Real property law is about helping clients to manage their rights and responsibilities as landowners and advising on transactions to realise the economic potential of their properties. Commercial property solicitors advise on commercial transactions such as acquisitions and disposals, leasing, development, joint ventures, estate management and funding arrangements. They may also litigate when disputes related to real estate and property arise. Residential property solicitors tend to focus on conveyancing. Your clients would typically include property developers, institutional investors, real estate funds, corporations, retailers, utilities companies and financial institutions.
Australian property law is primarily regulated at a state level through legislation such as the Real Property Act 1900 (NSW) and the Land Titles Act 1980 (Tasmania). Significant federal decisions regarding real estate and property laws include Mabo and Others v Queensland (No. 2), which established native title, and P J Magennis Pty Ltd v Commonwealth, which dealt with the Commonwealth’s right to acquire property.
Graduates in real property law can expect to quickly find themselves with a range of responsibilities. These include performing due diligence on properties and preparing title reports; drafting simple leases, licences, assignments and transfers; liaising with local councils and housing authorities; collating documents to complete transactions; and researching specific legal issues that may arise during the course of a transaction.
The chief benefit of working in real property law is that you will be exposed to a wide variety of cases that draw on an equally broad range of skills, from legal research to dispute resolution. You might find yourself doing conveyance work for a new residential development, drawing contracts for the purchase of a business building, or evicting non-paying tenants. Real property law is also seen as offering among the best work/life balances of all the legal professions.
On the other hand, the work can be unpredictable and, while potentially lucrative, it might not offer the same immediate benefits as, say, corporate or commercial law. This is in large part because of real property law’s steep learning curve, especially for graduates who become involved in international real estate transactions (a process that requires a deep understanding of real estate law from multiple jurisdictions.)
The Australian housing market has been healthy for the past decade, with occasional market fluctuations encouraging property owners and investors to rely on innovative funding strategies that draw on the expertise real estate lawyers. More generally, property lawyers remain indispensable when it comes to transactions that involve the transfer of property or title, making this a very stable area of practice. You might build a career within a firm, providing legal counsel to a range of clients, or seek in-house employment with an organisation frequently involved in property transactions (such as a government body or a mining company).