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The many moving cogs in a real estate transaction

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By Anuja Venkataramani on

TLT senior associate Jayne Adair talks financing deals, renewables and the key skills required to work in the real estate sector

“A few years ago, we completed a high-profile large disposal of a wind turbine development for a client in Northern Ireland. We’ve now been instructed to do another development for the same client, which is significant because it’s their first new project in quite some time”, says Jayne Adair, senior associate in TLT’s Northern Ireland (NI) real estate team, when I ask her about what she’s currently working on.

She goes on to tell me that as they delve into the development, they’re realising that the title may not be straightforward and there are a large number of landowners involved — so there are plenty of moving parts for the team and client to review when it comes to drafting the precedent documentation.

Adair then discusses another aspect of this matter, which highlights the need for being commercially-minded and forward-thinking when working with companies in the real estate sector.

“Although it was not in their plans at the outset, the client may be looking to be further involved in solar. So, we have to factor this into future plans, such as whether they might be looking to include solar technologies, or even battery storage or hydrogen at the site if technologies improve”, she explains. Navigating such up-and-coming developments, and making sure clients are flexible and aren’t tied into one technology is a feature of her job that Adair finds “very interesting and rewarding” — not just that, she points out that these skills are something that all clients will be looking for going forward.

I took this opportunity to ask Adair what she enjoys most about her practice. “I find real estate quite methodical, although this doesn’t mean it’s always straightforward. As a result, you really have the opportunity to apply problem-solving skills and work with both sides to achieve a common goal, since it’s not generally supposed to be contentious,” she says. Another feature, she notes, is the gratifying feeling of being able to map out and see the end of a deal when you get started — something that differs from her colleagues working in litigation, a practice which sometimes could have longer completion timescales.

“Moreover, real estate also touches other practice areas in the firm, so there’s always an opportunity to work with colleagues in other disciplines. You’ll probably need tax and planning advice, maybe (but hopefully not!) litigation advice, for instance, and I really enjoy the collaborative aspect of the work”, Adair said. She goes on to tell me that given the high-calibre of clients that TLT works with, such collaboration has an added cross-border dimension to it, so she often works with her counterparts in England or Scotland.

We also touch on Northern Ireland (NI) as a legal hub. Adair explains that she is exposed to the same high-profile clients usually associated with London, often public limited company (PLC) developers. She also points out that “Belfast is quite exciting at the moment because we’re doing a lot of work in the Republic of Ireland. That cross-jurisdictional work is great experience to have under your belt and it’s something we’re all dual qualified to be able to deal with in the real estate team in Belfast”.

Applications for TLT’s Vacation Scheme are now open and close on 10 January 2024

I was quite interested in the breadth of Adair’s practice — in addition to working on future energy matters, she also advises on transactions involving retail property. I asked her how client demand, and by extension, her work, differs between these two sectors. “It might be that there are tighter deadlines in retail if a tenant or landlord wants to move in by a certain date. At the minute, a common deadline for many is to complete contracts in time for parties to trade by Christmas. To meet these deadlines, things have to be completed now. So there’s been a concerted push since the summer,” Adair explains.

She cautions, however, against making generalisations on timescales based on a client’s sector. What’s ultimately important, is meeting each client’s specific demands. “The future energy matter we’re currently working on, for instance, has fairly tight deadlines because our client wants to move the development into planning at the earliest opportunity, since the planning process itself can be time-consuming. So, the quicker we’re able to get all the documentation lined up and landowner agreements finalised, the quicker our client’s project can be up and running.  At the end of the day, it’s all about prioritising, and each client’s needs are different,” she summarises.

Given that Adair spent a few months on secondment to a bank, I asked her about what lender priorities are in relation to real estate finance, and what the role of a lawyer is in managing these. “Speed is definitely a top priority,” she notes. What this means, in practice, is going through the title documents as soon as they come in and promptly making the client aware of any red flags — so attention to detail and good communication are vital.

“You have to be commercial as well, thinking about what will impact the bank’s security. Ultimately, as a real estate lawyer, you’ve been tasked with investigating whether the title is good and marketable for the bank to then take charge over that property. In the unlikely scenario that the bank has to enforce the mortgage and has to sell, you have to think about whether another solicitor looking at the title will be happy for their client to buy the property. So, while speed is a priority, everything also needs to be right”, explains Adair.

She continues: “You’re also working closely with agents valuing the property, and seeing what is and isn’t an issue from their perspective. This helps to see the bigger picture and build a sense of commerciality.” This added element of collaboration with lenders and agents highlights the importance of maintaining long-standing relationships — so people skills are key to being successful in a real estate practice.

We also chatted about Adair’s career journey. She tells me she joined the graduate programme at a Big Four accounting firm after finishing her law degree. While she didn’t complete the scheme, instead taking up a paralegal role at a firm she really wanted to work at, she says that her time there was “an invaluable experience”. She goes on to explain — “it was my first full-time job and I learnt a lot, working for FTSE 100 clients and travelling all over the UK. Just being in that environment and seeing how your senior colleagues are managing staff and client relationships is vital to learning by osmosis.”

Approaching the end of our interview, I asked Adair for her tips for those on the hunt for training contracts. She highlights how much she learnt working as a paralegal., Whilst it helped her secure training at the same firm, it also gave her the opportunity to observe senior lawyers in practice. “Knowing what your clients want, and going about securing what’s best for them, while managing their expectations, is crucial. I learnt a lot of that from my time as a paralegal”, she notes.

Adair points out that it can often be a big culture shock to go straight from university to full-time work, and what benefitted her massively, was having a few years of real-life working experience before starting as a trainee. “If you can’t get a training contract right away, don’t get disheartened by the possibility of taking up a paralegal role. It’s not lost time, and it’s one of the best decisions I made”, she assures.

Applications for TLT’s Vacation Scheme are now open and close on 10 January 2024

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