I am a qualified legal executive with over five years’ experience in residential conveyancing, and I am keen to step away from conveyancing and transition into real estate, handling more complex legal cases. It would be great to talk through some of the possible pathways available to help me gain the right experience and qualifications.
Faith Kelly, principal consultant at Sellick Partnership Limited says…
As an experienced legal professional, changing your chosen specialism can create opportunities and challenges in equal measure. It can be your chance to pursue a fresh and exciting direction in your career and further your personal development, but the transition itself requires careful planning to navigate successfully.
Here, we will explore this topic in greater depth and detail, looking at the specific hurdles that legal professionals will need to clear to make the jump from conveyancing to real estate, as well as the steps they can take to make this transition as smooth as possible.
Understanding the challenge
One of the most important aspects of making a successful switch from conveyancing to a real estate career is understanding the scale of the challenge it presents.
It is certainly true that the two fields are closely related, allowing legal professionals working in domestic conveyancing to gain experience and transferable skills that will give them a head start in dealing with commercial property deals. However, the close connection between the two specialisms means that making this transition is an extremely popular choice, with many choosing to make the switch for the opportunity to work on large-scale projects with high-profile clients.
As such, if you are switching to real estate from conveyancing, you must be aware that you will not be the only one pursuing this route. This is a highly competitive field, filled with other talented candidates, many of whom will have years of relevant experience, all vying for the most attractive roles at the top legal firms.
It is therefore important to adopt a patient approach to making this switch, informed by a realistic appraisal of the challenge and how it needs to be approached. It will always be difficult for a conveyancing specialist to walk straight into a high-profile real estate role, due to the surfeit of qualified candidates available - as such, you must understand that making this transition may take some time, and will require you to think creatively about how best to lay the groundwork for a successful move.
How to smooth your transition
The most difficult aspect of changing your legal specialism is proving to a prospective employer that you are able to handle the demands of the new role, despite your lack of direct experience in that field.
Taking the following steps can make this process easier:
Ask for an opportunity to do support work for your existing law firm
If you are already part of a conveyancing team at a law firm, it may be possible to ask the relevant partner overseeing real estate work whether you can spend some time supporting them.
If the real estate team has a busy caseload, and your own schedule allows it, you can arrange to pitch in and help out with their work as a means of gaining relevant experience of the field. This will strengthen your future applications immensely, while also allowing you to form valuable professional relationships with colleagues in your desired specialism.
Move to a law firm with a combined property division
Getting an opportunity to accrue real estate experience within a conveyancing role will be much more difficult if these two functions are handled by entirely separate teams within your firm. It will be a much more formalised process, requiring you to liaise with the heads of two different departments, and potentially persuade your current boss to allow you to give up some of your time to take on work for another team - which may be impossible if your team is too busy.
If you are working for a firm where residential and commercial property are handled by the same team, this becomes much easier. In many cases, you will be working side-by-side with colleagues delivering real estate projects on a day-to-day basis, providing natural opportunities to gain experience and making it much simpler to informally request a chance to pitch in on their commercial property work.
If you do not already work for a law firm with a combined property division like this, it may be worth making a switch to a smaller practice where these two functions are grouped together, in order to get that experience. This may not be the 'dream move', but it will allow you to lay essential groundwork for the move that comes after that.
Focus on high-value conveyancing cases
Conveyancing work naturally shares a lot in common with commercial real estate, but some cases provide more useful transferable experience than others. This is why it is valuable to work your way up to focusing specifically high-value transactions and domestic deals, in order to increase your familiarity with and expertise in dealing with cases of this kind.
This will not only give you a better chance of succeeding in real estate, but will also help you make a bigger success of your existing conveyancing career while you wait to make the change.
Go the extra mile with your CV
Because you are likely to be lacking the direct real estate experience that others applying for the same roles will have, your CV provides you with a useful means of making up this difference. Even more so than usual, you will need to go the extra mile with your CV and covering letter, in order to demonstrate why you are worthy of being given the opportunity.
Make sure to emphasise your transferable skills when crafting your application, while using the covering letter to demonstrate your knowledge of the latest trends and legal developments in the field of real estate. Showing your passion for the role can make a meaningful difference in earning you the chance to prove yourself in real estate.
Call upon your contacts and other resources
Personal initiative and resourcefulness are the key to any successful legal career, and this particular professional challenge will call upon those same qualities.
Explore all of your options to prepare yourself as well as possible for this change, from researching online courses to equip you with real estate skills and qualifications, to speaking to friends and colleagues with relevant sector experience for advice on how to approach the process. This should include anyone you know who has successfully changed specialisms, as many of the approaches they will have taken could also work for you.
Apply for as many roles as possible
As discussed, there is a lot of competition for real estate roles, so it is best not to put all of your eggs in one basket when it comes to applying for them. Send out as many applications as possible - this will improve your chances of securing an interview where you can impress, or landing a lucky break in a role where the number of experienced applicants was unusually low.
The key to success: patience and timing
Above all else, it is essential to realise that in most cases, making a successful switch from conveyancing to real estate will not happen overnight. Give yourself plenty of time to make this transition, and be prepared to plug away gradually at this over a period of months and years until the right opportunity presents itself.
This is particularly true at the current moment, as the extended stamp duty holiday introduced by the government as part of its Covid-19 economic relief measures has created an unusually busy caseload for conveyancing departments. This means it may be more difficult to step away from your role to develop your real estate credentials than it would be otherwise.
At the same time, commercial real estate is in the process of recovering from a dip in value also brought about by the pandemic, with a return to relative normality not expected until the end of the year at least. As such, it may be wise to wait until the pandemic has abated - and the stamp duty holiday is over - to begin preparing for your planned career shift in earnest.
All of these factors underline the importance of timing, and focusing on the elements that are under your control. It is not in any individual’s power to bring about these shifts in the market, nor can you forecast when a lucky break might fall for you - but you can control how hard you work, how wide you cast your net in your job search, and how patient you are willing to be to wait for that perfect opportunity.
By adopting the right mindset and a long-term approach to your transition, you will give yourself the best possible chance of making a successful switch to the real estate career you seek.