Services for Lawyers: Hiring a Process Server

Although the fact that you represent a party to intended litigation does not per se disqualify you from serving process, it's generally not a good idea. If the facts surrounding service of process were to come up as an issue at trial, you might need to be called as a witness. And since a lawyer for one of the parties cannot also be a fact witness, you would risk being disqualified. Apart from this problem, do-it-yourself personal service is really not practical or desirable. Fortunately, there are plenty of companies that employ process servers ready and willing to do the job for you.

Should I Just Have the Sheriff Serve Process?

First of all, you may be required to have the sheriff serve process. See, for example, Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure sections 1291 and 1293, stating that service must be made by the sheriff, and permitting service by others only where the sheriff fails. Most state codes and local rules, however, make sheriff service optional.

Using the sheriff's office to serve process can be effective, but you should consider whether commercial process serving companies might be better or worse for you. The sheriff doesn't work for free, so there will be prices to compare. Also think about speed: how soon after receiving papers does the sheriff attempt to serve them? Who is going to provide you better customer service, have more knowledge of laws surrounding service, and have a better success rate? Ask your colleagues for their experiences with sheriff service in your area.

What to Look for When Choosing a Process Server Company

Breadth of assistance: A lot of process servers do more than just serve process. If you'd like to cut down on the number of service providers you deal with, look for a company that can fulfill a lot of your needs. Some companies will do it all: in addition to process serving, they will handle court filing, fax and e-fax filings, retainer filing plans, court research, recording documents, skip tracing, private investigations, and judgment enforcement, among other things. In relation to process serving itself, some companies will perform stakeouts to catch those hard-to-find defendants. You may also need someone to verify and follow-up forwarding addresses when initial attempts at service are unsuccessful. The full-service companies will be able to help you with the difficult or unusual cases.

Cost: If cost is your main concern, be aware that the basic fee will probably vary based on the type of process served. Flat fees for the common summons and complaint will be on the low end, with fees for serving subpoenas, family court documents, orders to show cause, and other less common process possibly higher. If you're asking for service in a distant location, be prepared to pay a larger flat fee, mileage fees, or a per-trip fee. Process that needs to be served right away will certainly cost you more. You should inquire how much, if anything, you will be charged if the address for service you provide is bad. Finally, don't forget to look for bulk discounts, which some companies will offer for frequent service in areas like no-fault divorce, collections, foreclosures, and landlord-tenant actions.

Other considerations:

  • Know how many attempts the company will make to serve an individual before giving up.
  • If out-of-state or international service becomes necessary, can the company do it for you?
  • Do they have any monitoring system in place? Ask if proof of service is mailed back to you or filed with the court.
  • Verify that employees are licensed or registered in compliance with any state or local requirement, and that the company is bonded.