What is a Process Server and Why You Need One

What is a process server

Whenever you initiate a lawsuit, you must give formal paperwork to the party (or parties) you are suing to inform them of the impending process.1 The individual responsible for delivering that paperwork is known as the process server, and they’re an integral part of the legal process.

So, what is a process server’s role in the legal system?

Let’s examine the role of process servers, breaking down their training, methods, and day-to-day functions. We’ll also clarify why you need a process server and where to get one.

Introduction to Process Serving

Depicted in the media as a trickster who suddenly unveils a manila envelope, a process server is the one who says that catchy hook: “You’ve been served.”

But what does a process server do outside of media depictions? While a process server formally serves legal documents to the defendants or other involved parties in an imminent legal case, they also perform other functions. For example, a process server might serve documents to a witness or serve notices of criminal charges or, in some cases, debt collections.2

Typically, a process server operates within a specific area corresponding to where they live. And there are process servers across the United States that play a vital role in keeping legal cases on track and fully compliant.

The Role of a Process Server

Upon inciting any legal process, it’s required before anything else to give formal notice to the other side of the lawsuit. That’s where process servers come in.

Giving proper notice to the individuals required at court is also known as service of process.3 Appropriate service of process often requires that the court papers be delivered directly to the individual rather than physically or electronically mailed. However, there are a few exceptions (these are noted below).

The Constitution’s Fifth Amendment requires adequate service to uphold procedural due process, one of the most essential rights a person has under the law.4 In some cases, failing to provide proper service can result in the dismissal of a lawsuit. Therefore, the process server has an essential duty to provide the proper notice to all lawsuit participants and provide proof of the notice’s delivery.

Court reporting services

Legal Documents Delivery

What exactly do the legal documents delivered by process servers contain? The process server’s role is to deliver paperwork to the defendant with the following info:

  • Confirmation that they are involved in a legal case
  • A description of what the case is about
  • Next steps for the defendant
  • Confirmation of a court hearing
  • The time and date they need to appear in the legal proceeding5

What papers does a process server serve? Several types of legal papers can be delivered by process servers, each with a slightly different purpose and circumstance. 

  • Writs – A writ is usually composed by a judge or other judicial authority and can be issued to individuals, organizations, or courts. A common type of writ may be the writ of habeas corpus, which challenges if a prisoner or detainee’s state of confinement is lawful.6
  • Subpoenas – A subpoena is a document summoning an individual to court, either to serve as a witness or to produce evidence pertaining to a case. In either of these situations, the individual’s contribution is necessary to move the legal proceeding forward, hence the need for an official process server to make the required contact with them. 
  • Complaints – While not technically a lawsuit, a complaint often sets litigation in motion and does contain an accusation of legal wrongdoing. Essentially, a complaint is the initial legal paperwork detailing the listed violations of the accuser’s rights. In the complaint, the accuser usually demands compensation from the accused, such as a financial settlement or a performed service.
  • Summons – A summons informs individuals that they must attend court on a specific time and date. The primary purpose of the summons in both civil and criminal cases is to give the defendant adequate time to prepare for their legal hearing. The difference between a summons and a subpoena is that the summons goes to the defendant. In contrast, a subpoena goes to an individual who needs to appear in someone else’s case.
  • Other common documents – A process server doesn’t just serve documents related to court proceedings. A process server sometimes delivers documents such as divorce petitions, eviction notices, bankruptcy petitions, and more, ensuring they reach the relevant recipients promptly and professionally.

No matter what documents a process server handles, they must perform within the legally defined boundaries and comply with local and federal regulations.

Ensuring Legal Compliance

What steps must a process server take to ensure they remain fully compliant with the law while serving papers?

Process servers must provide proof of their successful delivery of court documents. This is for the safety of the process server, the individual being served, and the requester of the service process. 

Benefits of Process Servers in the Legal System

While process servers fulfill an essential role in the legal process, there are more benefits to utilizing process servers than simply facilitating court appearances. Here are some additional advantages process servers bring to the legal equation. 

  • Regional compliance expertise – Serving someone in a different region of the country may require a specific service process due to local laws. Local laws can be complex, but a process server typically serves a single region and is an expert in navigating local regulations while serving documents.
  • Prevention of delays and fines – When hiring a process server to deliver legal documents, you can have peace of mind knowing that they will serve parties efficiently and timely and that the process will be lawful and verifiable. This essential service prevents your lawsuit from facing delays and allows your legal team to stay focused on the case.
  • Technological efficiency – Today’s generation of process servers has many tools available to make serving essential court documents more transparent and efficient than ever. Online platforms allow for tracking progress and an additional layer of digital documentation.

The benefits of using process servers to handle court notices have only grown in tandem with technological advancements, ensuring that process servers will have a lasting role in the legal system.

Methods of Service

Hand delivery—also known as “personal service”—is far from the only method at a process server’s disposal when serving documents in a timely, secure manner. The below examples are alternate, less common methods of service. Personal service is still preferred because it guarantees the correct recipient received the legal documents, and the process server can provide proof or answer questions about the process.

  • Service by mail – Service by mail is less reliable because the process server can’t guarantee the recipient received the documents. However, in this scenario, the process server still writes up a Proof of Service detailing when, how, and to where the papers mail to.1
  • Substituted service – After several unsuccessful attempts to deliver the documents personally, the process server can leave the legal documents with another individual at the party’s home or workplace if the individual is over 18 years old.
  • Service by publication – Although rare, sometimes a process server encounters extreme difficulties finding an individual. They also might be unable to find the individual’s home or work address. In these circumstances, a process server may request permission from the court to publish the complaint or summons in a newspaper local to the area the individual is likely to be in.

With these alternate service methods, it’s important to remember that local process serving regulations vary by state, so one method allowed in one region may not be lawful in another.

Ensure Reliable, Trustworthy, Efficient Process Serving with U.S. Legal Support

Find out how to hire a process server near you. The right certified process server can help your case progress smoothly and enable your legal team to focus on securing a favorable outcome in your case. For seamless, efficient service for firms of all sizes, U.S. Legal Support offers a network of professional process servers to meet all of your needs. U.S. Legal Support offers process serving in California, Texas, and Florida. 

Contact the U.S. Legal Support team today for a personalized quote or learn about the comprehensive litigation support services


  1. California Courts. Service of Court Papers. https://www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-serving.htm?rdeLocaleAttr=en
  2. Indeed. What Is a Process Server? (Plus Why They’re Important). https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/finding-a-job/what-is-a-process-server
  3. Cornell Law School. service of process. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/service_of_process
  4. Cornell Law School. service. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/service
  5. Mass.gov. Service of Process in the Courts. https://www.mass.gov/service-of-process-in-the-courts
  6. Cornell Law School. habeas corpus. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/habeas_corpus
Julie Feller
Julie Feller
Julie Feller is the Vice President of Marketing at U.S. Legal Support where she leads innovative marketing initiatives. With a proven track record in the legal industry, Juie previously served at Abacus Data Systems (now Caret Legal) where she played a pivotal role in providing cutting-edge technology platforms and services to legal professionals nationwide.

Editoral Policy

Content published on the U.S. Legal Support blog is reviewed by professionals in the legal and litigation support services field to help ensure accurate information. The information provided in this blog is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice for attorneys or clients.