The Notary Public and You

businesswoman stamping document


What exactly is a notary public?


A notary public comes from a long tradition of scribes. Back when only the elite were literate, a scribe filled the important duty of reading and writing for the masses. Now that an education is free for all, this has specialized into the notary. Any person who is approved for a state notary license can claim the title. Duties can include witnessing legal proceedings, validating document copies and swearing in public officials. (These and other duties may vary by state.) The main use, however, is certifying signatures on documents as authentic.

A person utilizing a notary in this manner must present identification and sign the document in his or her presence. The notary will either stamp, sign and date the document itself, or a certificate they attach, using an embossed or ink stamp with their name and license information.

In order to qualify as a notary public, a person must apply and pay for a license, obtain a notary bond (insurance, usually through the licensing agency), supply character recommendations from fellow notaries and sign an oath. Once approved, the most common length of term is 4 years. Again, specific requirements may vary by state.

If the life of a notary appeals to you, there are a number of ways you can begin. Go straight through your state’s Department of Licensing site (in Washington, the application can be found HERE, or choose a full service company to walk you through the steps and fulfill the other obligations such as creating a notary stamp and securing a bond (such as LMI Notary).

Finally, check online for further information. The American Society of Notaries has some good resources, such as notary requirements by state.




My friend is a paralegal, can he help me with my legal problem?


No, a paralegal is not licensed to practice law. Instead, they are an assistant, specializing in legal skills including research, scheduling court dates and making sure papers are filed in the appropriate time and place. A paralegal may or may not be certified through a special program, and while quite knowledgeable about the law, is not allowed to give legal advice.

Fair and attentive judge


I just found out that my court date is in front of a commissioner, and not a judge. What is the difference?


A judge is elected by voters for a 4-year term, or appointed by the courts in case of a vacancy between elections. A judge must be an attorney licensed in that state to practice law.

A commissioner is hired by the court to help with a judge’s case load, and in most cases is a licensed attorney, though not always. A commissioner has the same powers as a judge to hear a court case and pass legally binding judgments. It is quite common to find your family law hearing in front of a commissioner.

Babysitter Veto

Mischievous grandmother and granddaughter

My ex wants a friend to watch our children, a friend that I don’t like. Do I have the right to say no?

Generally, each parent has the right to leave their children in the care of whomever they trust while on their visitation time. This may be a friend, babysitter, family member or acquaintance. The other parent does not have the right of veto.

What to Wear at Court

this one, or?

I have a hearing or trial coming up, what should I wear?

The most important consideration is to wear what makes you comfortable. A hearing or trial can be a very emotional experience, and the last thing you want to worry about is your clothes. If a suit or 4 inch heels make you feel strong, by all means, wear those. Alternately, if your power clothes are jeans and a tee shirt, put those on. The judge or commissioner will be concerned with the facts in the case and not what you’re wearing. Common sense says to avoid offensive pictures or slogans, and make sure your clothing is clean.

Privacy at Court

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I have a hearing or trial coming up, will this be private?

No, it will not be private. In the case of a hearing, there will be other hearings scheduled for the same time block, and everyone involved will be sitting in the room waiting for their turn. As well, the public is welcome to attend. You may see attorneys, law students, people supporting their friends or family, officers of the court and more.

As for a trial, this too is open to the public. There will not be as many bystanders as there are for hearings, but you may again see attorneys and law students or other people you don’t know. Each party is allowed to bring whomever they want for support, so there may also be friends, family members, partners or acquaintances. Each attorney involved in the case may have multiple assistants, there will be officers of the court, and possibly people coming in and out to pass messages.

In both cases, the hearing or trial will be recorded or possibly videotaped, and these recordings, or a transcript report, can be ordered from the court.

Finally, there will be a record of the hearing or trial itself, which can be accessed online. While there will be no specific details available there, it will still list the type of hearing and the relevant parties.