Risky Work: Why Process Serving in New York Is a Job for Professionals

By its definition, the service of process is simple enough: to “serve” or personally hand over legal documents to the respondent (or the defendant) in a case. It signals the start of a class action or legal proceeding. The courts of New York can only require a defendant to respond to a case and appear in a hearing if he or she has been served with a copy of the lawsuit — specifically, a summons with notice, summons and complaint, or petition.

Who can serve legal documents in New York? According to federal and state law, a third party or anybody who is neither the petitioner (the plaintiff) nor the attorney can serve legal documents. There is only one requirement: the person who delivers the legal documents to the defendant should be 18 years old or older.

The straightforward job description and simple requirements for process serving give many the impression that anyone can serve legal documents. This assumption is wrong. Only people who have a thorough understanding of New York’s Civil Practice Law and Rules, have unfailing patience, are familiar with the city’s streets and neighborhoods, and are trained to handle tense and potentially violent situations can succeed as process servers.

A Job for People Who Can Tough It Out

There is more to process serving than what the law says. It is a demanding job that can subject a person to difficult and sometimes dangerous people and situations:

  • Process servers encounter aggressive people, many of whom have a knee-jerk response to retaliate out of fear or anger.

No one wants to get served because no one wants to welcome the possibility of going to jail or paying reparations. This is why many defendants evade service and, when found, show aggression towards the people serving them with legal papers.

The most common examples of aggressive behavior towards process servers are verbal abuse and attempts at physical abuse. Angry defendants are likely to curse and shout at process servers. Some even take a swing at the messenger. Anecdotes from experienced process servers include getting egged, punched, and chased away with threats of physical harm.

This is the reality of process serving: it is rarely easy, and only people who are smart, brave, and strong enough to face aggressive people can be successful at this line of work. Licensed process servers are equipped with the knowledge and ability to protect themselves. They are prepared to face the perils of the job, including a violent refusal.

  • Process servers spend long hours on the road looking for evasive defendants.

Finding evasive defendants is part of the job description of a process server. Clients sometimes have very little information about the people they’re suing. For instance, the only address they have of the defendant could be an old residence or previous workplace. The respondent might have since moved, taken a vacation, or actively avoided being served.

Clients and their lawyers depend on process servers to find out where missing defendants currently live or work. As a result, process servers are often out on the streets looking for evasive defendants and studying their habits and daily routines. It’s not an exaggeration to say that process servers must have investigative skills and instincts: they may have to do stakeouts and tail people covertly for days. It also means that process servers spend the majority of their time outdoors, regardless of the weather or perceived safety of the neighborhoods where the respondents are staying. Experienced license servers have relevant tools and connections at their disposal to help them find the parties to be served.

The More Complex Challenges in Process Serving

process serverThe service of process becomes even more challenging when the situation requires a judgment call. Process serving can go wrong in many ways, especially when the respondent resists or retaliates.

New York City process servers do not merely serve documents; they analyze the situation and decide on the most effective way to carry out the task. To licensed and experienced servers, this comes as second nature. Having encountered different types of respondents prior, they have an idea of how the situation would play out and how to act.

An inexperienced process server might not be able to assess and respond to different kinds of respondents adequately. They might even overstep their boundaries and make the legal matter more complicated, to the inconvenience of the party seeking to serve the court papers.

Entering Private Properties

Process servers are not law enforcement officials, which means they do not have the authority to enter private properties on their own accord. In many cases, knocking on the front door is completely permitted, but not all respondents live in welcoming accommodations—especially those who are actively evading the servers. Things get complicated when the respondent lives in a vast estate plastered with “No Trespassing” signs. Process servers cannot ignore elements like these that could make the legal matter more complicated.

An experienced process server finds a way to circumvent the situation. As mentioned earlier, the process server might have to study their daily routines to find an excellent opportunity to serve. They might also turn to other locations, like the respondent’s workplace.

Keeping Abreast of Legal Regulations

There might be minute differences in how court papers should be served in different cases, and to make that even more complicated, these regulations are amended from time to time.

An inefficient process server might not be able to keep track of these changes. They might follow outdated policies and jeopardize the case. On the other hand, a dedicated process server actively keeps abreast of these legal regulations; it is part of their job. Clients and their lawyers have the peace of mind that the service of process will go as it should, and court order violations won’t occur.

Maintaining True Neutrality

A licensed process server knows how to uphold neutrality in serving court papers. Compared to other eligible individuals, they do not have any interest in or resentment toward the plaintiff and the defendant. Their only goal is to ensure that the respondent receives the summons according to due process. They know to uphold all parties’ privacy and stay out of matters outside their responsibility as a process server.

Other Job Requirements

In addition to having the mettle to endure abuses from angry defendants, professional process servers must also:

  • Have a surety bond worth $10,000
  • Learn the rules and regulations for the service of process by heart
  • Pass the New York Process Server Individual Exam
  • Get certified for electronic devices and recordkeeping

Anyone who does Personal or Substituted service five or more times a year must get a license, and the above are the main requirements.
Process serving is rarely as easy as it sounds. Yes, attorneys and plaintiffs can save money by asking any third-party individual to serve legal papers. But it can also put a case and the individual himself or herself at risk.

Don’t gamble the outcome of a case or the safety of a person who’s untrained and inexperienced in process serving. Get in touch with Serve Index LLC and entrust the service of legal documents to our licensed process servers. Contact us today.

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