A process server is an individual who is usually hired by attorneys or legal organizations to deliver legal documents to an individual or party. Essentially, a process server is a liaison between a party that needs to send legal documents to another party. For example, if an individual is being sued by another person, a process server will ‘serve’ the person being sued with the documents detailing the lawsuit. While this is the basic overview of the process server, there are a number of complexities to the job that require further discussion. There are a number of rights and responsibilities that make a process server ethical and effective.
When a process server delivers (or serves) legal documents to a defendant or individual in a court case, there are a number of laws and procedures that must be followed. Typically, these documents must be hand delivered to the defendant in person, to assure that they have been received in a timely fashion.
Each state has a number of different requirements to become a process server, as well as different laws regarding this institution. For example, in California if you serve more than 10 papers a year you must register in the country you serve. In New York, certain areas also require a license to become a process server. Delivering process within New York’s five boroughs requires a license through the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs. Different courts also have different rules regarding the process by which documents must be delivered, with different deadlines and procedures to ensure timely process.
In some cases, individuals being sued may refuse the papers they have been served with. However, the refusal of a defendant to accept these papers does not typically mean that process has not been served. In many states, as long as the party has admitted their identity, a process server can leave the papers at their feet and walk away. In other states, the person being served must both admit their identity and physically touch the paper.
When serving process, process servers have a responsibility to follow local and state laws and regulations. A process server cannot usually trespass when serving documents; this is considered a violation of private property rights and illegal, even as a means to deliver a lawsuit. However, this can create gray areas at times. A process server can usually walk up to a person’s front door and knock in an open community, but they cannot scale a fence to enter a private residence.
Different states and different courts have unique, and at times conflicting laws regarding process. Process servers must follows the laws and regulations of the court issuing the process. For example, if a person in Wisconsin sues someone in Florida, they must follow the laws from the court issued in Wisconsin rather than the laws of Florida.
A process server must also keep track of deadlines to service process. A competent process server must know the local laws and deadlines of each case for which they serve process.
A career as a process server is not for everybody, but it is certainly an intriguing way to make a living. Process serving has become an integral part of the legal process for over one hundred years, and is a necessary aspect of the American court system.