Although federal courts and many state courts only require that a process server be 18 years of age or older and a non-party, most process servers are representatives of private service of process businesses or certain law enforcement officers. For federal cases, a marshal may be used. In state cases, a sheriff’s department officer may be used.
Benefits of Using a Professional Process Server
Professional process servers may provide a variety of benefits over using a sheriff’s department or marshal for service. Here are a few such reasons to use a professional process server.
Speed of Service
Many lawyers and paralegals report that professional process servers provide faster service. Some process servers may attempt their first delivery within one to three days of receiving the necessary documents. In contrast, sheriff’s departments may take longer because there are generally other things that the department is focused on, such as curtailing crime or handling prisoner transports. Faster service is important in cases that have a quick turnaround or that require process within a specified number of days.
Knowledge of Laws
While sheriff’s offices must worry about a wide range of laws related to criminal and civil matters, professional process service companies tend to only need to be concerned with laws related to providing effective service. They are commonly well-versed in rules related to process serving, including what time of day valid process can be completed, whether they can leave legal documents with another responsible person in the household, whether there are restrictions pertaining to where the service can be completed and whether service is prohibited on weekends or holidays. If a rule regarding process is violated, the case may be dismissed on procedural grounds or delayed if process needs to be repeated.
A sheriff’s department is usually only allowed to provide service for state and local cases. If a federal case is involved, a professional process server may still be able to provide process.
Many professional process servers are committed to successfully serving the defendant. If a defendant is not available for service at a particular date and time, the professional process server will likely repeat attempted service more times than a sheriff’s department.
Providing process is just one small aspect of a sheriff’s department job. If a particular officer does not perform this function in a respectful manner, he or she will likely still have a job. However, professional process servers rely on maintaining a good reputation with lawyers, paralegals, legal assistants and private parties. A customer can go elsewhere if he or she is not satisfied with customer service, so professional process servers are generally more concerned with providing good customer service.
Some professional process servers may charge a lower cost than the sheriff’s department. Additionally, their quote may include multiple attempts to serve the defendant and for necessary travel costs, whereas a sheriff’s department may add on these additional costs.
Professional process servers may honor special requests made by clients. For example, they may travel to a certain location to serve the party or wait for a certain time of day.
Hiring a Professional Process Server
Not all professional process servers are the same. As in any business, you will see a difference in quality, price and effectiveness. Here are a few strategies to implement to ensure that you hire a reputable process server:
• Verification process – Verify that the process server has all necessary documents, which may include a license, insurance and bond.
• Reputation check – Look for any problems with the process server’s reputation by checking the company’s website, online forums for complaints and the Better Business Bureau. Also, ask for the names and numbers of former clients so that you can personally ask about their experiences.
• Experience Inquiries – Before agreeing to hire the company, check how long it has been in business, its success rate and if it has any particular area of expertise.
• Agreement – Ask for a written agreement that outlines the fee structure and whether there are any additional fees for multiple attempts and mileage.
• Detailed Instructions – Give the process server detailed instructions related to service. For example, give him or her a picture of the person to be served, his or her name, where service should be completed and which documents are to be filed. Also, provide details about how you should be notified of any updates.