Notaries exercise preventive legal control. Their main task is to assist in the structuring of legal relationships and act as mediators between the interests of the parties involved. Unlike lawyers, they do not represent a party in this function but act as independent, impartial and objective advisors to all parties to a transaction. Based on the motives and intended provisions the parties communicate to him, the notary examines their actual intention. On this basis, the notary will try to reach agreement between the parties in the form of a balance of interests. If agreement is reached, this is normally laid down in a contract.
Notaries hold a public office and are therefore subject to special obligations with regard to impartiality and neutrality and – similar to judges – independent in their position. This independence is balanced out by supervision by the government which is exercised, for instance, by regular audits of notaries by the president of the District Court. Further information on the profession, the tasks and obligations of notaries can be found on the Internet homepage of the Federal Chamber of German Notaries under www.bnotk.de.
For many types of legal transactions, notarisation is required by law. This applies for all cases where the legislator deems the assistance of a notary to be necessary due to the material personal and economic implications for the parties. This concerns notably contracts and unilateral declarations in the fields of law of property, especially real estate law, corporate law, law of succession and family law. Apart from that, notaries are responsible for the authentication of documents of all kinds, notably for the attestation of signatures.
What is the difference between a notary and a lawyer?
Notary Dr. Heinrich Krautwig gave a humorous answer to this question in his article "Ein Landnotar" [A notary with a rural practice]: “This is the difference between a notary and any other academic profession: We have an interest in the wellbeing of Man whereas everybody else has an interest in his badness. Lawyers take delight in dangerous road junctions, breaking marriages, rape and murder. Doctors make their living on amputated legs and bad appendices. The sinfulness of Man is the only justification for the existence of pastors. Only we, the notaries, are happy and earn the most when everything goes well: when businesses are flourishing, fields are fertile and chimneys are smoking. We want everybody to become a millionaire; in this case we would be millionaires, too. We are philanthropists ex officio.”
*in: 150 Jahre Rheinisches Notariat, Festschrift der Rheinischen Notare, 1798 - 1948, published by Rheinische Notarkammern Köln und Düsseldorf, page 56.