The New York Department of State announced a new rule in Notary Public License Law last week designed to prevent non-English speaking notaries from misidentifying themselves as attorneys or immigration professionals who can provide legal advice.
The rule requires that foreign language notary advertising contain information indicating that the non-attorney notary is not licensed or permitted to practice law or give legal advice.
According to the proposed rule, non-English notary advertising must contain the disclaimer: “I am not an attorney licensed to practice law and may not give legal advice about immigration or any other legal matter or accept fees for legal advice.”
The DOS will hear public comment on the rule for 45 days and the rule will become effective three months after the notice of adoption.
“These new regulations will ensure that individuals will not misidentify themselves by clearly stating they are not authorized to practice law or give legal advice,” said New York Secretary of State Cesar A. Perales. “Furthermore, anyone who is not playing by the rules will be stripped of their licenses and fined accordingly.”
The proposed rule is designed to protect immigrants from the anticipated increase in notary scams as a result of President Obama’s granting deferred action status to young immigrants.
Rochester notary Ruth Brooks Ward said area immigration and legal assistance groups do a good job of steering immigrants and/or non-English speaking persons to reputable notary services so they aren’t likely to fall prey to unscrupulous scams.
In addition, Ward said her clients either know she can’t give legal advice or she will remind them if there’s any question.
“An attorney should know what’s in a client’s documents but I try to stay away from concerning myself with what’s in their documents so I don’t say something I shouldn’t say,” she said.
In addition, Ward said the Division of Licensing section of the Department of State does a good job informing notaries of their responsibilities.
“They make sure you know what you shouldn’t do and it’s also up to us to continue educating ourselves,” Ward said.
Many notaries such as Ward belong to the National Notary Association, which also provides updated rules information to help notaries avoid the unauthorized practice of law.
“If I do have someone who is a non-English speaking client, I stress getting a translator that they can trust,” Ward said. For languages with different dialects such as Spanish, a translator familiar with that dialect should be used to avoid any misunderstanding, she explained.
“For the most part, I haven’t had any problem with that [clients seeking legal advice from a notary]. I turn people away if I don’t understand what they’re asking,” said Tiffany Everhart, who is a notary at a Rochester law firm and also provides notary services on her own.
Everhart said the Department of Licensing doesn’t always notify notaries when there is a change in the law, but understands it is difficult to do with so many notaries practicing in the state.
“Even when you are contacted, it’s up to the individual notary’s discretion,” she said in regards to how to proceed.
The most recent Notary Public Licensing Law is available on the Department of State’s website at www.dos.ny.gov.