Another real lifer here… why should you outsource your international work instead of keeping it within your firm’s cloistered walls? Simple. Because your clients will be better off if you go outside. Because you don’t know what you don’t know—and what you don’t know can’t be ascertained from a Westlaw search.
Bear with me.
Think back to those idiotic fact patterns on the bar exam, in which “Oscar conveys his farm to his brother’s son Ned, and then Ned deeds the farm to Carl, his second-cousin on his mother’s side, and then Carl fathers six children but dies intestate, and neither Ned nor Carl ever record either conveyance. What result?”
Our collective groan at the mere thought: just record the damned deed, man. It’s not that difficult.
But as it turns out, those fact patterns weren’t really so idiotic. A while back on Next Door, a woman in my neighborhood posted: “Need a recommendation for a lawyer. I just got married and I want to put my wife’s name on the deed to my house.”
Apparently, every software developer and barber and realtor** within a twenty-block radius is suddenly an expert on marital property law.
Now, to be sure, a whole bunch of people offered the names of several top flight firms in town, big and small. One of the lawyers even said, very diplomatically “my firm can help you with that.” But among the suggestions from the (non-lawyer) instant experts:
- Just do a quit claim deed. (Several of these, including from the realtor, who ought to know better.)
- They have the forms on the county website.
- Call a title company instead of a lawyer.
- Second most cringe-worthy comment on the thread: “Don’t pay more than a $100.” (sic)
- Most cringe-worthy comment on the thread: “You CAN do this yourself, you know. Just look it up online. All you have to decide is whether you want a joint tenant or joint tenant with right of survivorship.” (Missouri is a tenancy-by-the-entirety state, which fact is completely unknown to the lay experts in my neighborhood.)
Now, every lawyer who read the original question had flashbacks to Property 1 and the words “I convey Blackacre to the second daughter of my landscaper, Felipe, on the condition that she marries on the evening of a harvest moon and only gluten-free beer is served at the reception.” This hypo raises a host of questions.
- What if Felipe doesn’t have a second daughter?
- What if Felipe is no longer the owner’s landscaper?
- What kind of estate is created in the second daughter—a life estate? A leasehold? Fee simple?
- What if Brookside Wine & Spirits is out of gluten-free beer?!
Back to the real-lifer. Let’s say Next Door’s blushing bride ignores the lawyers, does what the laypersons recommend, and simply makes the conveyance with a quit-claim.
- What if there’s a divorce? Does she want a contingency for that?
- What if the newly-powerful Alt-Right succeeds in rolling back Obergefell, and Missouri courts subsequently nullify marital defaults for same-sex couples?
- What if the question-asker’s new wife dies and the wrong tenancy causes the question-asker to lose half the interest in the house to her new in-laws who hate her?
- What if she wants her new wife only to have a life estate, but intends the remainder to go to the Saint Helen of the Blessed Shroud Orphanage in Calumet City, Illinois?
It’s a parade of horribles, truly. And every single person with a law license looks at such a situation and emits a silent scream at the absurdity of someone not contacting a lawyer for an hour of advice.
Yet every day, how many lawyers say to themselves “oh, this is just a matter of filling out a couple of forms” when they need to serve process on a defendant located in another country? (Yes, you CAN do it yourself, but in most cases, shouldn’t.)
Or worse, “pffft, just mail it.” (Bad idea.)
Or worse still, they recognize that they’re out of their element, but decide to hire Bob the Process Server to handle the forms because Bob is cheaper than an actual lawyer who handles this stuff. (Call your malpractice carrier.)
Until I’m blue in the face, I’m going to continue the argument… outsource this stuff, y’all. You don’t know what you don’t know, and your client will suffer for it. Just like the newlywed in my ‘hood. If she doesn’t talk to someone who can ask the right questions, she’ll never be able to say what the right answer is.
[Spoiler: she talked to a lawyer. Score one for the good guys. And simple sense.]
* Version 1.0 here, and Version 2.0 here.
** Yep, the realtor weighed in with the preface “I’m not a lawyer, but in my opinion…” before suggesting something other than she’d requested. I mean, I’m not a doctor, but in my opinion… you can cure psoriasis with a hefty dose of Arthur Bryant’s Original Barbecue Sauce. Okay, I am a doctor, but a Doctor of Jurisprudence. Not the kind that can speak authoritatively about dermatological cures.