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Q&A: Saying 'No' To Improper Requests

Richard BuschSaying “no” to an improper notarization when your boss is an attorney can be daunting…but it’s critical if you are asked to perform an illegal notarization. Richard Busch, a surety attorney who represents Merchants Bonding Company has defended many Notaries and offers these suggestions for legal professionals:

How should a Notary working in a law office respond if an attorney asks for an improper or illegal notarization?

They should say ‘no.’ That’s the bottom line. They can’t violate their duties, even for their boss. It’s not only a civil violation, but committing a crime. Even if the Notary has errors and omissions insurance, then the insurance may not cover them since this would constitute intentional misconduct and may be excluded from the policy. No job is worth the possibility of being prosecuted!

What if the Notary explains the act is illegal and the attorney insists?

While it may prove to be an inconvenience for the client and the attorney to comply with the Notary laws, the attorney and the client need to understand that the Notary cannot and will not deviate from a strict compliance with the law. The minute the Notary compromises their obligations even on minor matters, it will open the door to potential liability and also will lead the Notary down a dangerous path of when to draw the line.

What can Notaries do to prevent these kind of situations?

It’s important for Notaries to take the time to educate their employers about what they can and cannot do under state law. In many cases, the request may not be deliberately dishonest — the attorney may say the client has authorized the attorney to handle the matter and the notarization is just a formality, or that the client will be coming in later to sign the Notary journal. The Notary should explain to the attorney why the request is improper, and that performing it puts both the Notary and the law firm at risk. No ethical attorney should request, let alone require, a Notary to violate their duties knowing that the request is illegal.

Key points

Always say no to an improper or illegal request, no matter the circumstance.

Explain that strict adherence to the law protects the signer, your employer, and you.

Educate your employer and co-workers about Notary laws and best practices to avoid improper requests.

Additional resources

David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.

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