OPINION 253
June 1962

 MEMBER PARTICIPATING IN AN ACT CONDUCIVE TO UNAUTHORIZED PRACTICE OF LAWIf a member is president of a corporation owning and operating an abstract company (though he takes no active part in the operation of the company) which prepares for its clients "Property Reports" on tracts of land, which reports consist of a list of Mortgages, Judgments and Liens (other than taxes), Tax Information and remarks, and conclude with the following Certificate:

 

"At the request of the party listed above, undersigned certifies that on date of _______, 19__ , I/we searched all the public records of ____________ affecting title to above property and that the above information is true and correct based on my personal examination of such records. There are no liens, Judgments or encumbrances of record against above described property unless specifically noted herein.

 

_______________________ Signature and address of Person Preparing Report

_______________________ Title of Person Preparing Report

_______________________ Date Report Prepared"

 

Said member may not necessarily be contributing to the unauthorized practice of the law, but the use by an abstract company of such form of Property Report and Certification is so conducive to the unauthorized practice of law that it would be unwise for a member to permit their use in an abstract company with which he is associated.

Canon 43.

Question

A member is president of a corporation owning and operating an abstract plant, but he takes no active part in the operation of the plant. His company has been requested to complete a "Property Report" upon a tract of land, which report asks for Mortgages, Judgments, and Liens (other than taxes), Tax Information, and Remarks, and concludes with the following certification:

At the request of the party listed above undersigned certifies that on date of _________ , 19__, I/we searched all the public records of affecting title to above property and that the above information is true and correct based on my personal examination of such records. There are no liens, judgment or encumbrances of record against above described property unless specifically noted herein,

_________________________ Signature and address of Person Preparing Report

_________________________ Title of Person Preparing Report

_________________________ Date Report Prepared

 

Would it constitute the practice of law for the abstract company to complete this Property Report, including the certification at the end thereof?

Opinion

Whether or not certain acts by an abstract company constitute the practice of law would ordinarily be a question for the Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law. However, inasmuch as the President of the corporation owning and operating the abstract company is a lawyer, the members of the Ethics Committee feel that they may properly rule on whether this lawyer's acting for the abstract company is aiding the unauthorized practice of law in violation of Canon 43.

The committee finds nothing wrong with the certificate itself, if attached to an abstract. In fact, it would be expected of an abstractor to bind himself that he had given a full record. No doubt, what prompted the inquiry is the fact that the "Property Report" itself is not an abstract and, as it is not made clear in the form whether a full list of recorded instruments or only a list of currently valid instruments is being requested, the report could be merely the conclusion or ultimate opinion of the abstractor. If the report is construed to mean that only the currently valid or effective judgments, mortgages, liens, etc. are being asked for, the form is, in substance, asking the abstract company to certify that prior ones are barred, released or otherwise invalidated. If there are, in fact, other liens or instruments which the abstract company omits as not being legally effective, it seems to the committee that the abstract company is giving a legal opinion as to title, or part of title.

On the other hand, if the abstract company lists all judgments, liens and other instruments which are of record and makes no attempt to pass upon their legal effect, it has not, in the opinion of the committee, given legal advice, unless in summing up the information as to type of lien, etc. some legal conclusion is formed as to the nature and effect of the recorded instruments.

The committee believes that use by an abstract company of the form of Property Report and Certificate submitted does not necessarily mean that the abstract company is practicing law, but the committee does think that the entire form is so conclusive to the unauthorized practice of law that it would be unwise for an abstract company to use it; and, further, in order that there be no question as to the member's contributing to the unauthorized practice of law, it would be much the better practice for the member not to permit the use of such form of Property Report and Certification by an abstract company with which he is associated. (9-0.)