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September 1, 2018

UPL — Unauthorized Practice of Law in the Notary Profession

Unauthorized practice of law… what does this phrase really mean? The sad truth is that this concept is widely misunderstood, and differs from state to state. The definition of UPL (not UPS) is generally arbitrary and is often set by bar associations set on protecting the financial interests of their Attorneys who don’t want any unnecessary competition in the legal services field. So, one could say that Attorneys as a group are engaged in a form of corruption and using the law to enforce standards that serve no purpose other than to eliminate competition (sounds like the mafia). Instead of burying you in cement, a bar association can investigate a person suspected of UPL, and sue them or perhaps fine them for huge mounts of money leaving the Notary essentially financially broken.

Case Study
One of the Notaries listed on our site lost or almost lost (forgot the story as it was from a decade or more ago) $40,000 for doing a loan signing in a state where Notaries are not allowed to do such things.

Attorney States
In certain states that we refer to as Attorney States, only Attorneys are allowed to do loan signings. The premise is that by engaging in the facilitation of a loan signing, that you are making an unstated assertion that you have the same knowledge as a Mortgage Broker, Lender or Attorney and that you can explain the documents. This is simply not true. When a Notary goes to a loan signing, some Notaries do not explain any terms or documents while some do. In my opinion you should catch a Notary in the act explaining a legal term and then bust them. But, merely by facilitating the signing a loan in an Attorney state, a Notary can get busted.

States where Notaries are not supposed to facilitate the signing of loans include Georgia, South Carolina, Massachusetts and perhaps others. This information could be outdated and the interpretation of the rules is far beyond my capacity. However, many Notaries in all of these states advertise on 123notary claiming that they do signings. However, I have heard that they typically don’t do signings for properties that are in their state, but only for out of state properties. I have heard that this is still illegal, but I guess people are not getting caught. My word of advice is to consult an Attorney before doing something that could get you in trouble.

Notary unauthorized practice of law
As a general rule, drafting a legal document, giving legal advice, giving advice about a court case, giving advice about how to draft a legal document, or helping to interpret a legal document might be construed as unauthorized practice of law. However, I am not an Attorney and cannot say with any certainty or authority what constitutes UPL in any state. I am just relaying to you what I have read over the years. Additionally, explaining the terms of a loan or what certain mortgage terms mean might be considered UPL as well – once again, I am not sure, but you can ask an Attorney if you really want a definitive answer.

Choosing the Notary Act
As a Notary Public, it is the choice of the client or signer which type of Notary act they want. The Notary has the right to explain the various Notary acts to them and the rules that apply, but the Notary cannot choose for them. Under many circumstances there might only be one particular Notary act that the Notary would legally be able to perform. In such a case, the Notary should explain the circumstances, how to change the circumstances and ask if the signer wants to proceed as is.

It is common for Notaries while administering Jurats to automatically perform an Affirmation because they are afraid to offend people by administering an Oath. First of all the Notary is required to give the signer a choice as to which Notary act they want to have performed. Second, many people might be offended by Affirmations more than by Oaths. However, I can state with definitiveness that dogs prefer Affirmations.

Drawing in a Signature Line
It used to be common in loan signings for a document to have no signature line, yet have an instruction that it must be notarized. You cannot notarize a document without a signature, and how can you sign without a signature line? If the borrower draws in the line, that is their business, but if the Notary does it, are they practicing law?

Oregon Standards
I have heard that in Oregon, a Notary may not cross anything out on a Notary certificate, nor may they attach a new Notary certificate. But actions would be considered practicing law there as far a I know in my layperson capacity.

Unauthorized Practice of Law is a crime and is a very wishy-washy state-specific convoluted subject. Please ask an Attorney for a professional opinion on this subject if you are at all concerned.


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