Problems with Clients Based Overseas

As has been mentioned in previous Practice Notes, notaries are not obligated at take work from prospective clients. Indeed, notaries should be wary of clients who ask for services where the objective or purpose of the notarisation is uncertain or may be a cause for suspicion. A recent client who approached NotarialServices.com with a request for professional assistance related to an overseas legal matter is an example of problems that may arise when taking on a client who is not entirely forthcoming.

Basic Facts:

  • The client was a law firm incorporated overseas, which was engaged in litigation the details of which they were reluctant to disclose to the notary.
  • The client requested that the notary provide a notarial certificate in the public form in which the notary were to declare the veracity of a purported fact.
  • The purported fact was that an overseas company acquired certain interests of another company which had an office located in Australia.
  • Information that the client supplied to the notary included a number of voluminous documents including company reports and press releases in which the acquisition as referenced, as well as an ASIC search on the local company showing its details.
  • The notary indicated that he would have to engage in an investigation to ascertain the veracity of the alleged acquisition; he provided a quote for his services capped at a low rate. The client accepted this quote.
  • Investigations were conducted, however the notary was not able to decisively and conclusively state that the acquisition as purported by the client and as described in the documents provided took place: the fact of an agreement to transfer interests between companies is best evidenced by inspecting the transition documents themselves – neither company was willing to disclose these documents as a matter of policy (one company refused to respond to numerous attempts at being contacted).
  • The client said that they would make payment on the agreed amount after the notarial certificate was drafted and sent to them – the notary said that he would have to be paid before any certificate could be completed and send for an apostille and legalisation.
  • A first incomplete draft of a notarial certificate was provided to the client to illustrate the format that the final form might take, but the client objected to parts on the basis of that the language being used was qualified. The notary indicated that the language would be adjusted to reflect the documents that were available to evidence the transaction between the companies.
  • After asking for further clarification from the client as to the availability of the contract documents evidencing the transaction, all communications ceased. No payments from the client to the notary were made.

Discussion:

A notary should only ever notarise a document that he has personally witnessed, viewed, and perused himself. In this situation, while various public company documents and an industry journal made explicit reference to the acquisition that the client wanted notarised, the notary would not be able to provide the notarial certificate in the form that the client required without seeing the contract itself. Indeed, even inspecting such a document may be insufficient without ascertaining the identity of the purported signatories and the integrity of the signatures or company seals apparent on those documents. In this case, the notary took all the steps he could to assist the client and meet its needs. But notaries should never feel coerced into providing their services without knowing that those services are being offered at best-practice level and to the standards expected of a legal professional.

Conclusion:

This particular case was an example of two issues that notaries may encounter in their practice.

  • The difficulties and risk associated with complicated notarial requests: if a client is not forthcoming in providing clear and detailed information relating to the circumstances in which the notarial act is being requested, the notary should be very careful before providing any service. In this case, an investigation had to be conducted before providing any formal notarial services to the client. The investigation that was undertaken only served to cast further suspicion on the client’s request. The client’s silence after being requested to clarify certain facts pertinent to the production of the notarial certificate indicated that the request was not entirely being made in good faith.
  • The difficulties of providing notarial services from an overseas client without prepayment of at least part of the agreed upon costs: in this situation, the notary engaged in an investigation that took time and effort, including numerous attempts to contact various parties by drafted letter, email and telephone. The notary also prepared a first draft of the certificate for the client’s perusal. A notary’s time is valuable. While the client discourteously “dropped” the notary who had already completed a substantial portion of his work, that work has gone without remuneration, and there is no hope of recuperating the amount on a quantum meruit It is for these reasons that prepayment is required for notarial services provided to overseas clients.