As a paralegal working in the dynamic field of litigation, you know that ensuring the successful service of process for each defendant in your case is crucial. If the defendant doesn’t get properly served, the case can be delayed or worse — dismissed!
When I was a new paralegal, I didn’t know that I had the power to make or break a case simply by hiring the wrong vendor. I was also very intimidated by some of the attorneys I worked with and didn’t want them to think I didn’t know what I was doing. So I relied on my co-workers probably more than I should have to give me the information about which vendors to use. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that if I’d simply had a conversation with my attorney, things might have gone smoother.
So whether it’s a process server, courier, e-discovery platform, or private investigator, these tips will help you navigate the important steps to working with the right vendor. But let’s look at the specifics of hiring a process server.
First of all, if you’re hiring a server to help with an out-of-state serve, remember that they must follow YOUR state’s rules and statutes to perfect the service. Their state may have rules against serving people on Sunday or during certain early or late hours, but they still need to make sure that if your state requires personal service, that they follow those regulations. So be sure you know YOUR state’s rules.
Now, if you filed the case in another state, the process server will need to follow the rules of THAT state in order to perfect the service. Does that mean you need to know the rules of every state? No. Not if you work with a professional who can help you verify what those rules are. So make sure you work with a trained professional.
There are also some other things you should do if you’d like to increase the odds that your process server is able to quickly and successfully complete your requests.
Here are 10 essential tips to help you help your process server make every job a success.
1. Know Your Case Inside and Out
2. Double-Check Your Documents
Carefully review your legal documents before submitting them to the process server. You’d be surprised how many times the wrong set of documents is forwarded to a process server. Ensure that all pages are accurate, complete, and adhere to your state’s legal requirements before initiating the service process.
3. Verify Recipient Information
Confirm the accuracy of the defendant’s contact information to prevent delays or complications during the service. A process server is going to charge you PER ADDRESS, so be sure you’ve got the absolute best information possible. (At Solid Serve, we offer free skip-tracing if the first address turns out to be a dud, with the understanding that you will then hire us to make attempts at the new address.)
4. Understand Service Requirements
Familiarize yourself with the specific service requirements for your case as well as your jurisdiction. And, if you know the defendant or recipient has a preferred method of service or unusual work schedule, those unique circumstances may affect the delivery of your documents. Also, if you’ve got a specific deadline (like a statute of limitations or a hearing), be sure to share that with the process server up front.
5. Communicate Clearly with Attorneys
If you work with an intimidating attorney, that’s no excuse to not have open and frank discussions about what the case requires. They aren’t God, and you (probably) aren’t a mind reader. Maintain open communication with your attorneys on the case to align on expectations and gather any additional insights that may aid in successful service. Do they need the process server to do something out of the ordinary? And do they understand what a realistic timeline is for the service?
6. Provide Comprehensive Instructions
Be sure to communicate to the process service company ALL of your specific requirements or nuances related to the case. Include a physical description and photos of your defendant, if you have them. Identify and discuss potential challenges with the process service company in advance, strategizing on how to overcome them effectively. For example, if you know that the defendant has a large dog or drives a specific car, those details are helpful.
7. Choose an Experienced Process Service Company*
Research and select a reputable process service company with a proven track record of successful and efficient service. Experience, communication, customer service, and professionalism will do a lot of the heavy lifting here. (We believe we fit that bill and look forward to proving to you that we’re extreme professionals.) Does the company belong to their state association or the national association of process servers? Those are a few good indicators that your process server cares about professional development and training.
8. Clarify Fees and Terms
Be sure you understand the specific fees for every serve. Most process service companies charge slightly different fees depending on where and when you need your documents delivered. Is it a rush? Or just routine? Is there a large number of pages to print? What’s included for the fee? Your process server should clearly outline the fees and terms of service with you to prevent any misunderstandings.
9. Establish a Point of Contact
Designate a point of contact within your team who can liaise with the process service company and address any queries promptly. Will each paralegal be responsible for their own cases? Or will you funnel communications through one individual? This will depend on how things work best at your particular firm. But be consistent, whatever you choose.
10. Request Affidavits and Proof of Service
Ensure that the process service company provides detailed affidavits and proofs of service promptly (within 24 hours) after completion, maintaining transparency and accountability in the legal process. And if their form doesn’t meet your needs, you can certainly send them your form instead.
By diligently following these 10 steps, paralegals can lay a solid foundation for successful process service. Proactive preparation, clear communication, and collaboration with a reputable process service company are key elements in ensuring the smooth and efficient progression of legal cases.
Did we miss a tip? Please share your best ideas in a comment below.