Mortgage Brokerage Owned by Lawyers
Opinion rules that a lawyer who owns stock in a mortgage brokerage corporation may not act as the settlement agent for a loan brokered by the corporation. Nor may the other lawyers in the firm certify title or act as settlement agent for the closing.
Attorneys A and B are shareholders in Corporation X, a mortgage brokerage. May Attorney C, a member of Attorney A and Attorney B's law firm but not a shareholder in Corporation X, certify title and/or act as settlement agent for a closing in which the mortgage was brokered by Corporation X?
No. Attorney A and Attorney B may not certify title or act as settlement agent because Attorney A and Attorney B's personal interest in seeing that Corporation X receives its fee or commission for placing the loan could conflict with the client-borrower's desire to close only when it is in his or her best interest to do so. See RPC 49 and RPC 188. The conflict of interest of Attorney A and Attorney B is imputed to Attorney C, and he is also disqualified from certifying the title and/or acting as a settlement agent for the closing. See Rule 5.11(a).
May Attorney A and Attorney B act as "mere settlement agents" of a loan brokered by Corporation X if another lawyer, who is not a shareholder in Corporation X, certifies title and there is full disclosure as well as a waiver of any conflict of interests by the borrower?
No. The conflict between Attorney A and Attorney B's personal interests and the interests of the borrower may materially impair the judgment of Attorneys A and B. The risk to the client-borrower is so great that no lawyer should proceed, regardless of whether the client desires to consent. See RPC 49, Rule 5.1(b), and Rule 5.11(a).