What to Consider When Hiring a Real Estate Lawyer

By:Alan Sorem

Real Estate & Land Use

The attorney-client relationship can be one of the most important relationships in a person’s professional and sometimes even his or her personal life.  As a real estate lawyer, I have helped clients fulfill their dreams by launching a new business, acquiring and selling key investment properties, developing land, and buying a dream home.  I have also helped clients struggle through some of the most challenging events in their life when real estate transactions do not go as planned or they are involved in an unwelcome real estate dispute.  Determining whether a real estate lawyer is a right fit for you as a client is an important decision.  Below is a list of questions and comments to consider when deciding whether a real estate attorney is right for you and your needs.

  • What is the lawyer’s experience? Real estate law is a “big tent” specialty.  Many diverse client needs touch and concern real estate.  In addition to having the substantive law understanding, the attorney must have the practical experience necessary to assist with the particular matter.  For example, I primarily handle real estate transactions including leases and sales, real estate development (also known as land use), and resolving real estate disputes.  However, if a matter involves a foreclosure action or necessitates litigation, I will work with the partners in my firm’s creditor’s rights group or litigation group to make sure the matter is handled by the attorney with the necessary experience.  Thus, the individual attorney’s experience and the experience of his or her partners are relevant to determine if the attorney and firm are a fit for your client needs.
  • How do you want to communicate with your lawyer? A failure to express one’s communication expectations and needs is common cause for tension in any relationship.  The attorney-client relationship is no different.  In your initial client meeting, you and your attorney should have a candid conversation as to how frequently you as the client want to be updated, how available the attorney needs to be for meetings and phone calls, and expectations regarding timely responses to communications. Some matters require moments of near-constant communication, while others are not as time sensitive.  In any event, an initial statement as to the availability of both the lawyer and the client should be made upon beginning any attorney-client relationship to ensure productivity and respect.
  • Why do I need a lawyer? A self-assessment of one’s legal service needs is helpful to ensure the proper level of service is requested and provided.  Attorneys must be flexible to work with a wide variety of client needs.  For some clients, my engagement is limited to providing strategic consulting.  For other clients, we provide all services related to any given real estate transaction, development or dispute resolution matter.  Early communication as to the scope of the necessary engagement is key for both parties.
  • What should I expect as far as attorney fees? Attorney fees can be substantial, but generally they must be reasonable for the amount of work provided to the client.  Fees are directly impacted by the scope of the engagement and level of opposition present in any given real estate transaction, development project, or dispute.  Estimates can often be provided, but they likely will need to be modified if assumptions regarding the scope of work or the level of opposition change during the course of representation.

While attorneys may be specialists, they are in the customer service business.  Your expectations and experiences in dealing with other customer service providers should also serve you well in working with your real estate lawyer.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions at asorem@sglaw.com.