Every law clerk, paralegal and administrative assistant I have worked with has heard me encourage them with an often-repeated mantra "Precision! Precision! Precision!" A vignette (parable?) from our colleagues in Family Law will help you Always! Always! Always! remember why this is important... and that you understand what you are doing and why you are doing it.
A lovely Wife calls her Loving Husband late one afternoon, and tells him that she wants him to stop by the grocery on the way home and bring her a carton of milk. "And," she says, "if they have eggs, bring 6." Her attentive husband arrives home, greets her with a kiss, and puts 6 milk cartons on the kitchen counter. The wife is astonished. "What have you done?!" she exclaims. He looks her right in the eye and says, "They had eggs!"
He did precisely what she asked... So here are 10 tips that will honor your attention to detail, your common sense, your professionalism and superbly capable 'Precision!' In your real property title work product:
1. Use checklists
Your title company, the responsible attorney supervising your work, your office protocols - all of these team organizations have (or should have) a playbook or Standard Operating Procedure or Handbook that describe and provide the details of the various tasks involved in title matters assigned and entrusted to you. Don't trust your memory - use a checklist to complete the assignment, and place your completed checklist in the work product folder to document the file if a question ever arises later.
2. Be sure you have current information
Have a way to periodically ensure your checklist (and forms, etc.) are up to date. Each time Title Notes from the Title Company are published, each time your supervising attorney attends a seminar or continuing legal education program, and when similar events happen, it's a very good idea to review and update the protocols and manuals that guide the title preparer's work.
3. Be sure you have current forms and software
Someone has to be The Responsible Person in your office for making sure only current forms and current software are being supplied and used in the daily work. There needs to be a regular inspection schedule of the supply room and the data processing systems, in addition to updating and exchanging things when new forms or software updates are provided by the source entities. Posting a notice about an upgrade or new form in the break room is NOT enough!
4. Every word on a document counts!
Make sure you check the "routine" and "boilerplate" information on the deed and other title forms for correct preparer's name and address, be sure the correct county and state relating to the subject parcel are the same in the Grantor/Grantee recitation and the Property Description; be sure the Notary information is correct as to where the documents are being executed.
5. Proofread the property description
In my office, this is always at least a 2-person task. We read the property description together SLOWLY and aloud - and the 2d person reads along from the new document. (The Medieval Monk jokes are fun, but the Abbott has never had to punish anyone...! And more importantly, a client has NEVER complained of a parcel description error) Sometimes we use an Old Proofreader Trick: we read the description BACKWARDS, which ensures you'll catch anything that was left out or reversed or stated in error on the "new" document. SE versus SW, 1/4 versus 1/2... sometimes a whole line disappears... these are easier to spot going backwards through the recitations.
6. Make sure the property description describes a "closed" shape
We have a great working relationship with all our contributing surveyors, but we also have a little software program (there are a number of them out there and available) that "draws" the described boundary locations and distances as the meets, bounds and calls are entered into the program. Yes, we have (rarely, but still...) discovered (and had the surveyor correct !!) open triangles, 3-sided rhombic shapes (they're supposed to have at least 4...), a "gap" between two described points, reversed directions in descriptions (it said "north" but the line actually ran "south" on the ground...), lines that don't "end" - and perhaps most importantly - easements with no width! An easement that comes to a "point" is not "ingress and egress" - even the slenderest of fashion models are not "zero width" when crossing a boundary!
7. Make sure there is a recited "point of beginning"
The most elegant as well as the simplest property description has to start (and end) "Somewhere" - be sure directions to the Point of Beginning are included in the property description and that "said parcel situate in County, State of XX" is included with the plat or subdivision calls and the arcane language of measurements, directions and distances as well. If your jurisdiction requires or customarily includes recitation of size, be sure "consisting of XX acres, more or less" is part of your description. And be sure all this "agrees" with the prior recorded document - or any differences or changes are explained along with:
8. Easements, encumbrances and encroachments
Make sure that easements and encumbrances are still valid and in effect before "copying and pasting" them from the Grantor's documents. Make sure the Grantee(s) know that there are easements and encumbrances by pointing them out specifically (and checking the block on your checklist...) If there are any. Same for title exceptions, encroachments, and boundaries touching surface water bodies...
9. Actually watch the persons when they sign the documents
If you have not already typed their names under their signature lines - make sure the printed name is legible, and that it is the same person signing and presenting identification to the Notary. The same for the Witnesses - the names MUST be legible. And be sure everybody signing signs IN THE RIGHT PLACE... we also require that only blue ink can be used, so there is no doubt about which copy is the original. Don't place or allow anything that writes with other than blue ink in or on your conference or closing room table!!
10. There is no such thing as a dumb question
Because "a stitch in time saves nine..." It is far better to discuss and resolve anything that wants explanation or confirmance than to re-do a stack of title documentation that is missing something or that contains an error or is anything less than your best professional work product. Hopefully, the checklists and careful teamwork will always give confidence that 'Precision!' has been provided and accomplished!!