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Biglaw Real Estate Associate - Ask Me Anything


KOMODO
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KOMODO
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Taking inspiration from Diplock's post in the Crim forum, I wanted to offer my ear to anyone with questions about biglaw / Bay Street solicitor work. I also did this a few years ago on LS.ca but assume that thread has disappeared into the ether. I'm a senior associate with a commercial real estate practice, and there's enough overlap with other solicitor specialties (corporate / financial services) that I can probably give you an idea of what life is like for those associates as well. 

I'm also the mom of a toddler, so if you have questions about managing tiny people in the context of a busy practice, I can do my best to answer those too.

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Dussy
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Hi! 

Thanks for doing this. I have a couple of questions if you do not mind.

1) Like most firms, I assume your firm has an hours target. If you do not mind me asking, what is your target, and how many hours do you bill in a typical year? What happens if you miss this target?

2) To the extent that there is such a thing, how is your 'work life balance'? I have heard that corporate work is characterized by peaks and valleys, would you say that is true in your case? Has it changed as you have become more senior (and since you have become a parent)?

3) Again, to the extent there is such a thing, what is a 'typical' day like for you?

4) Why did you choose to work in commercial real estate as opposed to another solicitor speciality (corporate/financial services, etc)? Do you enjoy it? 

5) Are you planning on leaving private practice to do something else (in house etc), or do you hope to be there long term?

6) How has it been working from home? Has your firm said anything regarding how it will be post COVID (remote, hybrid, etc)?

Thank you!

 

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chicken

Your insight on maternity leave on LS.ca was extremely helpful for my partner. 
 

Have you since returned to the firm? How was returning to practice after maternity leave if so? 

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Obi-wan
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7 minutes ago, chicken said:

Your insight on maternity leave on LS.ca was extremely helpful for my partner. 
 

Have you since returned to the firm? How was returning to practice after maternity leave if so? 

I'm sad to have missed out on the maternity leave discussion on the old forums. @KOMODO is it possible for some of that to be reproduced here? I have so many q's......but would appreciate your general insight on the process. Thank you for your contributions! 

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KOMODO
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3 minutes ago, Dussy said:

Hi! 

Thanks for doing this. I have a couple of questions if you do not mind.

1) Like most firms, I assume your firm has an hours target. If you do not mind me asking, what is your target, and how many hours do you bill in a typical year? What happens if you miss this target?

2) To the extent that there is such a thing, how is your 'work life balance'? I have heard that corporate work is characterized by peaks and valleys, would you say that is true in your case? Has it changed as you have become more senior (and since you have become a parent)?

3) Again, to the extent there is such a thing, what is a 'typical' day like for you?

4) Why did you choose to work in commercial real estate as opposed to another solicitor speciality (corporate/financial services, etc)? Do you enjoy it? 

5) Are you planning on leaving private practice to do something else (in house etc), or do you hope to be there long term?

6) How has it been working from home? Has your firm said anything regarding how it will be post COVID (remote, hybrid, etc)?

Thank you!

 

No problem!

1) It does. I don't want to include my firm's specific target, because then people will have an easier time identifying me, but the majority of firms like mine have targets between 1700-1800 billable hours and mine is in that range. There have been years where I didn't hit target (billed around 1500-1600), and years where I slightly exceeded target. I'm not typically a high biller, but I do tend to participate in a lot of non-billable activities, so for example in years where I billed 1500-1600, I might have had 600-700 hours of nonbillable. At the other end of the spectrum, there are people who bill 2100-2200 hours, but I would say they're in the vast minority.

Nonbillable hours are appreciated by big firms, but they don't carry the same weight as billable hours. So if you're doing a ton of stuff that benefits the firm, like writing articles, participating in pitches, sitting on a bunch of committees, running department meetings, etc., you can probably bill below target and keep your job, but you're unlikely to get any significant bonus. If you were chronically below target but your work was still high quality, the firm might discuss a reduced target (and reduced pay) arrangement with you. Firms vary on this, some really expect everyone to hit (or even exceed) target, while others like mine are okay if you're a little below with a decent reason as to why, provided that your work product is acceptable.

Note that you can "work" as hard as another associate and have drastically different annual billable hours. Larger files are much, much easier to bill on, because you can focus on a single matter and run your clock without being as careful about each minute, and the file can support the fees. If you have a practice where you often submit 15-20 dockets in a day, many of which are 0.2's and 0.3's, it's harder to rack up big numbers, even if you're at your desk for a long time. 

2) Work life balance is a tough one and the pandemic adds a layer, so I don't entirely know what to expect when things are back to "normal". Yes, there are busier times and not-so-busy times, although personally in the real estate department I always have something to do, and tend to have a decent amount of notice on each file/task but just get swamped with volume. I think my corporate and financial services colleagues see more extreme fluctuation and shorter deadlines.

In general, as you become more senior, you have more notice and control over your schedule. I'm rarely surprised by an urgent matter, so I can choose to work really hard and late on Thursday and take it relatively easy on Friday if I want. I felt the most stressed and had the least control when I was a student, because I couldn't see the bigger picture and was given smaller bits of work on tighter timelines, so that the more senior assigning lawyers could review, edit, and integrate those bits into the larger client-facing response. 

Becoming a parent puts incredible pressure on your time. In my old life, especially when we were in the office, I could spend a couple of hours a day goofing off by chatting with friends, reading interesting bits of news, working on precedents, etc. Then if I still had work, I would just stay late and do it, and that never bothered me. Now, if I want to hit a 7.5 billable hour daily goal, I really need to focus on billing for the whole time I'm "working". I find that pretty difficult, especially when I'm thinking about strategy on a file and would prefer to dip in and out of work. Like many parents, I often log on after bedtime from ~8pm-10pm to catch up, but I find it harder to turn my mind back to what I was working on before dinner. I would really prefer to keep drafting if I'm on a roll at 6pm, but I have to stop because my pesky toddler doesn't want to hang out with me at 10pm, so 6pm-8pm is my only chance to be a parent. So in that sense, I just find there aren't enough hours in a day and it's really hard to hit those billable numbers if you divert your attention to non-billable matters, even a little bit. 

3) It's different because of the pandemic, but I would say 40% reading and responding to emails, 20% zoom meetings and calls, 40% drafting more substantive documents, letters, opinions, advice emails, etc. In my old life I spent more time seeing people in person, providing instructions in more collaborative meetings, etc. I'm not a morning person, and hate doing intense thinking/drafting before lunch, so I try to schedule meetings in the morning so that I can still bill that time. 

4) I really love real estate work. It's similar to corporate work, but with an added layer of quasi-academic complexity. I also really like seeing my projects in real life, like, "hey! I financed that building" or "look! I just sold that mall!". I just think it's neat. I will also say, I think the real estate aspects of my practice protect me from some of the really short deadlines that my corporate colleagues deal with, and I really appreciate having more notice and control over my schedule. In general, we need a certain amount of time to get responses from various authorities, so diligence has a built in buffer period of 30-90 days where clients understand you can't give a complete report. Our real property registration system also has limited operating hours, so if a deal doesn't close by 5pm, it must be extended to the next business day (contrast that with certain corporate deals that are only being held up by the lawyers, so clients are still pushing them to close at midnight). So it's a combination of academic interest in real estate, and the lifestyle perks in comparison to other practice areas. 

5) You never know for sure, but I'm probably going to stay in private practice. I really like my job, and I don't find it to be incompatible with my life. My sense is that most in-house jobs require you to cover a broader area (which I don't think I would like - I enjoy having a specialty and being a "wise advisor" for my clients, and I like referring them elsewhere for questions outside my narrow scope), and/or you end up sending the most interesting/complex files to external counsel, and just dealing with the more routine/boring stuff. I might eventually find it too frustrating that I'm always on call, but I'm not convinced that an in house job would relieve that burden anyways. I also really like the security of having other lawyers that practice in the same area - we all ask each other for advice on file strategy, client management, substantive legal points, etc., and I wouldn't want to give that up, but it's rare to find an in-house position where the department has lots of lawyers that practice in the same niche as you. 

6) I'm not a huge fan of working from home, although it clearly has its benefits. I will probably return to the office most days once it's safe, but continue working from home in the evenings. My firm probably won't require anyone to come back at all until 2022, and when people return, they'll have a hybrid model where people spend some time in the office and some time at home. They're currently discussing the details, so I'm not sure if for example, all associates will be required to come in once a week, or all paralegals will be required to come in on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or people will decide for themselves except one day per month when a whole department comes in, etc. I was surprised to find that firm management seemed nervous about even broaching the subject of a "minimum" requirement for in-office time - rather than employees pushing for the continuation of some remote work, it seems that the firm is cautiously asking people whether they would be okay with being required to attend in person at all. Of course there are also discussions about the future of our office space, so for example, perhaps they'll say that you have to commit to being there X days per week to keep your office, otherwise you have to participate in a hotelling system. But bottom line, it's all still very much up in the air and nobody's sure what it will look like, other than recognizing that the firm is unlikely to require full time attendance for lawyers. 

Hopefully that answered your questions, but if I missed anything, just let me know!

 

 

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chicken
8 minutes ago, Obi-wan said:

I'm sad to have missed out on the maternity leave discussion on the old forums. @KOMODO is it possible for some of that to be reproduced here? I have so many q's......but would appreciate your general insight on the process. Thank you for your contributions! 

Its archived somewhere on this forum, or on the discord. Its titled: “Female Lawyers With Kids - Advice?”

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KOMODO
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15 minutes ago, chicken said:

Your insight on maternity leave on LS.ca was extremely helpful for my partner. 
 

Have you since returned to the firm? How was returning to practice after maternity leave if so? 

Aw that makes me so happy!

I have, and to be totally honest, it's been slightly harder than I thought it would be. But it's really tough to decide how much of that is pandemic-related and how much is purely maternity-leave-related. I think that returning from maternity leave put it in perspective that everyone is replaceable - other people were covering my files, and when I came back, it was harder than I expected to get some of those files back. Luckily my firm is pretty supportive, and I have a great working relationship with a senior partner who gives me a lot of work, so lots of new files are coming my way, and I'll be fine in the long run. But I (perhaps unrealistically) expected that when I came back, everything I had handed over would be immediately given back to me with a similar transition report as I had completed when I left, and that wasn't the case, and it sucked. I thought of those files as "mine" (because they had been for 5+ years), but other associates found the work interesting and now I feel like I'm competing for matters that would have unquestionably come to me if I hadn't taken a leave.

Relatedly, I'm spending a lot more time considering whether (and on what terms) I would take a second maternity leave. Now that I know I'll lose some work, it's harder to feel as good about going on leave. If I were certain I wanted a second baby, I wouldn't hesitate, but I'm a fence sitter, so it is a consideration. Would a shorter leave have less of an impact (I took 12 months for my first)? I'm not sure, and I'm also not sure if I could return after 3, 4, 6 months and competently do my job while dealing with sleep issues, breastfeeding struggles, etc. If I don't have another baby, I'm pretty confident I'll make partner in the next few years with a robust book of business. If I take another leave, there's much more uncertainty, and although I assume I'll still eventually make partner, I might be delayed a couple years and start with fewer super loyal clients than I otherwise would have had. 

On the day to day front, things are going decently well. My toddler seems well adjusted and I spend time with her in the morning for about an hour, in the evening from 6pm-8pm, and nearly the whole weekend (I work during her nap and after she goes to bed on the weekends). Post-pandemic, going back to the office will probably add even more time pressure, but hopefully my schedule will look similar (we chose a daycare near the office). I'm sure that as things return to normal and we enrol her in extra-curriculars, I'll also feel more pressure to participate/attend, but for now we're not dealing with anything in that realm. My firm is open to a reduced hours/reduced pay arrangement if I feel I need it, but so far I've avoided it and hope to keep up with the regular target (especially because as mentioned above, you can land slightly below without risking your job security in most cases). 

I'll also caution that the return to work feels very very different for each person. Some people have lots of support at home / at work, others have less. Some people loved being on leave and are miserable without their kids - I'm lucky to be at the opposite end of the spectrum, I was eager to get back to work and enjoy my daughter much more now that I don't have to entertain her ALL DAY. Some people are really resentful that their cell phones are constantly pinging when they're spending time with their kids on the weekend, whereas I don't mind it and can usually type out a quick one liner and deal with whatever the thing was after bedtime or on Monday. I'm more bothered by the work I'm *not* getting as a result of taking maternity leave, than the work I am getting that's interfering with my personal life - but I think many (most?) new parents feel the opposite. 

I also think the pandemic has really changed the game in terms of work-life integration. I'm not in an area with clients who expect a lot of business development activities, but I have friends at other big firms who are now planning to stay in private practice solely because they are no longer expected to attend client dinners and events every night (before, they were planning to go in house after having kids). For those people, it would have been impossible to get home before bedtime before the pandemic, and now they can reliably tuck their kids in and get back to drafting at 8pm. Even for me, I've been forced to set up a home office and now I'm much more likely to come home right after daycare pickup and restart work later from home. Lots of people also think the push for remote work also makes it easier to attend things like ballet recitals and doctors appointments - I'm not totally convinced, because in the old world, if I wasn't at my desk, people assumed I was in a meeting - now, if I don't answer email/messaging alerts, people are like, what's she doing?! Basically we're still not really sure what things will exactly look like post-pandemic, but they'll probably be more parent-friendly overall, with some annoying caveats here and there.

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KOMODO
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52 minutes ago, Obi-wan said:

I'm sad to have missed out on the maternity leave discussion on the old forums. @KOMODO is it possible for some of that to be reproduced here? I have so many q's......but would appreciate your general insight on the process. Thank you for your contributions! 

I don't totally remember what I said before, and my perspective may have changed a little now that I'm solidly post-mat leave, but I'm more than happy to answer any questions you might have!

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Obi-wan
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43 minutes ago, KOMODO said:

I don't totally remember what I said before, and my perspective may have changed a little now that I'm solidly post-mat leave, but I'm more than happy to answer any questions you might have!

Thank you very much Komodo! 

1. Is there stigma to taking a mat-leave soon after starting as an associate? How should that stigma be managed? 

2. Re. above - is there a 'better' time to plan on taking mat-leave? 

3. Now that you are back do you find that you are 'behind' in terms of career growth? 

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Ghalm
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Thanks for this thread! What are some things you did that you think helped you succeed as a big law associate, and what are some things (if any) you wish you would have done differently (or, if you saw things that other associates did or did not do that helped/did not help them in building their career, if you could talk about that). Thank you!

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KOMODO
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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Obi-wan said:

Thank you very much Komodo! 

1. Is there stigma to taking a mat-leave soon after starting as an associate? How should that stigma be managed? 

2. Re. above - is there a 'better' time to plan on taking mat-leave? 

3. Now that you are back do you find that you are 'behind' in terms of career growth? 

1) Maybe, but it also happens all the time. Personally I really dislike any suggestion that I'm not committed to my work, so I would have been sensitive (probably overly so) to the impressions of other lawyers if I took a mat leave shortly after joining a firm. In fact, my intention to take a leave was a significant factor that prevented me from looking at other job opportunities in my early-mid associate years - I just couldn't picture moving firms and then within a few months of starting, announcing a pregnancy and taking a year long leave. That said, I see cases all the time where people take new jobs and then long leaves shortly thereafter. Plus, although certain lawyers may privately think to themselves "ugh, she just started here and now she's gone!", nobody at a reputable place is ever, ever going to say anything about it. So bottom line, it's only an issue if it bugs you, there's no practical downside (as long as you've worked [there] long enough to qualify for EI and/or top-up, if those things are important to you). Also consider the fact that if you're just starting somewhere, you basically have nothing to lose - whereas if you've been working somewhere a long time and take a leave, you have to let someone else handle your established work while you're away.

On how the stigma, if any, should be managed - probably the same way the stigma of taking parental leave generally should be managed. Assuming you plan to return to the firm and stay there post-baby, vocalize that, but do it in a way that makes it seem obvious/natural. I was floored, and pretty offended, when a senior partner said to a client on a conference call "Komodo's pregnant, but she assures us that she's planning to come back after the baby, that's what she's told me!". I think he meant it as a confidence boost to the client that I was in fact coming back, but the way he said it actually left more doubt than there had been to begin with, because the client hadn't even considered that I might not return. I prefer language like "I'm really looking forward to getting back into this project as soon as my leave ends" or "I'm sure it will be over before I know it, and I'll be focusing on getting back up to speed as soon as I return". And then of course when you get back, you'll have to deliver, which is harder than it sounds. Making sure those first few projects are top notch, and your response times are excellent - you're basically re-building credibility like you would when you start a new job, but with the added pressure of a spouse and baby who need you to be finished and ready for daycare pickup / dinner at specific times. 

Some people also recommend staying connected to your clients / the firm while on leave, and that sounds great but it might be unrealistic. I planned to be way more involved during my leave, but found it nearly impossible to coordinate feeding and nap times so that I could attend calls that were scheduled without my input. How could I commit to a 1pm-2pm call on Thursday when I wasn't sure if my baby would wake up screaming at 1:15? I couldn't, so I ended up having very little involvement until I returned full time. Your mileage may vary. 

And at the end of the day, just keep in mind that this is a brief time in your life. Once it's over, if you go back to producing high quality work, nobody will remember or care that you took a leave. Even for the more frustrating aspects, like losing ground with clients you established pre-leave (as I described in a response above), you're just set back a bit, but not permanently marred by the fact that you took a leave - each new piece of work you complete will be judged on its quality. The harder part is actually doing the work, given the constraints of your new life. 

2) Is there a best time? No, probably not, but some times will be harder than others. The politically correct and classic advice is that the best time is when you're ready to have a kid, and of course that's true. Don't have a baby if you're not personally/emotionally/financially ready. But I also think that advice is a bit reductionist - of course there are pros and cons to having a baby at different stages of your career. So what are they? (all of the following comments assume you [and your partner if applicable] are stable and want to have a baby)

  • During law school: some people recommend having a baby during second or third year of law school. Cons: you may not be financially stable, you may have a harder time getting a first job while visibly pregnant or as a brand new parent, and once you get that job, you'll be learning to do it while raising a baby. Not easy, in my opinion. But the pros are that you don't have to worry about anyone covering your work, you'll have more free time during law school than once you become a lawyer, and you'll get the baby-having over early in your career, so you can focus on other things. 
  • During articling: for me, this would be a hard pass. I just couldn't imagine having to be pregnant (I was secretly throwing up in my office garbage can for months during my pregnancy), or worse having a small baby, while trying to article. I would probably either delay articling or delay having the baby.
  • Early in practice / as a junior associate. Cons: you haven't established much credibility, you may not have much financial security. On the plus side, you have very little to lose, and you're easily interchangeable with other associates, so it's no big deal to cover your files. 
  • Mid-senior level associate. Cons: you may lose ground with clients who previously used you. It's more work to transfer files / find competent people to cover for you than when you were junior. Pros: people know you, and probably know whether you have long term career ambitions at the firm, so they can more easily see your leave as a temporary blip. You're more likely to have financial security, which means you're more likely to feel comfortable taking a long leave (because remember, the current standard associate top up provisions only last for 4 months of leave). At the same time, you're not senior enough to have very many of your own clients, so you don't feel obligated to keep in touch constantly while you're gone - the partners will make sure the clients are covered. 
  • Income partner. Cons: you're trying to build a book of business, and that means showing clients that you're constantly available. You're likely to feel obligated to keep in touch, and there may be some things you simply can't pawn off on people who are covering your files. There's pressure for you to take a shorter leave. Pros: the financial incentives are better - most income partners make more money than associates while on leave, provided that they're also expected to do more work. You've already "made" partner, so nobody really questions that you're a serious lawyer, your leave is seen as more of an annoyance.
  • Equity partner. Cons: you're totally responsible for your clients, so you're going to need to keep in touch with them and manage their work while you're out. Pros: greater financial security, nobody at the firm is going to take issue with how you choose to structure your leave. 

3) As hinted above, I think I've lost a bit of ground with existing clients/files, in that now I have to compete for some of that work. But I think that if I stopped having kids now, I would make partner at approximately the same time as if I hadn't taken a maternity leave - I still have enough work that I don't think the small amount I lost will negatively impact my case for partnership. [Note: this may be different at other firms - some firms explicitly say that if you take more than X months of parental leave, you aren't eligible for partnership in Year Y of practice, instead you're eligible in Year Y+1]. That said, I do think that if I took another long maternity leave, I probably wouldn't be invited to become a partner until a year or two later than otherwise expected. And btw, I'm not necessarily saying that's wrong or a bad thing - it's kind of fair that after taking two years away from practicing, I might not be ready for partnership in the same year as my peers.

Sorry for the novel! These are kind of complicated issues so they're not easy to answer succinctly. Happy to provide more info if you have more questions.

 

Edited by KOMODO
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KOMODO
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17 minutes ago, Ghalm said:

Thanks for this thread! What are some things you did that you think helped you succeed as a big law associate, and what are some things (if any) you wish you would have done differently (or, if you saw things that other associates did or did not do that helped/did not help them in building their career, if you could talk about that). Thank you!

Things I think helped me:

  • Finding a great mentor early on
  • Developing some niche practice areas early-ish so that I was the "go to" person for questions about XYZ
  • Acting like I intended to stay at the firm long term / vocalizing that I intended to become a partner. Even as a junior associate, I would include a line in my annual review like, "I find my work interesting and engaging, and look forward to continuing to develop my practice with the intention of becoming a partner at the firm"
  • Sitting on committees so that I knew people in other departments - I get a solid chunk of work from other lawyers in the firm who call me because I'm just the person they know in the real estate department
  • Learning to say no, refer out of scope work, call in senior lawyers when I was being pushed to do something I wasn't comfortable with, even if a client or another senior lawyer was pushing me

Things that hurt me / that I would do differently:

  • Spending too much time on non-billable matters, at the expense of billable ones
  • Only working for a couple of partners, I would have learned more if I had been willing to take work from a broader group
  • Procrastinating on unpleasant tasks like docketing, precedent updates, email filing, etc.
  • Not saying anything for too long when my assistant wasn't working out - I should have spoken up sooner, I'm much more productive with a great assistant

Things that I've seen other people do, that I think hurt them:

  • Not doing the things I did well
  • Doing the things I did poorly
  • Not speaking up when they didn't have the type of work or mentorship that they needed
  • Trying to stay in private practice just because they needed the money, when they really didn't enjoy the job
  • Being rude to opposing counsel / admin staff / the person in front of them in line at Tim Horton's and then realizing that they needed something from that person
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Grey
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@KOMODO I remember reading your original thread on this a few years ago, and now I'm a commercial real estate associate myself - thanks for your detailed responses both then and now. There's not much content out there on Canadian CRE law and I find it's an underappreciated practice area that a lot of students don't know much about.

How much of your practice is "pure" real estate compared to financing work? There are times when I feel as if I'm a financing lawyer who happens to specialize in real property secured lending. I enjoy both sides, but not sure if that is particular to my firm's real estate group or if that's generally the case across most firms on Bay. 

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Hitman9172
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Great thread - thanks @KOMODO. Lots of helpful info in here. Just chiming in to say that I'm a commercial real estate associate at a big firm in Vancouver - so if anybody has any questions relating to real estate practice in BC, I'm happy to share my experiences.

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KOMODO
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55 minutes ago, Grey said:

@KOMODO I remember reading your original thread on this a few years ago, and now I'm a commercial real estate associate myself - thanks for your detailed responses both then and now. There's not much content out there on Canadian CRE law and I find it's an underappreciated practice area that a lot of students don't know much about.

How much of your practice is "pure" real estate compared to financing work? There are times when I feel as if I'm a financing lawyer who happens to specialize in real property secured lending. I enjoy both sides, but not sure if that is particular to my firm's real estate group or if that's generally the case across most firms on Bay. 

Ooh great question! And I'm so happy if my older posts helped!

I wouldn't say it's the "norm" for financing to take centre stage, but it's also not unusual. It really depends on the structure at your firm, but there are lots of well respected places on Bay Street where the "real estate" associates lack foundational real estate knowledge because they spend so much of their time financing. I think it can be easier to get financing work (like, at the partner level, from clients), so it makes sense that some people see lots of it. It's also less academically complicated than pure RE, so by the time you get to be a senior associate and you haven't had a ton of purchase experience or direct title review experience, you're more likely to shirk those things and pass them on to clerks/juniors, because they take nonbillable time to learn. Try to avoid this, you'll be a better lawyer if you tackle real estate issues as early as possible. Conversely, there are people at other firms who basically never get to touch financing (they rely on specific financial services associates to negotiate 95% of the documents, and then just supervise registration of the security on title and ordering title insurance). In a perfect world, you would have some balance, but it's hard to come by.

My practice is closer to the latter - I do relatively little financing (maybe 10% of my time?) and spend the majority of my day on pure real estate (buying/selling) and giving development advice (not planning advice, someone else handles that, but regulatory stuff, dealing with third parties on title opinions, registering easements, etc.). I like it that way - I find the real estate stuff more interesting than the nuts and bolts of negotiating a GSA.

If you're trying to get more pure real estate experience, I would recommend the following:

  • Get a copy of Donahue & Quinn and read as much of it as you can. You can read the whole thing cover to cover in a few weekends or over the course of a month or two by reading a chapter every morning. It's crazy how often senior lawyers are shaky on some of the basic stuff covered in that book. If you have time, do the same thing with Troister on the Planning Act. You can't be a good real estate lawyer if you don't feel confident giving planning act advice.
  • On your next purchase file, don't let your clerk prepare a draft of the title memo - do it yourself. You'll learn a lot by reviewing the full search, page by page, in detail. Don't skip any part of it. If the conveyancer gave you a reference plan, consider why, even if it won't be relevant for the ultimate report. Why did someone deposit a plan describing this little slice of the road? Ask questions about everything and anything you don't understand. Why are they only searching corporate records from the date the property was converted to LTCQ? Why did they need to complete an access search all the way to that major highway rather than the road the property is located on? 
  • Volunteer for more development purchase work wherever possible. If it includes strata plans (dividing land horizontally rather than just vertically), all the better. I say this because developers are more likely to run into real estate issues than parties that just hold land - when you're actually dealing with / changing the land, you have to confront real estate issues that would otherwise remain dormant. 
  • Don't let anybody register a document on one of your files unless you could register it yourself. If you wouldn't know how to prepare a Notice of Lease, don't assign that work, ask your clerk to teach you. Registering title documents isn't like submitting expense reports, it's not just administrative and you should know how to prepare and review them if you're assigning the work, but many associates and partners at big firms skip that step and just trust their clerks to do it properly.
  • Keep reminding the partners that you're eager to get more involved with technical RE files, and don't be afraid to pass on financing files if there's nothing left for you to learn from them, to make room for more relevant work. If you are still getting stuck on a lot of financing files, try to funnel them so that you get the ones that require title opinions more often than the ones that require title insurance. 

Now if you're thinking that most of the suggestions above involve you learning about real estate, rather than actually practicing it, you're right - but in my experience, partners are much more likely to involve you in real estate files if you demonstrate an above-average grasp of the concepts. If you're still having trouble getting their attention, consider writing an article or two about about what you learned and they'll likely take note. 

Hope that helps!

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KOMODO
  • Lawyer
10 minutes ago, Hitman9172 said:

Great thread - thanks @KOMODO. Lots of helpful info in here. Just chiming in to say that I'm a commercial real estate associate at a big firm in Vancouver - so if anybody has any questions relating to real estate practice in BC, I'm happy to share my experiences.

Nice!! Hi from across the street!

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AllWellAndGood
  • Articling Student
On 6/16/2021 at 11:18 AM, Hitman9172 said:

Great thread - thanks @KOMODO. Lots of helpful info in here. Just chiming in to say that I'm a commercial real estate associate at a big firm in Vancouver - so if anybody has any questions relating to real estate practice in BC, I'm happy to share my experiences.

Hey Hitman I'd love some advice. I'll be articling in a Vancouver firm that has a commercial real estate team in the near future and it's one of a few areas I'd love to get into. 

  1. Komodo recommended to another posted that they get Donahue & Quinn; is there a good BC equivalent book you would recommend for someone like myself that is interested but potentially didn't have the best real estate instruction for the BC/Commercial context in law school?
  2. What is the day-to-day like in Vancouver in commercial real estate?
    1. Is it heavily focused on DT Vancouver commercial/high rises?
    2. Is there a lot of work in strata/developments throughout the lower mainland?
    3. How much commercial leasing do you do for corporate clients with your firm for other reasons?
    4. Do you work with redevelopments like Brentwood Mall? (and every other mall that seems to be converting into a mixed use community... if pension funds get their way with it haha)
  3. If you could go back to my position, with the choice of focusing after articling in various areas like corporate finance, commercial real estate, or general commercial work in Vancouver, what would make you want to go for commercial real estate again?
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Hitman9172
  • Lawyer

Hey @AllWellAndGood, my responses are in bold below:

  1. Komodo recommended to another posted that they get Donahue & Quinn; is there a good BC equivalent book you would recommend for someone like myself that is interested but potentially didn't have the best real estate instruction for the BC/Commercial context in law school? I haven't read any books like this, although there probably is something, but I find that reading the BC CLE Real Estate Practice Manual and Real Estate Development Practice Manual are super helpful. Your law school or firm will have a subscription that you can use to log in and browse.
  2. What is the day-to-day like in Vancouver in commercial real estate?
    1. Is it heavily focused on DT Vancouver commercial/high rises? All over the place. I've done deals all around BC, as it really just depends on where your client is operating. In Vancouver, you'll obviously see a lot of Vancouver work, just because of proximity and population (i.e., # of deals taking place). Types of property will vary considerably depending on the firm and their clientele. I do residential (multi-family condos), industrial, office, shopping centres, you name it.
    2. Is there a lot of work in strata/developments throughout the lower mainland? Yes, but some firms focus on it more than others. Some firms will have tons of developer clients, while others will do more work for acquisition-focused companies (e.g., pension funds). Even at firms with big developer clients, some lawyers will focus more on the acquisitions and leasing side (e.g., buying, financing, and leasing out the land), while others will do more of the development-side work (e.g., setting up the strata, handling municipal approvals, filing Disclosure Statemnts, etc.)
    3. How much commercial leasing do you do for corporate clients with your firm for other reasons? I do a ton of leasing - some for our real estate funds and developers, and some for random corporate clients that I've been referred for by other lawyers in the firm (e.g., our corporate group has a client that wants to lease a new office or warehouse).
    4. Do you work with redevelopments like Brentwood Mall? (and every other mall that seems to be converting into a mixed use community... if pension funds get their way with it haha) Yes, but not specifically Brentwood. The type of work you do will really vary by firm and who each partner's clients are. Some firms have more institutional clients (investment funds, pension funds, REITs, etc.) than others, while some have tons of mom-and-pop developer clients.
  3. If you could go back to my position, with the choice of focusing after articling in various areas like corporate finance, commercial real estate, or general commercial work in Vancouver, what would make you want to go for commercial real estate again? The people in the group will make a huge difference, as you need to like your coworkers, but for me, the other appeals of CRE were:
    a) the closings usually aren't as crazy as corporate closings (in RE you sign the purchase agreement, then have X days to do due diligence and waive conditions, and then have X days to prepare for closing (e.g., draft documents, arrange funds), so you might have 60-90 days from signing to close, and 2 medium-sized bumps in work (around condition waiver and closing time), whereas in corporate, it can be balls-to-the-wall crazy from signing until close as it's typically a shorter period (sometimes you will sign-and-close). What I'm saying is that the workflow is a bit more predictable and the work-life balance is generally better than corporate or securities law I find.
    b) CRE is such a big part of Vancouver's economy, so there's a ton of exit opportunities for in-house and government jobs (and lateral moves to competitor firms). Corporate law probably has the most in-house opportunities as it's so broad, but it's not my cup of tea. 
    c) It's a generalization, but I find CRE clients are usually quite appreciative of the legal advice you provide (moreso than corporate or securities clients I found), as real estate (especially development) is such a legally-intensive process. It's also kinda cool to drive by the properties/buildings that you had somewhat of a role in acquiring or building.

Hope that helps.

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AllWellAndGood
  • Articling Student
1 hour ago, Hitman9172 said:

Hey @AllWellAndGood, my responses are in bold below:

  1. Komodo recommended to another posted that they get Donahue & Quinn; is there a good BC equivalent book you would recommend for someone like myself that is interested but potentially didn't have the best real estate instruction for the BC/Commercial context in law school? I haven't read any books like this, although there probably is something, but I find that reading the BC CLE Real Estate Practice Manual and Real Estate Development Practice Manual are super helpful. Your law school or firm will have a subscription that you can use to log in and browse.
  2. What is the day-to-day like in Vancouver in commercial real estate?
    1. Is it heavily focused on DT Vancouver commercial/high rises? All over the place. I've done deals all around BC, as it really just depends on where your client is operating. In Vancouver, you'll obviously see a lot of Vancouver work, just because of proximity and population (i.e., # of deals taking place). Types of property will vary considerably depending on the firm and their clientele. I do residential (multi-family condos), industrial, office, shopping centres, you name it.
    2. Is there a lot of work in strata/developments throughout the lower mainland? Yes, but some firms focus on it more than others. Some firms will have tons of developer clients, while others will do more work for acquisition-focused companies (e.g., pension funds). Even at firms with big developer clients, some lawyers will focus more on the acquisitions and leasing side (e.g., buying, financing, and leasing out the land), while others will do more of the development-side work (e.g., setting up the strata, handling municipal approvals, filing Disclosure Statemnts, etc.)
    3. How much commercial leasing do you do for corporate clients with your firm for other reasons? I do a ton of leasing - some for our real estate funds and developers, and some for random corporate clients that I've been referred for by other lawyers in the firm (e.g., our corporate group has a client that wants to lease a new office or warehouse).
    4. Do you work with redevelopments like Brentwood Mall? (and every other mall that seems to be converting into a mixed use community... if pension funds get their way with it haha) Yes, but not specifically Brentwood. The type of work you do will really vary by firm and who each partner's clients are. Some firms have more institutional clients (investment funds, pension funds, REITs, etc.) than others, while some have tons of mom-and-pop developer clients.
  3. If you could go back to my position, with the choice of focusing after articling in various areas like corporate finance, commercial real estate, or general commercial work in Vancouver, what would make you want to go for commercial real estate again? The people in the group will make a huge difference, as you need to like your coworkers, but for me, the other appeals of CRE were:
    a) the closings usually aren't as crazy as corporate closings (in RE you sign the purchase agreement, then have X days to do due diligence and waive conditions, and then have X days to prepare for closing (e.g., draft documents, arrange funds), so you might have 60-90 days from signing to close, and 2 medium-sized bumps in work (around condition waiver and closing time), whereas in corporate, it can be balls-to-the-wall crazy from signing until close as it's typically a shorter period (sometimes you will sign-and-close). What I'm saying is that the workflow is a bit more predictable and the work-life balance is generally better than corporate or securities law I find.
    b) CRE is such a big part of Vancouver's economy, so there's a ton of exit opportunities for in-house and government jobs (and lateral moves to competitor firms). Corporate law probably has the most in-house opportunities as it's so broad, but it's not my cup of tea. 
    c) It's a generalization, but I find CRE clients are usually quite appreciative of the legal advice you provide (moreso than corporate or securities clients I found), as real estate (especially development) is such a legally-intensive process. It's also kinda cool to drive by the properties/buildings that you had somewhat of a role in acquiring or building.

Hope that helps.

That all does really help, and I suppose that I'll have to see meet and work with the people in the CRE group, and learn the types of clients they work with, before making my decision. Thanks for the info!

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Grey
  • Lawyer
On 6/16/2021 at 2:28 PM, KOMODO said:

Ooh great question! And I'm so happy if my older posts helped!

I wouldn't say it's the "norm" for financing to take centre stage, but it's also not unusual. It really depends on the structure at your firm, but there are lots of well respected places on Bay Street where the "real estate" associates lack foundational real estate knowledge because they spend so much of their time financing. I think it can be easier to get financing work (like, at the partner level, from clients), so it makes sense that some people see lots of it. It's also less academically complicated than pure RE, so by the time you get to be a senior associate and you haven't had a ton of purchase experience or direct title review experience, you're more likely to shirk those things and pass them on to clerks/juniors, because they take nonbillable time to learn. Try to avoid this, you'll be a better lawyer if you tackle real estate issues as early as possible. Conversely, there are people at other firms who basically never get to touch financing (they rely on specific financial services associates to negotiate 95% of the documents, and then just supervise registration of the security on title and ordering title insurance). In a perfect world, you would have some balance, but it's hard to come by.

My practice is closer to the latter - I do relatively little financing (maybe 10% of my time?) and spend the majority of my day on pure real estate (buying/selling) and giving development advice (not planning advice, someone else handles that, but regulatory stuff, dealing with third parties on title opinions, registering easements, etc.). I like it that way - I find the real estate stuff more interesting than the nuts and bolts of negotiating a GSA.

If you're trying to get more pure real estate experience, I would recommend the following:

  • Get a copy of Donahue & Quinn and read as much of it as you can. You can read the whole thing cover to cover in a few weekends or over the course of a month or two by reading a chapter every morning. It's crazy how often senior lawyers are shaky on some of the basic stuff covered in that book. If you have time, do the same thing with Troister on the Planning Act. You can't be a good real estate lawyer if you don't feel confident giving planning act advice.
  • On your next purchase file, don't let your clerk prepare a draft of the title memo - do it yourself. You'll learn a lot by reviewing the full search, page by page, in detail. Don't skip any part of it. If the conveyancer gave you a reference plan, consider why, even if it won't be relevant for the ultimate report. Why did someone deposit a plan describing this little slice of the road? Ask questions about everything and anything you don't understand. Why are they only searching corporate records from the date the property was converted to LTCQ? Why did they need to complete an access search all the way to that major highway rather than the road the property is located on? 
  • Volunteer for more development purchase work wherever possible. If it includes strata plans (dividing land horizontally rather than just vertically), all the better. I say this because developers are more likely to run into real estate issues than parties that just hold land - when you're actually dealing with / changing the land, you have to confront real estate issues that would otherwise remain dormant. 
  • Don't let anybody register a document on one of your files unless you could register it yourself. If you wouldn't know how to prepare a Notice of Lease, don't assign that work, ask your clerk to teach you. Registering title documents isn't like submitting expense reports, it's not just administrative and you should know how to prepare and review them if you're assigning the work, but many associates and partners at big firms skip that step and just trust their clerks to do it properly.
  • Keep reminding the partners that you're eager to get more involved with technical RE files, and don't be afraid to pass on financing files if there's nothing left for you to learn from them, to make room for more relevant work. If you are still getting stuck on a lot of financing files, try to funnel them so that you get the ones that require title opinions more often than the ones that require title insurance. 

Now if you're thinking that most of the suggestions above involve you learning about real estate, rather than actually practicing it, you're right - but in my experience, partners are much more likely to involve you in real estate files if you demonstrate an above-average grasp of the concepts. If you're still having trouble getting their attention, consider writing an article or two about about what you learned and they'll likely take note. 

Hope that helps!

Thanks - very helpful! I grabbed a copy of Donahue & Quinn from our firm library for some light summer reading. 

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  • 1 month later...
tails
  • Lawyer

Hi! Love all the responses here. Chiming in your add I’m a CRE associate at a big firm in Calgary. Happy to add any insight for those looking at Alberta as a practice option. 

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EmplawmentLaw
  • Law Student

@KOMODO @Hitman9172 @tails

Thank you for your contributions.

Can I ask if you've seen any/many RE associates or partners who've crossed over to the actual business side of RE? A friend of mine runs a REPE firm in the US and says that some of the best RE investors are lawyers who did exactly that (e.g. legends like Sam Zell but also many regional/local developers he's worked with, etc.). I'm assuming that its partly to do with the highly technical nature of RE development (zoning, etc.). What do you think?

Also, can I ask how much of your job requires you to actually understand the biz side of RE?

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KOMODO
  • Lawyer
18 hours ago, EmplawmentLaw said:

@KOMODO @Hitman9172 @tails

Thank you for your contributions.

Can I ask if you've seen any/many RE associates or partners who've crossed over to the actual business side of RE? A friend of mine runs a REPE firm in the US and says that some of the best RE investors are lawyers who did exactly that (e.g. legends like Sam Zell but also many regional/local developers he's worked with, etc.). I'm assuming that its partly to do with the highly technical nature of RE development (zoning, etc.). What do you think?

Also, can I ask how much of your job requires you to actually understand the biz side of RE?

I haven't really seen that, though perhaps it would be possible. Most of the people I deal with on the developer side either have a professional designation (planners, accountants, in house lawyers) or they are MBA type guys who have worked their way up through smaller developers before arriving to work for my clients. Most of the in house lawyers I deal with at development companies are acting in a GC role with no other lawyers, so I also think it's probably harder to make that transition than going to a place with a bunch of lawyers where you can learn on the job. Conversely, it would probably be easier to transition to a place with a larger legal department like a REIT, pension fund, etc.

Clients definitely appreciate if you understand generally how their business works, so it's worth putting some effort into knowing what they care about, but you generally don't need to understand the technical business details on every transaction like what their ROI is, etc. Your job is more about understanding the technical legal stuff that impacts their business, which typically they don't understand.

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tails
  • Lawyer
19 hours ago, EmplawmentLaw said:

@KOMODO @Hitman9172 @tails

Thank you for your contributions.

Can I ask if you've seen any/many RE associates or partners who've crossed over to the actual business side of RE? A friend of mine runs a REPE firm in the US and says that some of the best RE investors are lawyers who did exactly that (e.g. legends like Sam Zell but also many regional/local developers he's worked with, etc.). I'm assuming that its partly to do with the highly technical nature of RE development (zoning, etc.). What do you think?

Also, can I ask how much of your job requires you to actually understand the biz side of RE?

Yeah, in my experience there is more business/MBAs on that side of things than former lawyers. Though I do see how if you had an interest in business that it would be useful. Always good to understand as much as possible in your chosen field. 
 

Which in turns answers your second questions. Nice to understand the business of Real Estate, but that is their job and not yours. We aren’t consultants. We’re they’re to provide legal knowledge on the real estate field. I agree with @KOMODOthat it’s just a benefit, not a necessity. 

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EmplawmentLaw
  • Law Student
2 hours ago, KOMODO said:

I haven't really seen that, though perhaps it would be possible. Most of the people I deal with on the developer side either have a professional designation (planners, accountants, in house lawyers) or they are MBA type guys who have worked their way up through smaller developers before arriving to work for my clients. Most of the in house lawyers I deal with at development companies are acting in a GC role with no other lawyers, so I also think it's probably harder to make that transition than going to a place with a bunch of lawyers where you can learn on the job. Conversely, it would probably be easier to transition to a place with a larger legal department like a REIT, pension fund, etc.

Clients definitely appreciate if you understand generally how their business works, so it's worth putting some effort into knowing what they care about, but you generally don't need to understand the technical business details on every transaction like what their ROI is, etc. Your job is more about understanding the technical legal stuff that impacts their business, which typically they don't understand.

 

1 hour ago, tails said:

Yeah, in my experience there is more business/MBAs on that side of things than former lawyers. Though I do see how if you had an interest in business that it would be useful. Always good to understand as much as possible in your chosen field. 
 

Which in turns answers your second questions. Nice to understand the business of Real Estate, but that is their job and not yours. We aren’t consultants. We’re they’re to provide legal knowledge on the real estate field. I agree with @KOMODOthat it’s just a benefit, not a necessity. 

@KOMODO  @tails

Thank you so much! This entire thread has been very informative, and I've definitely learned a thing or two.

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