Indexing a title plant is thought to be a data entry task – the information to be indexed is found on an analog document (scanned image, microfilm, paper) and then, using a keyboard, the information is entered into a computer – becoming data. That’s the technical definition of data entry.
But it is so much more than that. And because it is, the title plant indexer is so much more than a data entry clerk. Let’s take a short walk through the title plant indexing forest.
The purpose of a title plant is to create a searchable index which will allow an examiner to efficiently find the documents that apply to their title order. Not finding a document may incur large penalties to the title insurer.
There are two main ways to find the document: by the legal description of the property; and by the name of the buyer or seller. If a document has the legal description of the property, then the legal description becomes the primary search method. If a document does not record the legal description (e.g. many court documents), then the search is by name. In addition to these two indices, the type of document is also important.
Sometimes a document becomes less important to a title order because that type of document has a statutory time limit (e.g federal or state tax liens). Documents may also be related to each other, usually through a prior document number. For example, a mortgage and a release of mortgage are related to each other, and the connecting unit is the other’s document number (prior document number). The release of mortgage will usually have the document number of the original mortgage that is being released.
These are the basics, and they appear benign. But, now the fun begins for the title plant indexer…and the difference between a title plant indexer and a data entry clerk comes into focus.
Since the legal description is often the primary search criteria, it must be understood by the indexer. Legal descriptions in the United States fall into two categories – sectional legal descriptions and platted legal descriptions. Platted legal descriptions are for subdivisions and found in more developed areas. Sectional legal descriptions are generally in the more rural areas. In addition to the two main types of legal descriptions, there are “acreage” legals which describe the land in long paragraphs, sometimes using local markers – rivers, trees, large boulders – as guidelines for the legal description (also known as a Metes & Bounds description). Sectional legal descriptions could also be imbedded in the acreage legals.
There are rules that govern each type of legal description and the indexer needs to know what each type of legal is, why it is described the way it is on the document, and where errors may exist in the way the legal was described by the person who drew up the document (yes, the people who draw up the documents make typo and other errors).
Once the indexer understands the legal description, he then needs to re-conceptualize it in the way that the computer system wants to see it. The legal description does not go into the computer as it is written on the document – it has to be analyzed, restructured and only then entered into the computer.
Title plant indexers need to understand complicated business, trust and individual name rules, and complicated rules governing how to index the document type, all to be gleaned from the legalese of county and court documents.
Given the nature of the documents and the information that needs to be extracted from the documents, title plant indexers are quite different from data entry clerks (who generally “key what you see”).
So, what makes a good title plant indexer?
First, the indexer has to understand that the work they are doing is critical and that an error can result in a large liability to the customer. For example, many documents have multiple legal descriptions; if a legal description is missed, that document won’t show up on a search, and if the document is a lien, e.g. mortgage, the title insurance company could be required to pay off the mortgage.
Next, the indexer has to be willing to learn the intricacies of the work. They need to understand how property is described in the county that they are working on, how the customer’s computer systems deal with, for example, Hispanic names, Asian names, hyphenated names. They need to understand how the document type is determined (we once had a document where the word “and” in the third paragraph of the second page changed the document type designation – it is not a rare occurrence).
Having the insight and the knowledge are only the first two steps. Then: the indexer has to be productive and attentive for many hours per day. They are going to be indexing documents hour after hour and their focus has to be as sharp on their fifth hour of work as the first hour. There is no room for a mid-afternoon slump in the title indexer’s job.
Because the work is demanding, it takes a long time to train a title indexer. Companies want their training investment to result in title indexers committed enough to their work to come to work every day, for a very long time. Companies want their title indexers to be committed to their companies and committed to their customers.
We have been fortunate to have indexers who are devoted to their work and aware that the customers depend on their good work. This was brought into focus when over half of our indexing staff showed up to work after a typhoon had flooded the city; some staff took makeshift boats to the nearest dry bus stop to get to work. They knew that their work was important and that they are important.
As a company we take care of the staff. We value them and let them know it, in ways small and large. And our customers have been rewarded with work done correctly, productively and reliably day after day for over 30 years.