Job Watch: Commercial real sstate

Real estate has taken a serious hit in recent years, but with signs that things are starting to pick, what does this mean for the legal market?

“Commercial real estate is definitely on the up,” comments Justin Gyphion, a senior consultant at Taylor Root.

“The Taylor Root Job Index, which maps the monthly number of vacancies across practice areas, has showed a rise in the number of commercial real estate roles in the City of more than 100 per cent in recent months, with the numbers holding steady from September into October,” he stresses.

“While it is not yet at pre-2009 levels,” says Safia Malik of Pro-Legal Recruitment, “deal volumes in the commercial investment market have broadly stabilised in the past few years and appear to be trending upwards.”

There are a number of other signs that this area is starting to recover, says Ricardo Bonegio of Garfield Robbins.

“Developers are bringing new projects online, to be well-placed when the upturn takes place in the next year or two, and this is leading to increasing workflows for practices and in-house teams.”

As far as recruitment is concerned, the most active area is definitely the mid-level, according to Gyphion.

“The most obvious trend is that almost all the firms that are recruiting are looking at the

mid-level – ie 2-5 years’ PQE – a perhaps unsurprising consequence of the gap left by the freefalling property market post-Lehman.

“We’re seeing a lot of demand for lawyers with specific development experience over and above any other branch of commercial real estate, which is a useful indicator that some faith in the market – and the economy generally – has been restored,” he adds.

Several other areas are seeing an increase in demand, notes Malik.

“There’s been more demand for solicitors with experience of, and a passion for, specialised areas such as real estate development, both contentious and non-contentious construction, real estate finance and, more recently, residential development,” says Malik.

So what about the in-house opportunities in this area?

“Until the latter half of this year there was not a huge amount of interest in commercial real estate lawyers but, given increased foreign and domestic investment, many companies are seeing the benefits of hiring an in-house solicitor,” she adds. “In-house counsel can promote legal awareness throughout the company as well as provide legal input on the company’s day-to-day operations and corporate strategy. Demand is not huge but it’s recovering.”

As for where is best to find work in this area in the UK right now, it is still mainly in the big cities.

“Outside London,” she says, “most real estate opportunities arise with the large commercial firms in big cities such as Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and Manchester. Some London firms have established or are building up their practices in these locations – particularly Bristol – which is creating interesting opportunities and increased activity levels.”