Job Watch: Commercial property

Real estate was one of the first areas of law to be hit by the economic downturn. In fact, even before the collapse of Lehman, the rot had begun to seep in. Now, having sat back and watched other areas of the economy recover, commercial property lawyers are finally finding they have something to celebrate. 

Whichever recruiters you ask, the message is the same: the commercial property job market is back. According to Kristi Edwards, partner at Edwards Gibson, “If we are comparing demand in the first six months of 2012, across all commercial property related disciplines, to the first six months of 2013, we’ve seen new vacancies rise by almost 50 per cent, with a marked increase in the past two months.”

It is worth keeping in mind, however, that demand really did start at rock bottom. Edwards says that despite the sunny outlook, real demand for commercial property lawyers remains at least two thirds down on what it was in the sector’s heyday. 

The sector’s return is good news for up-and-coming property lawyers, as firms seek to fill the gaps left by their patchy hiring over the past few years. 

Daniel Smith, director at Noble Legal says: “We’ve been instructed on roles at all levels; however there has been a bias towards the one to four PQE bracket, which differs from most sectors. We believe this to be on account of so few people being kept on in property following the weak market in 2009 to 2011.”

Opportunities also exist for those at a higher level but “they must be able to demonstrate that they have a significant portable following,” says Jonathan Firth, managing director at Michael Page Legal. 

Philip Jennings at Jlegal agrees that partners are always in demand but are “even more so at the moment given the high value of potential real estate work in the next few years”.

Firms of all shapes and sizes have been investing in their commercial property practices of late, particularly those in the mid to upper echelons of the market.

“New roles have arisen in those firms that still consider real estate to be core business,” says Edwards, while Gemma Haworth at DMJ Legal points to mid-market and West End firms as particular hotspots. Opportunities at magic circle or top US firms remain relatively few and far between. 

So far, so good. But perhaps the most promising part of this flurry of activity is the increasing amount of investment in the UK property market, and London in particular. Major developments like the Walkie Talkie tower and the Cheesegrater are boosting growth in the sector, as is increasing interest from the private equity arena.

“As a result we’re seeing an increasing demand for real estate solicitors with development and investment experience,” says Michael Page’s Firth.