As the coronavirus pandemic continues to infect people across our nation and our governments try to stop the spread, the legal profession keeps getting pushed into uncharted waters. One legal issue that still remains unclear is how service of process will be affected not just for those trying to serve others, but those parties who are being served with lawsuits.
Below are some useful tips on how to serve, and how to be served, legal documents during these uncertain times in the midst of the pandemic.
For those concerned about serving others:
In order to make sure that legal papers are properly and timely served on defendants:
- Check all standing orders, temporary rules, or other guidance from the jurisdiction where service is to take place as new orders are issued almost daily;
- Monitor the websites and public postings of defendants to be served to have up-to-date information about where service is being accepted since most businesses have had to adjust and service locations may have changed;
- Ensure that your process server does not leave the legal documents outside of physical offices or with unauthorized personnel as service would not be proper;
- Be flexible with the defendant to be served when it comes to agreeing to serve via alternate methods that are accepted under the state and federal rules.
For those concerned about receipt of service:
In order to make sure that a defendant is not refusing service in a way that would trigger another service method that could result in lost legal documents:
- Use a service to act as your registered agent, if you have not done so already, as now is a good time to benefit from these services;
- Review and confirm that the list of statutory agents registered in each state is up-to-date;
- Contact your registered agent to make sure there is a process in place to accept service on your behalf—especially in light of all the court orders on the issue;
- If you cannot accept service at any physical location where a process server may attempt service, post a notice on the door with detailed information, post a list of office that are closed due to coronavirus and cannot accept service on the internet, establish a procedure for routing and reviewing legal documents is service is made on someone at one of those addresses.
- Make sure there is a procedure for reviewing and routing all mail received by the legal department and its staff, so you do not miss any papers served by FedEx or certified mail.
- Continue to monitor new court filings to catch lawsuits where plaintiffs argue that service was perfected but the legal documents were lost or misdirected.
- When possible and desirable, reach out to the plaintiff and offer to waive or accept service via an alternative method.
If parties implement the above tips, the legal process will continue to run as smoothly as possible, considering we are in the midst of a global pandemic.