What is an “attorney state”?

An attorney state is one that requires an attorney to be present at a real estate closing or refinance. In these states, a non-attorney who conducts a closing or performs certain closing functions is considered to be engaging in the unauthorized practice of law (UPL).

The UPL concept – which is a bit controversial in the title insurance industry and has been the subject of many legal challenges – originates in the early days of American settlement, when purchasing property was considered risky and complex, requiring an attorney to determine the legal validity of liens and other transactional details.

States that mandate the physical presence of an attorney, or restrict other types of closing duties to attorneys, include: Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.

These states differ in how they define UPL. While some states simply require the physical presence of an attorney at closings, others prohibit laypersons from drafting legal documents for a closing or rendering legal advice in matters arising during the closing.