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How to Become a Real Estate Attorney: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Find out how to become a real estate attorney. Research the education requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in real estate law.

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Do I Want to Be a Real Estate Attorney?

Real estate attorneys are licensed lawyers who choose to focus their practice on real estate law issues. They may be hired to draft contracts of sale, review leases and mortgage documents or discuss provisions in a real estate sale contract. These lawyers' practices are largely transactional, meaning that they do not usually engage in court litigation. A great portion of the related work may be completed while sitting at a desk.

Job Requirements

Lawyers must enter law school after earning a bachelor's degree. Within about 3 years, they can complete a juris doctor degree and take state bar exams to earn licensing. Attorneys may also earn a certificate or additional degree specific to real estate law. The following table contains the main qualifications and requirements needed to become a real estate attorney:

Common Requirements
Degree LevelJuris Doctor (J.D.)*
Degree Fields Law*
LicensureAll states require lawyers to be licensed by passing a bar exam*
Experience Employers may prefer to hire real estate attorneys with 2-5 years of experience**
Key SkillsAnalytical, communication, problem-solving, research, speaking and writing skills*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ** job postings (September 2012).

Step 1: Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program

Students who want to become real estate attorneys must usually first earn a bachelor's degree. Most bachelor's degree programs typically last four years, regardless of the field of study. Law schools do not require that applicants complete a particular major. However, because much of real estate law practice can be related to business transactions, students may consider earning a bachelor's degree in business or economics. Alternatively, a pre-law degree program teaches students the analytical, oral and communication skills they need to enter law school.

Step 2: Take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)

Law schools approved by the American Bar Association require that applicants to take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). This half-day exam measures an individual's reading and verbal reasoning skills. The LSAT is one of a number of factors law schools consider during the admissions process.

Success Tip:

  • Prepare for the LSAT. Because it is relevant to admission to law school, students may want to prepare for the LSAT by completing prep courses. These courses may help test takers become familiar with the directions for each section and the type of questions the exam contains.

Step 3: Earn a Juris Doctor Degree

A law degree can generally be earned in three years of full-time study. Some law schools offer part-time programs for working professionals, although these programs may take longer to complete.

The first year of law school typically consists of courses in law subjects that are considered fundamental to the profession. Examples of these include civil procedure, legal writing and torts. The second and third years of study consist of elective classes, internships or clinical experiences. Example of elective classes include administrative law, civil rights litigation and energy law.

Success Tips:

  • Complete elective classes about real estate. Law schools may offer elective courses specifically designed to prepare students for practicing real estate law. These classes may cover topics like real estate transfers, environmental law and land use planning.
  • Complete a clinical experience. Clinical experiences are often available in multiple legal fields, including real estate law. Completing a clinic focusing on real estate law can provide students with hands-on experience working in the practice.
  • Consider concentrating in real estate law. Some law schools offer students the ability to concentrate their law school studies in real estate law. Students in these programs complete additional coursework in the field, such as in real estate transactions, tax and business organizations.

Step 4: Pass the Bar Exam

To work as an attorney, most states require that individuals pass a bar exam. The format of these exams varies, and may consist of several days of essay and multiple choice questions. Most states incorporate the 6-hour Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) and an ethical exam, known as the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE), within their bar exams. Some states also require aspiring attorneys to pass a local bar exam. Other commonly administered exams include the Multistate Essay exam and the Multistate Performance Test, which gauges an entry-level attorney's practical skills.

Step 5: Begin Working as a Lawyer

After passing the bar exam, lawyers can practice in any field of law. Private law firms may solely focus on practicing real estate law or list it among the many fields of law in which they practice. Many times, employers seek real estate attorneys with 2-5 years of experience.

Step 6: Earn a Certificate or LLM

In addition to J.D. degrees, law schools offer Master of Laws (LLM) in Real Estate and certificates in real estate to practicing attorneys. These programs usually consist of courses in commercial real estate, real estate in federal tax law and real estate finance. Elective courses may cover topics like affordable housing, construction law, historic preservation law and real estate litigation. Some schools give students the chance to work in law firms that specialize in real estate law.

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