing and revising joint venture documents, loan documents, and other acquisition and sale documents. I spend a lot of time on Zoom/ conference call negotiations with our clients and/or opposing counsel, reviewing associate and paralegal work product, and proposing revisions to the same. I aim to prioritize business development activities including calls/Zoom with clients, lunch and learns, attendance at industry events, and hosting informal client gatherings. I’ll also note that I’m quite passionate about mentoring associates in the group.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

Linda Bartosch: A lot of the skills just have to be learned on the job and no amount of coursework can teach you everything you need to know. Work on your writing, editing, and critical reading skills. Learn some accounting basics. Substantively, securities laws, property law, and the UCC are all important in our practice, but it’s the soft skills that will really make your career. Work on developing negotiation skills and increasing your emotional IQ. The ability to read between the lines is often the key to success in a transactional practice. It is also important to learn to think beyond the words on the page and run through the whole “consequence chain” in your mind to make sure those contractual requirements result in the intended outcome without other negative externalities or unforeseen consequences.

Julianne E. Befeler: I ... would recommend taking time to read real estate publications to understand what is happening in the world and how that is affecting our industry. We represent our clients best when we understand what they are trying to accomplish and how current market conditions will affect those endeavors. I’ve also found that on-the-job training is the most effective way to learn. Junior lawyers should not be shy about seeking opportunities to work on different types of matters and taking on challenging assignments. It takes time to develop the skills and knowledge needed for this practice, and the partners and senior associates are available to support those efforts every step of the way.

Diane McCabe: For students: I encourage you to take a uniform commercial code class, a real property class, and a tax class in law school. Those classes will familiarize you with some of the terms and the concepts. For young professionals: Network, network, network—early and often. Offer to host lunch and learns for clients. Take advantage of any and all trainings offered by your firm, and then take those trainings again a year later. The first time the concepts can be overwhelming, the second time many of the concepts will be familiar to you. Work with many different senior attorneys as this will help you develop your own unique style and figure out what parts of any practice you enjoy most.