As we enter a New Year, it seems appropriate to heighten the cultural level of the Risk Tip.  Sure, Dr. Seuss is fun.  And who doesn’t enjoy reports of the latest Kardashian exploits.  But perhaps it’s time to employ high culture over pop culture to convey risk management advice.

To that end, I went to the opera over the holiday break.  Though not my favorite, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville is an enjoyable romp with a suitably ridiculous plot characteristic of opera buffa.  The rich Count Almaviva falls for the beautiful Rosina, ward of the lecherous Dr. Bartolo who has his own designs on Rosina, whom he keeps under lock and key.  Wanting to be sure Rosina doesn’t just fall for him because he’s rich, Almaviva poses as the poor student Lindoro.  Almaviva/Lindoro and the wily Figaro hatch a series of schemes aimed at foiling Dr. Bartolo and uniting the two lovers.  Operatic hilarity (as oxymoronic as that may sound) ensues.

A minor, but pivotal, character is the notary who is brought in in the final scene to officiate at the wedding.   Here’s where I could no longer suspend my disbelief.  Il Notaio made no effort to verify the identities of Almaviva or Rosina.  Operatic license is one thing, but this was taking things a bit too far.

Every jurisdiction has its own rules applicable to when and how a document can be properly notarized.  But a basic requirement is that the notary verify the identity of the party signing a document.   Not only notaries, but lawyers who direct them, can face severe consequences for failing to comply with notarial requirements.  These include criminal penalties, sanctions, and attorney discipline.  As one federal court recently observed when sanctioning a notary and his law firm employer for improperly notarizing an affidavit: “The administration of an oath by a notary public and the notary’s attestation to the same is not merely a quaint custom mindlessly carried over from ancient precedents.”

In other words, no shortcuts.  Notaries need to know the applicable laws and should not notarize a document contrary to those laws — even if asked.  And lawyers and other professionals who utilize notaries likewise need to ensure that appropriate arrangements are made to comply with the relevant notary laws and defer to notaries on the limits of what they can and cannot do.

Thankfully, Rossini’s notarial transgressions had little impact on the success of Il Barbiere.  Indeed, the most difficult part of writing this Tip has been finding the most compelling performance to attach.  After wading through so many wonderful clips featuring Callas, Domingo and others, the attached seems most appropriate.

Click here to view video.