As every member of the Real Property Law Section is aware, the unauthorized practice of law in residential real estate closings continues to cause harm to consumers and the real estate industry. Our State has been plagued with out of state companies closing loans without properly clearing titles before and after the closing. When mistakes are made by these companies, it is nearly impossible to find anyone to assist on a post-closing matter which leads to attorneys having to spend countless hours cleaning up titles so that lenders, borrowers and sellers can proceed with their transaction with a clear title.
The Ethics Committee and the Residential Real Estate Committee of the Real Property Law Section have worked tirelessly over the last few years to fight the unauthorized practice of law in Georgia. The Committees have successfully obtained a new Advisory Opinion released by the State Bar defining the attorney’s role in a real estate closing and were instrumental in passing legislation to give consumers a cause of action against these companies that have caused harm by not properly handling the residential transaction. In addition, the Executive Committee has been working with the Young Lawyer’s Division to educate newer attorneys of the rules and the risks of participating as a “witness only” attorney.
However, the reality remains that as long as attorneys are willing to act as “witness only” attorneys for these out of state title companies, the unauthorized practice of law will continue to plague our state and industry. The only way that our section will successfully stop the unauthorized practice of law is to report attorneys assisting these companies when the violation is discovered. The State Bar of Georgia can only govern attorneys licensed in the State of Georgia, they have no authority over the out of state title companies. As attorneys, it is our job to protect the public by reporting attorneys that do not uphold the ethical standards of our profession. If attorneys begin to be sanctioned for assisting in the unauthorized practice of law, the problem will cease to exist in this state. Without the assistance of licensed attorneys, these companies will be unable to conduct closings.
If you become aware of an attorney being involved with the unauthorized practice of law, please report this attorney to the Bar for investigation. The only time the Bar will investigate and take action against an attorney is if a formal complaint is filed. The Real Property Law Section has created multiple avenues that can assist you in filing your complaint on our website. Here you will find a link to the Official State Bar of Georgia’s Investigation and Complaint form to submit directly to the Bar. On the website you will also find the Problem Report Form, which allows you to report these violations to the Real Property Law Section’s Ethics Committee. This committee is often asked for examples of the unauthorized practice of law and these submission allow us to compile examples to further promote educating members of the Bar and the public. However, any information submitted through the Problem Report will not be submitted to the Bar as a formal complaint.
The Executive Committee of the Real Property Law Section is committed to protecting the public by promoting and educating attorneys on their ethical responsibilities and we will continue to fight the unauthorized practice of law. With the help from our members we are confident this is an issue that we can successfully stop.
The 37th Annual Real Property Law Institute, held in Destin, Florida, was an outstanding success. Incoming Chairperson of the Section, Monica K. Gilroy, organized a series of excellent speakers who covered a wide range of useful topics. Over three hundred real estate practitioners from around the state for three days of education and relaxation at the beach.
The institute featured timely information on a wide range of topics affecting residential and commercial real estate attorneys. Topics included updates on case law and new legislation, practical information for closing attorneys, and broad discussions of trends and developments that will shape the closing process.
With the residential real estate practice facing many challenges and changes, we were fortunate to hear directly from Michelle L. Korsmo, the Chief Executive Officer of the American Land Title Association. Ms. Korsmo explained how closing attorneys should expect a paradigm shift when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s new integrated mortgage disclosures (TRID) go into effect. Participants learned how ALTA has provided active and vocal representation before the Bureau as TRID has taken shape.
The Institute also provided participants with ample opportunity to enjoy the scenery, dining, and activities provided in the Destin area. The annual golf and tennis tournaments, together with the annual Feet for McFee, provided excellent opportunities for camaraderie. The Section sponsored a complimentary breakfast which offered time for visiting with colleagues from around the state.
The Institute is sponsored by the Real Property Law Section (RPLS) and members of the Executive Committee of the Section were active as Institute Speakers, organizers, and participants. Special thanks are extended to the following members of the Executive Committee for all of their efforts in making the Institute a success: Monica K. Gilroy, Jeffrey H. Schneider, Gayle Y. Camp, Charles B. Waters, Jr., Kent E. Altom, Hilary H. Fentress, Edward P. Hudson, T. Matthew Mashburn, Philip D. Wilkins, and John Perry Cripe.
All members of the Section are encouraged to take advantage of the Institute which will be held in May of 2016 at the Amelia Island Plantation.