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How to Become a Process Server

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Serving Justice: A Career as a Process Server

If legal and investigative work interests you, but you don’t want to be a lawyer or a police officer, consider becoming a process server. You’ll spend your days tracking down people and serving them with legal papers. The job can offer a lot of scheduling flexibility, which is important when you’re raising a family.

Job Description

In the United States, people involved in legal cases such as lawsuits or divorces have the right to be informed about these proceedings. In many states, notification of legal proceedings must meet very specific requirements; for example, a state may require legal papers to be delivered in person to the defendant. The law may also specify who can legally deliver, or “serve,” legal notices to other people. In some states, anyone over the age of 18 who does not have a connection to a case can serve legal papers to someone else. In other states, the law specifies that either a sheriff’s deputy or a licensed process server must deliver the paperwork.

The work of a process server may seem straightforward: She is provided with legal papers and the address of the recipient and then heads out to find the person to hand over the documents. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to locate a recipient. In some cases, the current whereabouts of the defendant are not known. In other cases, the defendant may deliberately try to avoid being served as a way of delaying a case against him.

In situations in which a recipient is difficult to find, process servers must put their wits to work. This may mean utilizing databases to try to track down a defendant, contacting friends and relatives, or even wearing a disguise as a way of getting close to the defendant and handing off the paperwork.

Once the legal documents have been served, a process server must then file a report indicating when and where the service took place. Self-employed process servers also have to market their business to potential clients, which can take a lot of time when you’re starting a business.

Education Requirements

Individual jurisdictions (states and counties) set their own standards for licensing process servers. Licensing requirements vary, but they often include:

  • Completion of an approved training course
  • Passing a licensing exam
  • Undergoing criminal background checks
  • Getting bonded
  • Completing continuing education courses as a condition of license renewal

If you live in a state that requires the completion of a training course, make sure that the course you take is approved by your state’s licensing body. Some vocational schools, for instance, may offer training, but if their program doesn’t have the appropriate approvals, your diploma won’t do you much good.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t track salary data specifically for process servers. A survey by PayScale.com indicates that the median annual salary for process servers is $35,217. This means that 50 percent of process servers make more than this amount, and 50 percent make less.

In some areas, private investigators can act as process servers without undergoing a separate licensing process. The same is true for licensed attorneys.

Industry

As a process server, you will probably divide your time between working in an office and driving around in search of defendants. Some process servers have spoken of safety concerns when dealing with hostile recipients, which is something to keep in mind as you develop your career. If you are self-employed, you may be able to pick and choose the jobs you take so that you can weed out cases that may present a danger to your well-being.

Years of Experience

According to a survey by PayScale.com, a correlation exists between years on the job and the amount of money you can earn as a process server:

  • 0–5 years: $31,000 
  • 5–10 years: $33,000 
  • 10–20 years: $31,000 
  • 20+ years: $42,000

Job Growth Trend

Because the BLS doesn’t track process servers, job growth projections are not available. The BLS does note that employment of private investigators is expected to increase by 11 percent between 2016 and 2026, in part based on an increase in lawsuits and the need for expert skills in tracking people down. These factors could indicate an increased need for process servers as well.

Because the BLS does not track process servers, job growth projections are not available. The BLS does note that employment of private investigators is expected to increase by 11 percent between 2016 and 2026, in part due to an increase in lawsuits and the need for expert skills in tracking people down. These factors could indicate an increased need for process servers as well.