What Is a Legal Notice?

Renee Booker

In most legal systems around the world, a party to a legal proceeding has an absolute right to be made aware of the proceedings by providing legal notice that the proceedings have been initiated. The manner in which legal notice may be accomplished will vary by jurisdiction, as well as by the type of legal proceeding that is pending. In addition, creditors and other members of the public often have a legal interest in information that can only be ascertained by making the information public. Legal notice may be accomplished by providing actual notice, constructive notice, or public notice.

Legal notices are often printed in newspapers near the classified section.
Legal notices are often printed in newspapers near the classified section.

Within the United States, when a lawsuit is filed, the defendant must usually be given actual legal notice. Individual states within the United States determine what constitutes actual notice within the state. In most cases, actual legal notice requires the plaintiff, or person who filed the lawsuit, to serve the defendant through the civil sheriff or a licensed process server, or by registered or certified mail. In some states, the defendant may also be served by personal service accomplished by someone over the age of 18 who is not a party to the case.

Legal notices are processed by the sheriff's department.
Legal notices are processed by the sheriff's department.

Some types of legal proceedings require legal notice to be accomplished by public notice. When a defendant to a lawsuit cannot be located despite a diligent search, the plaintiff may be able to serve him or her by publishing the complaint in the local newspaper. Other types of cases, such as foreclosures, bankruptcies, and probate estate administration, are also published in a local newspaper. In cases such as these, legal notice is done publicly in order to notify any possible creditors that may have an interest in the proceedings and who are unknown to the parties or the court.

Another type of legal notice which is often referred to within the United States is constructive notice. Constructive notice is a concept that is most often used in real estate, although it applies in other areas of the law as well. Many property records must be filed and made available to the public for anyone who wishes to search them. Titles and transfers of property, for example, are typically filed in the county courthouse. The purpose of filing property records such as these is to give anyone who may wish to purchase a property "constructive notice" of who actually owns the property.

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