Process servers perform a vital function in the American legal system. They notify all parties named in a lawsuit by delivering court documents to them personally. Delivering legal documents to each party is the core function of a process server's job. While it may sound simple, process serving is not always as straightforward as it seems.
The main function of a process server is to hand deliver court case-related documents to defendants or to anyone required to testify in court. Once the documents are delivered, a notarized affidavit of service, or a proof of service, is delivered back to the party who requested the service -- a plaintiff or legal firm. Documents can range from subpoenas for producing evidence to divorce papers or restraining orders.
Tracking Down Defendants
Some people put a lot of effort into avoiding process servers. Tracking down someone who has fled town or gone into hiding is called skip tracing and can be time consuming and frustrating for servers. Servers must also know how and when to serve papers properly. For example, in some states, such as Florida, documents cannot be served on Sundays or can only be delivered to minors in specific circumstances. If the papers are served incorrectly, a case may be thrown out on a technicality.
Know a Defendant's Schedule
Process serving work hours are often determined by when people are most likely to be home or at work, but not everyone works bankers' hours and not everyone wants a process server to know where they are. Sometimes a process server must stakeout a place of business or a residence or visit a place of work during the graveyard shift. There is evening and weekend work involved, so process servers must learn a defendant's schedule and routine to serve them the legal documents.
Who Can Serve Papers
Originally, only sheriffs, deputies or agents of the court served court papers. However, this proved to be a burden on law enforcement professionals. Many states now allow any U.S. citizen age 18 or older to serve process, provided the server is not connected to the case. Some states require process servers to be licensed or registered, and some require servers to post surety bonds before allowing them to serve.