What does a Process Server do?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A process server personally delivers legal documents at the directive of lawyers or legal teams. By law, service of process must occur when someone is named in a suit or summoned as a witness, and this is often done in person by a process server. The laws about service of process vary by region. In some areas, for example, legal documents can be sent by mail and this is acceptable, while others require personal service of process.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

Process servers accept documents from the people they are working for, locate the person to whom the documents must be served, and deliver them. Once the documents have been delivered to the person or an authorized agent, the law considers the service of process obligation complete. If that person fails to respond, she or he can be legally liable, as, in the eyes of the law, the person knows that a response has been expected and is aware of legal proceedings.

People in this position come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and sometimes they must be licensed in order to work. Many work for agencies, although some are freelancers. One of the advantages of agency work is that it is usually steady, because lawyers in a community grow familiar with an agency and use it regularly, and lawyers from other areas who need a local process server may be referred to an agency. Some work for the local government to deliver papers on behalf of the court.

This work can be challenging. Not everyone is happy when served with legal documents, especially if they are not expected, and sometimes a process server can be endangered. If there are concerns about safety, sometimes a member of law enforcement will accompany the server for protection. Others rely on personal safety training to protect themselves if necessary.

Process servers may have to do a great deal of research. Sometimes it is easy to serve papers on someone because the documents list the person's address and the server shows up at the right time. At other times, the process server may have to hunt someone down in order to successfully personally deliver the papers. There may be situations in which a process server simply cannot locate someone by any known means. It helps to know the community and the people in it, and to be familiar with avenues which can be pursued for research, such as social organizations which might provide a network which could be used to find a particular member of the community.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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The salary range for a minimum of high school diploma is $22,800 to $34,730.

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