What I Wish I Had Known about Practicing Real Property Law

Ira Meislik
A lot of other attorneys can do the same work you do. How will you distinguish yourself from all those others?

A lot of other attorneys can do the same work you do. How will you distinguish yourself from all those others?

laflor via iStock

Frankly, building a successful real estate practice requires nothing special at all. Building a successful law practice—now that’s the challenge. Yes, substantive real property law is very different from substantive intellectual property law or workers’ compensation law or employment law, but the need to know the law in your own field and the need to give superb, top-notch service to clients is universal.

What Clients Want

Most of our clients are satisfied (rightly or wrongly) with their assumption that we have mastered our field. What they care about is service. There are a lot of attorneys who can do just what you do; some do it better, some not as well. In almost all cases, however, they can do it well enough. That’s not to say that every challenge can be met by every attorney, but ego-busting as this might sound, most of us can solve the common and recurring problems that cross our desks.

So, what separates the successful (real estate or other) practitioner from the rest of the field? Simply stated, it is meeting the client’s needs, providing solutions. And this starts with knowing each of your clients because clients aren’t generic. Does “that” particular client want answers or reasoning or both? A lot of other attorneys can do the same work you do. How will you distinguish yourself from all those others?

Distinguish Yourself

Successful attorneys add value. This value often isn’t provided in the form of technical competence. It comes in making clients happy, communicating with them in a way that satisfies them. We all have a favorite restaurant. Is ours the one with food that rocks the world? Is it a Michelin three-star restaurant? Almost certainly, no. It is the one where we feel at home—the one where we feel special. No, it’s not the food (granted, it has to be decent); it is the service. Our law practices have that in common with restaurants and other service businesses.

Do you want a successful real estate law practice? Try giving excellent service. Try giving service that your clients will brag to others about. Make things simple for your clients. Clients don’t like surprises. Avoid surprises. It’s all your responsibility.

“Perfect” may be called “the enemy of the good,” but this truism doesn’t give us permission to stop aiming for perfection. A client’s perception of her or his attorney comes from what the client understands. Clients don’t understand the Rule in Shelley’s Case. They understand typos. What would be your impression of a job candidate who sends you a typo-ridden résumé? Do you know if such a candidate has a 140 IQ? No, you know the candidate makes mistakes, isn’t careful, may not care. Speaking of mistakes, acknowledge them; don’t hide them; don’t underestimate the intelligence of each and every client. They know.

A Tale of Customer Service 

Here’s one of my favorite customer service stories. I don’t think it’s apocryphal. Even if it is, I don’t care. It is a very telling story.

Stew Leonard, the founder of a very unusual and groundbreaking supermarket, was with his mother when a complaining customer approached. The customer wanted a refund for a spoiled container of milk. Stew immediately recognized that his store did not sell that brand of milk and he made sure the customer understood that. The customer, still insisting that she had in fact bought the milk at Stew’s store, stormed away without her refund. At that point, Stew’s mother turned to her son and said, “Nice work, Stew, you saved a dollar and lost a customer.”

Keep Your Clients Happy

Do you want a successful real estate practice? Of course, you do. Yes, you should know your field. Keep at it. Read articles about substantive law and about the practice of law. Learn from others. But, most of all, remember that the only reason you have any business at all is because of your clients. Keep them happy. Impress your colleagues with the quality of your work. Impress your clients with platinum service.

This is an edited and abridged version of an article that originally appeared in the March/April 2016 issue of GPSolo magazine, volume 33, number 2, published by the American Bar Association Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. Membership in the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division is now complimentary. Join now

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Ira Meislik is the managing principal of Meislik & Meislik in Montclair, New Jersey, where he focuses on all aspects of commercial real estate transactions, with particular emphasis on retail real estate matters.