Attorney's Obligation to Follow Closing Instructions
Opinion rules that a closing attorney must follow the lender's closing instruction that closing documents be recorded prior to disbursement.
Attorney closes loans for a number of real estate clients. After all documents are signed, but before recording, Attorney gives the real estate agent the commission check and the check for the sellers' proceeds. Attorney then records the necessary documents.
Attorney has been given closing instructions from the lender which require recording before disbursement. Attorney has actually signed a statement to the lender that he will follow the lender's instructions. Attorney is on the approved attorneys' list for a number of title insurance companies who have issued insured closing letters to lenders whose loans attorney closes. The insured closing letter ensures that the attorney will comply with the lender's closing instructions. If a defect in title is discovered by attorney in his title update after disbursement, then the title insurance is liable for that defect. That, in turn, puts attorney's professional liability policy at risk.
Both the realtor and seller have demanded that he disburse funds immediately rather than waiting until later in the day after going to the courthouse to update the title record. The realtor has further stated that the attorney would lose his business unless the funds are disbursed immediately because such is the prevailing practice in the community.
May attorney ethically ignore the lender's closing instruction as well as his commitment to the lender to follow those instructions? Has attorney violated any ethical requirements in disregarding the potential liability that would be imposed upon the title insurance company and/or his professional liability carrier if a defect is discovered after disbursement?
No. The attorney may not ethically ignore the lender's instruction that recordation must precede disbursement. CPR 100 made it clear that any attorney involved in the closing of an ordinary residential real property transaction represents both the borrower and the lender in the absence of clear notice to all concerned that such is not the case. Rule 10.2(E) requires a lawyer holding client funds in trust to deliver those funds to interested third persons as directed by the client. In the situation described in the inquiry, it is clear that the attorney, having received funds in trust from his client, the lender, is obliged to disburse those funds at a time which is consistent with the lender's instructions. Moreover, it is fair to say that any lawyer receiving client funds with the present knowledge that he or she does not intend to comply with the instructions for the handling of those funds, would violate Rule 1.2(c) by engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.
It should also be noted that the disbursement of loan proceeds before the title is updated and the Deed and Deed of Trust are recorded could be prejudicial, not only to the lender as a client of the attorney, but also to other interested parties in the transaction to whom the lawyer may owe fiduciary duties, such as the title insurer and his own liability insurance carrier. Such conduct, at least insofar as the client is concerned, could be viewed as prejudicial to the client and thus a violation of Rule 7.1(a)(3).