To The Editor:
In its attempt to convince us that certification for residential real property practitioners should be stopped, the Aug. 13th Advice of Counsel column (“Certification Bid Must End”) perpetuates a number of old misunderstandings about the program and creates a few new ones.
It starts out with the proposition that “no external force is pushing this certification … .” Yet there is an obvious one. It’s the growing trend away from using lawyers in residential real estate transactions. The column itself reminds us that, in most states, attorneys are not even involved in closings. And Connecticut practitioners know about the impact of “witness only” and “notary” closings. They are bad for lawyers, but worse, they are bad for clients, who do not get the benefit of representation.
Certification is a strong response to that trend because, by adopting standards of knowledge, continuing education and ethics, we demonstrate that we, as Connecticut real estate lawyers, are serious about adding value to the process and about protecting our clients.
The Advice of Counsel column points out that no scandal has arisen which would have been prevented by a certification program. Should scandal be the prerequisite for action? Prevention is the more forward-looking approach. Our image has been sufficiently damaged by repeated stories of defalcations and other fraud. After another scandal, it might be too late.
As any practitioner of residential real estate is likely to tell you, that area of practice has become increasingly complicated. Ask any attorney fresh out of law school and the bar exam if he or she feels competent in doing this work, and, contrary to the column’s assertion, I doubt you’ll get yes for an answer.
Our proposed program, which can be reviewed at the Connecticut Bar Association’s web site (http://www1.ctbar.org/files/Residential Real Property Rules.pdf), is broad. It does not require applicants to spend all or most of their time on residential real estate. Those who devote as little as 25 percent of their practice to the area will qualify. Even part-time practitioners are included.
There is no basis for any of the speculation that this program will “keep attorneys from practicing …” or that lenders will use it to exclude non-certified attorneys. Not only will it take years until the number of certified attorneys becomes significant, but there is no indication that this is occurring in other jurisdictions that have adopted certification for real estate practice, such as Texas or Minnesota.
Instead of being frozen by such fears, we should be taking positive steps. Certification is not a cure all, but it will enhance our practice in numerous ways. Whether or not lawyers participate in the program, they will benefit from the growing number of CLE programs which the CBA, the title insurance companies and private companies will provide.
If we do a good job of informing the public of our efforts, consumers, lenders and the general public will have renewed confidence in our dedication to provide them with a critically important service. And clients will benefit in two ways: The greater likelihood that they will have lawyers to turn to for their Connecticut transactions, and the fact that those lawyers will be better educated and more competent than ever.
Edward M. Rosenblatt, Esq.
Editor’s note: Attorney Rosenblatt chairs CBA Real Property Section’s Subcommittee on Certification.