By Jacqueline Waters Adams
What began as a summer job over 40 years ago, soon became a career, at first driven by curiosity. My first day of work, I found it almost humorous, that the bank was loaning me money, but I was the one giving the mortgage. I insisted that the bank was giving me the mortgage. Thus began my first lesson, in grantees and grantors and mortgagees and mortgagors.
I soon loved what I was doing enough to want to stick with it and go to paralegal school. I was about to graduate from Boston College with a degree in psychology; a field chosen because I wanted to help people. I decided that I liked the idea of helping people with their home purchases instead of what was in their heads. Back in the day, there were only a few paralegal schools in this part of the country. I chose Bentley College.
Real estate law soon became a passion. I worked for Waters and Waters, a small law firm in Newton Centre, MA founded by my grandfather in 1908, and then by my father until 2004. Both loved what they did. It wasn’t hard to feel the energy around me. I was surrounded by lawyers who loved to teach me for as long as I would listen. Near the end of the work day, I would often be among lawyers who met at our office as members of the Massachusetts Conveyancers Association (now REBA) or the Massachusetts Association of Bank Counsel, to talk about creating new statutes and standards. (Some were even typed by me on my IBM Selectric, before white-out was created!). Thus began another passion, which was to learn as much as I could about real estate statutes and standards. After all, I had typed some bills which were brought before the Legislature and passed as laws.
The life of a paralegal was a lot simpler back then. A note and a mortgage were “it” for the closing package, and a deed if it were a sale. If there was an IRS lien, the IRS agent either came to the closing or met you at the Registry of Deeds to exchange money for a release. There were none of all the forms we see today, each closing now enough to kill a forest. A Xerox machine was a three-step process; touch-tone phones were a receptionist’s dream; there were no fax machines; and “Federal Express” was a company and a concept, not heard of yet. Computers, scans and pdf’s back then? Probably props used for a science fiction thriller. Enough with history though. That’s for an article on another day.
I’d rather give you some tips if you are starting out. Understand what you do. Love what you do. If you are a residential real estate paralegal, you deal with a lot of people on a daily basis. Don’t forget that they are the reason you are employed. Telephones still exist. Take their calls; return their calls. If you choose to communicate this way, there is no mistaking the tone of what you have to say, especially when the client hears your kind and professional voice. If the client wants to communicate by email, so be it. You tried. Now, use spell-check. Make sure your attachment is the correct one. Nothing like sending one borrower, the payoff belonging to another borrower. Label all scans, and make sure the addressee is the one you intend to email. A real big mistake when you email the compliance attorney at a bank with the same initials as your borrower. He is really not interested in seeing their HUD Settlement Statement. I won’t get into best practices; with all that is going on with CFTB, we would need days and days of seminars.
Rule Numero Uno when the client is upset: HEAR what they say and acknowledge what they are saying. Don’t forget when dealing in residential real estate law, that the house they are buying is going to be their home and where their kids are going to sleep at night. It is an extremely emotional and commotional time for them. Feel their excitement with them. If they are unhappy and are complaining, they will stop arguing when there is no one to argue with, and when they feel validated and understood. It doesn’t hurt to say that you understand; never argue back. Short of adding some colorful profanities, they are always right.
If you want to develop your career as a real estate paralegal, learn as much as you can about both residential and commercial closings and all the nuances, from A to Z. You are more flexible and more marketable this way. Many of the principles are the same. Most of the forms are different. Don’t be afraid to step outside your job description, and agree to scan and copy and the like. If traffic is bad, leave home earlier. If your boss is forced to meet with someone after 5 and needs a Paralegal to assist, once won’t hurt. Learn the closing process, beginning with the opening of a file. The more you learn, the more you know how much more there is to know. The opening of a file takes time and research when done correctly. It also saves embarrassment later on. No “oops!” when you find out too late that the property is in two counties or that it comprises two assessors’ lots. Take advantage of seminars and webinars sponsored REBA. Also take advantage of seminars held by the Massachusetts Paralegal Association (MPA), MCLE, and title insurers.
Join the REBA and attend not only those seminars, but also the networking and social events, and the semi-annual meetings. This is where you meet men and women with whom to share your passion and can seek advice and direction. This is where you meet friends, both personal and professional. This is where you are welcomed, wanted, and valued. Most important, love what you do and if you don’t, talk to others about why they do love the concentration they have chosen. If this doesn’t help, explore some other opportunities. You need to be happy in order to succeed. Your smile speaks volumes!
Jacqueline Waters Adams
Lieberman Law Office, P.C.