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Q&A: Workplace Policies For Notaries In The Law Office

Workplace policies for employee conduct can serve as an important preventative tool against a law firm’s liability — just as bad workplace practices, such as encouraging improper notarizations can invite lawsuits. The Legal Professionals Sectionspoke with attorney Hank Turner of the Valorem Law Group LLC in Chicago, Illinois, to discuss positive and negative workplace policies for Notaries in the law office.

How do office policies encouraging proper notarial procedures help reduce the risk?
Such policies definitely reduce the risk of liability. They not only ensure compliance with state law and ethics, but also remind people that there are serious implications even for routine activities and things you do in the office day by day. One of our standard practices is checklists for employees of proper procedures that need to be followed under state law. Whoever is authorized to serve as a Notary in a law office should have such a checklist to refer to be sure they do the right things when notarizing.

How do improper Notary practices put a firm at greater risk of liability?
First of all, such practices are against state law. Also, these kind of practices are often part of larger efforts in an office to cut corners or skirt rules. Inevitably, someone will catch you doing this, and the problem will get worse. Practices such as asking Notaries to falsely stamp documents, backdate documents or skip required identification of signers are all things that put a law office at risk and something a firm’s malpractice insurer would discourage.

If a Notary working in a law office encounters bad office policies or practices, what are the most constructive ways to try and get those policies changed?
That can be a tough challenge. The first constructive step would be to speak to your direct supervisor and get them involved. When you explain the problem, explain that any benefit from a short-term shortcut is outweighed by the risk of being sued or clients having the wrong thing done and discovering it later during litigation. Try to frame the situation to explain that if things are done the right way, it can still be done quickly and efficiently, and you can get the same results as you can from doing them incorrectly —without exposing yourself to risk. Try not to make any problems out to be an issue with a specific person, or even the office as a whole. Instead, try to present it as an objective issue while offering a solution to help reduce risk.

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