tl;dr: I’m a notary public and my own existence in this capacity is cause for self-loathing.
I’m a Notary Public in Maryland.
It happened as a kind of joke.
I was sitting in my sister’s apartment about 9 years ago when she told me she was applying to become one. She’s a real estate agent, so it made sense.
I asked her “what’s involved in becoming a notary?”
It’s not a particularly difficult process, but it did require some legwork. I figured, “why not?”
So, I did it and was approved.
Every 4 years, I go back to the County Courthouse to reaffirm my commitment to the US Constitution. That’s actually my favorite part of the job.
Well, that ceremony is actually the 2nd favorite part of the job.
The favorite part of the job is that I get to think of myself as an asterisk/footnote in the lives of all the people whose documents I’ve notarized over the years (closing in on 100).
I’ve notarized house deeds, car titles, medical recertification documents, changes to estates, power of attorney, and many, many others. You get a really interesting peek into the lives of others.
The other day, my friend needed me to notarize a document that she would be the co-signer on a new apartment lease for her daughter.
I said, “in 40 years, when Eileen tells her kids about ‘the first apartment she had on her own,’ I am going to b one of the deep, deep footnotes because without this seal, it wouldn’t be possible.”
That’s the part I enjoy. Helping people transition to a better place, however trivial.
I can also definitely tell you the part I hate.
In fact, I find it offensive.
The Notarization Process
I find the entire existence of notaries and the process that is required of them to deliver notarizations as a cause for nausea.
I know why they were needed once upon and I understand why the systems operate as they do today, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t inefficient and outdated.
Until Covid-19, people had to appear physically in front of you. [Now, you can do it over Zoom….which already makes you wonder about the process, but we’ll leave that aside.]
Typically the way it works (and what I did last week for 3 people who socially distanced themselves from me in my backyard) is as follows:
- A form of ID (driver’s license/passport) must be presented by my notary client
- I must log the event in a ledger and have the client sign it
(I just write it down on a piece of and then take a picture of it for storage online in a folder that is backed up)
- Whatever document needs to be witnessed is then signed by the client.
- I sign the document and affix my notary seal, after moistening it in an ink pad.
The process usually takes only a few minutes, but watching it unfold as people fill in paper-based forms or scramble because, as recently happened, the “passport photo” needs to fit into the proper box and my client didn’t have it, makes me sad.
I look at this process and think, “oh man, this is such a blockchain fix.”
The blockchain is the notary.
- The owner of the car should digitally sign the transaction that sends the title to her grandson.
- The father should digitally co-sign the lease.
- The medical ongoing education certification company should digitally sign the transcript of the completed class for the physician.
None of it needs to happen in person. Ever.
The Visceral Pain of Notarizing
It’s painful for me to watch these processes run their course and think about all of the valuable time that is lost in the simple management of these tasks.
It’s painful to think about how much money and effort is devoted to keeping track of all of these documents that have been notarized. There’s a database somewhere that says “was this notarized?” and someone had to input “Yes” instead of it all just being there on the blockchain.
But the pain is a positive.
By keeping myself in the midst of this antiquated process, I am motivated to continue to find ways to apply technology to free up the most valuable resource that each of us has–time– so that we can do what we all really want to do.
And few of us enjoy spending time filling out forms.
An Opportunity to Reinvent
When coronavirus got underway and our governor ordered a lockdown, the notaries of Maryland got an email saying “you can notarize over Zoom now, here’s how you do it.”
That got me thinking Rahm Emanuel-like. He said
You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.
So I reached out to my friend, Dave, who works in the County government. Thanks to him, I found the team responsible for notaries in all of Maryland.
I wrote them a 3 paragraph email about how this was a moment to seize the opportunity to make Maryland one of the most transaction-friendly states in America and run a blockchain pilot.
I outlined a high-level plan for them.
At least I got a response, which was “Thanks, but we’re just dealing with the actual virus challenge now and can’t take this on.”
Oh well. One day perhaps.
Just not today.
For now, I’ll just continue dealing with the frustration, using it to fuel my desire for a world free of Notaries Public, like me.