Your Cookies are Disabled! sets cookies on your computer to help improve performance and provide a more engaging user experience. By using this site, you accept the terms of our cookie policy. Learn more.


How to impress judges and juries in a Notary case

Updated 12-13-21. After serving many years as an expert consultant and witness for lawsuits involving Notaries, I have seen what steps convince judges and juries that the Notary acted properly. Following these steps is highly valuable if you are ever called into court over a notarization and will also impress commissioning officials and hearing officers should you ever have to defend yourself in a discipline investigation.

Judges and juries like to see Notaries have gone above and beyond the lowest standards of notarial performance. The real Notary standouts who successfully get lawsuits dismissed against them are Notaries who do more than the bare minimum required by state law.

Steps that exceed minimum requirements

Obviously, no Notary wants to be accused of negligence or defend themselves in a notarization lawsuit or disciplinary hearing. But the fact is that such suits and discipline charges happen. If it does, here are basic steps every Notary can take. These steps will not only help you stay out of trouble in the first place, they clearly demonstrate your ethical and professional conduct to any judges, commissioning officials, hearing officers, and juries if you become involved in a legal proceeding.

What are those important basic steps? Here are the five best things a Notary can do to impress officials and juries in a legal proceeding:

  1. Voluntarily seek out Notary training and continuing Notary education.
  2. Learn and follow Notary best practices.
  3. Create a detailed journal entry for each notarization.
  4. Secure and preserve your Notary journal for future use.
  5. Proofread your journal entries and certificates before completing each notarization.

Basic and continuing Notary education

Only a few jurisdictions require applicants to take training classes as a prerequisite for becoming a Notary, and very few jurisdictions require any form of continuing education even when renewing a Notary commission. Hence, judges, commissioning officials, hearing officers, and juries will be impressed if they learn that a Notary has made the effort to take classes voluntarily and refreshes their knowledge regularly with continuing Notary education.

There are numerous opportunities for Notaries to seek out basic and continuing education. Such education programs are widely available in both live and online formats at affordable costs. Of course, it should also be emphasized that Notary education is the very best way to avoid the errors, omissions, and wrongdoing that lead to Notaries appearing in lawsuits and disciplinary hearings in the first place.

Be sure that whenever you engage in any Notary education, you document what you have done. Keep receipts for fees for education seminars and attendance certificates. You could note such activities in your journal since you are allowed to include additional information besides the usual required features of a standard journal entry. You could even note any significant reading and study that you do on your own, such as listing the date, the name of the book or manual you study, and the pages or chapters that you reviewed on that date. These records will help your recollection when you testify about your continuing education and will provide proof that you actually took additional steps to be a good Notary.

Abiding by Notary best practices

Notary statutes never cover every possible situation. They leave a lot unsaid about what Notaries are supposed to do in certain scenarios. This is where Notary best practices come into play.

Best practices are those methods that are generally considered to be correct and reasonable, which have proven themselves to be effective over long periods of time, and which are followed by thoughtful and experienced practitioners. Savvy Notaries will become familiar with best practices and utilize those practices whenever they perform notarizations.

Judges and juries are impressed when they are shown Notaries made the effort to learn what best practices should be followed and followed those best practices, especially when there are gaps in Notary statutes.

There are a number of books available about Notary law and practice. So, get a book or two (such as my book Professor Closen's Notary Best Practices: Expert's Guide to Notarization of Documents) and do some reading. It will help you if you ever need to testify about your service as a Notary.

Highly detailed journal entries

Many jurisdictions do not require their Notaries to maintain journals, and few require journal entries to be highly detailed. Yet the more detailed the journal entry, the more impressed judges and juries will be with the meticulous Notary who prepared it.

I suggest that Notaries complete every space or column for each journal entry. In addition to the usual elements required for the journal such as the date and time of the notarization and the signature of the document signer, the Notary should also record additional information about the notarization, unless prohibited by state law from doing so. Examples may include the place where the notarization was conducted, the starting time and completion time for the notarization, anything out of the ordinary about the notarization (if something of that kind occurs), any concerns about the signer or the notarization (if something of that sort is observed), or any other information the Notary wants to be sure to remember.

Every one of the details above has been important in one or more of the cases I have been consulted about over the years. You never know what tidbit may become valuable information later on — so err on the side of recording more information than you need. It will impress judges and others deciding the Notary's fate if the Notary shows a pattern of diligence and prudence by recording extra relevant data about the notarization and the signer.

Use your entire Notary journal to show good habits

If a Notary must appear in a lawsuit or disciplinary hearing to defend against a claim of negligence, all of the Notary's journals and journal entries will be reviewed by the judge or other officials deciding the case. It is not just the entry for the notarization being challenged that will be entered into evidence.

This is so important that it needs to be repeated. All of the Notary's journals, and all of the entries in those journals, will be reviewed by the people deciding the Notary's fate.

I once testified as an expert witness in a trial in which the Notary had been accused of negligence and fraud. Over several years, she had filled five journals with entries for more than 1,200 notarizations. She had filled every space for each entry and had even obtained thumbprints for every signer. It was remarkable. I was asked to testify about what I had observed regarding her performance and thoroughness in doing so, and I concluded she had acted reasonably and had not committed fraud. She won the case. I did not win it for her; she won it by setting the stage for me to be able to draw the favorable conclusions that I expressed.

Notaries should think of the journal as their opportunity to build a written collection of evidence of diligent and thorough notarizations. It is one thing for a Notary to orally claim to be diligent and thorough, but it is a much stronger and more persuasive statement for a Notary to have a long-term, consistent, objective written history of such diligence and prudence.

Unless your state requires you to turn them in, you should keep and securely preserve your Notary journals for at least 10 years or longer, even if not required by your state's laws. Some issues do not arise or get discovered until years after a notarization is performed, such a controversy about a will, a power of attorney, or a real estate title — as it may take years before people become ill or die, or before people try to sell or inherit real estate. I plan to keep my old Notary journals forever, just in case.

Benefits of proofreading

Savvy Notaries get two chances to perform a notarization correctly — the first time when the Notary creates a journal entry and completes a notarial certificate, and the second time when the Notary proofreads the journal entry and certificate and makes any needed corrections before the notarization is completed.

No Notary laws anywhere require Notaries to proofread their journal entries and certificates. However, judges, commissioning officials, hearing officers, and juries will be quite impressed if Notaries are prudent enough to do so. It's an extra, commonsense step to take that shows Notaries care about their official duties.

Over my many years of service as an expert consultant and witness in Notary cases, I have seen countless basic errors in certificates and journal entries that would have been caught if the Notaries had proofread their written work. In fact, I think that 99% of Notary mistakes and lawsuits could be avoided if Notaries always proofread their certificates and journal entries.

Final thoughts about the standard of reasonable care

The good news for Notaries is the five steps suggested above virtually assure that Notaries can prove they performed their duties with reasonable care and can demonstrate it with the detailed information in their Notary journals. Under the law, if Notaries have exercised reasonable care, they will not be held liable even if they have made errors or omissions in notarizations that have caused financial injuries to other parties. In other words, Notaries are not required to perform perfectly, but rather prudently and reasonably.

Guess who decides whether Notaries have acted with reasonable care? The very same judges, commissioning officials, hearing officers, and juries who are impressed that Notaries that go above and beyond the lowest common denominator of performance — that is, the Notaries who take the five extra steps described above.

Michael Closen is Professor Emeritus at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago, Illinois. A respected consultant on model Notary statutes and legislation, Closen served on the drafting committees for The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility and various editions of the Model Notary Act, and recently authored the book, Professor Closen's Notary Best Practices: Expert's Guide to Notarization of Documents

Additional Resources:

The Notary Public Code Of Professional Responsibility

View All: Best Practices


Add your comment

Jean Jacques

20 Dec 2021

it is very helpful.

Judi Souza, CSEO/CEI/NTP

21 Dec 2021

I, too, am a Consultant/Expert Witness and have testified as such in many cases involving the Standard of Care for a Notary Public; and, I heartily endorse your proven methods in serving as an Expert in notary fraud cases. These are practices every Notary Public should adhere to in their every day practices; and, it would serve them well if ever called upon to testify on their own behalf or as a percipient witness. Well done!

12 Jan 2022

Extremely helpful information! Thank you.

J Cole

25 Aug 2023

A document I had notarized was questioned and then the notary disappeared with the notary journal so I couldnt receive the line item. This made me look guilty and cost a lot of money to defend myself. i had to have the documents verified other ways. I couldnt sell the property I received with a Grant Deed. And etc. I sent several letters to her many addresses trying to find her to ask for the line item. No response. I reported her to the Sec of State. She deserves a law suit or a claim against her bond. I cant find an attorney who will help me, who knows notary law. Is there an attorney you could recommend to help the victim of notary misconduct or possible fraud?

Leave a Comment

Required *

All comments are reviewed and if approved, will display.