What Is Service of Process: All You Need to Know

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The service of process is the procedure in which someone who is a party to a lawsuit notifies another party of legal action against them. It is typically done in the form of a summons, complaint, or another court document, and it must be done in a legally effective manner. 

Process servers are neutral, third-party individuals who follow the legal guidelines of service of process to transfer documents to the receiving party. 

However, the first step to understanding the service of process is knowing how it relates to due process in the US.

What Is Service of Process

How does the service of process relate to Due Process?  

The US Constitution makes it clear that every citizen has a right to due process. According to the non-partisan Constitution Center, the 14th Amendment, which codified the right to due process, has been solidified in meaning over time:

When it was adopted, the Clause was understood to mean that the government could deprive a person of rights only according to law applied by a court. Yet since then, the Supreme Court has elaborated significantly on this core understanding. As the examples above suggest, the rights protected under the Fourteenth Amendment can be understood in three categories: (1) “procedural due process;” (2) the individual rights listed in the Bill of Rights, “incorporated” against the states; and (3) “substantive due process.”

In short, due process refers more broadly to the constitutional right that no one can be deprived of life, liberty, or property without appropriate legal procedures being followed. 

By ensuring the defendant receives proper notice of the case against them, service of process helps to satisfy the notice and right to be heard requirements of procedural due process. This means that service of process is an important step in ensuring a party’s due process rights are protected in civil litigation.

Role that service of process plays in providing all citizens with due process

Why is the service of process so important? 

In addition to the role that service of process plays in providing all citizens with due process, it is important for several more reasons. 

  1. It provides legal notice to defendants. Service of process gives defendants formal notification that they are being sued and must appear and respond to the court. This meets due process requirements.
  2. It establishes personal jurisdiction. Courts normally only have power over defendants if they have sufficient minimum contacts with the jurisdiction they are being sued in. Properly serving defendants helps establish this.
  3. It sets timelines in motion. The service of a complaint and summons starts the countdown for defendants to respond by a certain deadline, moving the legal case forward.
  4. It avoids default judgments. If defendants are not properly served, they may be unaware of the case and fail to respond in time, leading to a default judgment against them.
  5. It provides proof to the court. Plaintiffs must file proof of service to verify defendants were properly served. Courts can then confirm jurisdiction is proper.

Who can use a process server? 

The first industry people associate with process servers is the legal industry. After all, lawyers routinely hire process servers to serve documents to defendants.

Let’s take a look at some of the other professions that may require process servers to complete their job duties. 

  • When collecting unpaid debts, collection agencies rely on process servers to formally deliver legal notices and documents such as demand letters, summonses, and wage garnishments.
  • Insurance companies hire process servers to legally notify parties about claims disputes, subrogation rights, policy terminations, and other insurance-related legal matters that arise.
  • Corporations may use process servers to deliver service of process for business disputes, intellectual property cases, contract enforcement actions, and other legal issues a company may face.
  • Private investigators work with process servers to gather evidence by having them issue subpoenas to compel the release of information, records, testimony, and more. Some private investigators are process servers themselves. 
  • Government agencies use process servers to deliver court orders, tax liens, eviction notices, and other documents related to legal actions being taken by the agency.
  • When needing to notify a tenant of issues like overdue rent, lease violations, evictions, or other disputes, property managers may retain the services of a process server. 
  • Private citizens without a lawyer can use process servers for small claims suits, family court documents, probate matters, and more situations that require formal legal service of process.
Rules for who can be a process server

Who can be a process server? 

As recently as 2021, there were about 9000 active process servers in the US. Most work for private companies, although about 29% work for government entities. 

The rules for who can be a process server vary by state, but in general:

  • Process servers must be at least 18 years old
  • Process servers must adhere to the licensing guidelines of the state or local government where they live (although not all states require licensing) 
  • Process servers cannot have a felony conviction on their record

State-by-State Guidance 

According to information gathered by the National Association of Professional Process Servers, some states don’t require any licensing for process servers, but others have either statewide or local licensing requirements. 

States with statewide licensing requirements are: 

Alaska: In addition to licensing, process servers must post a $15,000 surety bond and pass a written application. 

Arizona: Process servers have to be 21 years old and have lived in Arizona as a resident for at least one year before applying. There is also a written exam. 

California: Licensing requirements apply to anyone who needs to serve more than 10 papers in a single year. You have to live in California for at least one year which immediately precedes your application. Applicants have to post a $2,000 bond or, alternatively, a cash deposit. There is no exam.  

Illinois: The state does not require licensing, but take note that any licensed Private Detective in Illinois may serve process throughout the state–except in Cook County. To serve in Cook County, a private detective must receive a special appointment. Anyone over the age of 18 can be appointed by a court to serve process. 

Montana: Process servers only need to be licensed if they serve more than 10 papers in a year. They need to post a $10,000 surety bond. If working for a firm, the firm will post a $100,000 surety bond instead of having that responsibility fall to the individual server. Montana’s process servers must pass a written exam. 

Nevada: Process servers must be 21 years old, have 2 years of experience in the industry (which can be satisfied by a combination of education and employment) and carry insurance with a minimum coverage of $200,000 to become licensed. Applicants also owe a $750 deposit when they apply, as well as get a background check. Application fees can reach up to $1500. In addition to the written exam, some applicants will have to pass an oral exam. 

Oklahoma: To become a licensed process server, applicants must submit a $5,000 surety bond and either a $35 licensing fee per county or a $150 fee to get a statewide license. There is no exam required. 

Texas: Texas process servers are governed by Rules 103 and 536(a) of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. In short, servers must complete an approved educational course and get a certificate of completion, have their fingerprints recorded with the Texas Department of Public Safety, and submit a $200 application fee if it is their first time to get a license. 

Washington: Process servers have to register with the county auditor where they operate. The application fee is $10. There are no required tests or bonds. 

States that have local licensing laws are:

Florida: Some counties require the sheriff of that county to appoint process servers. Additionally, each judicial circuit court has a chief judge who can certify process servers. All licensed process servers must be 18 years or older and a Florida permanent resident. They also need to take an exam and execute a $5,000 surety bond. 

Missouri: To become a process server in Missouri, applicants must pass a training course that includes 5 nights of classroom instruction and a written exam. This course is provided by the Sheriff of the City of St. Louis. Additionally, process servers must be 21 years old, have either a high school diploma or GED, and carry Errors & Omissions insurance with at least $100,000 of coverage. A criminal record disqualifies someone from being a process server in Missouri. 

New York: The City of New York has its own requirements for process servers. Anyone who serves within Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Staten Island, or Queens must be licensed through the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs. No insurance, bonding, or testing is required. 

What to Look for in a Service of Process Provider

When you need to legally serve court documents, hiring a competent process-serving company is essential. Let’s review some key capabilities to look for when vetting and selecting a provider. 

Experience & Training

Seek an established company with years of first-hand service of process experience. All their process servers should undergo background checks and regular legal training to stay up-to-date on rules and procedures.

Reliability & Professionalism

Look for reliability, responsiveness, accountability, and courtesy from your provider. They should serve papers in a professional manner and act as an extension of your firm. Professionalism is so important! 

Legal Understanding

The company should exhibit expertise in your state’s legal code and court system compliance requirements concerning service of process. They should offer consultative guidance when needed. If the provider works in multiple states or jurisdictions, they should demonstrate a strong understanding of how the rules are different from one to the other. 

Adaptive Methods

Your provider should utilize an array of effective service methods like personal delivery, stake-outs, substituted service, and even social media searches tailored to each case. Skip tracing should be implemented for recipients who are difficult to find. 

Electronic Tracking & Reporting

Select a process server with robust tracking systems and documentation that can provide dated GPS records, time-stamped photographs, affidavits of service, and real-time status updates.


Reputable providers carry errors and omissions insurance plus bond protection to safeguard you from liability if process serving issues arise.

By vetting capabilities in areas like expertise, technology, flexibility, and insurance, you can pick the right partner for reliable service.

Service of process is a vital component in the legal system, as it ensures that all parties receive proper notice. It also keeps cases moving forward. Delays in the service of process mean delays in your legal case! 

Serving court papers is a highly regulated process in most states, and it requires specialized knowledge no matter where you are located. Trusting an unqualified provider can derail your case through procedural problems and timeline issues. 

Firefly Legal offers exceptional guidance combined with the work of rigorously trained, seasoned process servers following exact protocols in your jurisdiction. We seamlessly manage the end-to-end serving process with reliability, transparency, and responsiveness so you can rest assured papers are delivered properly.

Contact us today to request a quote and learn more about how we can help!

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