How To Become a Process Server in 7 Steps

Updated August 8, 2022

Process servers are legal professionals who are responsible for delivering legal documents, among other duties. Being a process server can be a good way to learn about the legal field and start a legal career. In this article, we provide an in-depth review of what it's like to be a process server and what you should do to become one.

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What is a process server?

A process server is a person who delivers legal documents to their intended recipients. This role also involves submitting court papers and retrieving documents for lawyers. Process servers ensure that when someone takes legal action against another person, they know about the court proceedings. Notifying the defendant about the charges against them is an essential part of the legal process, so process servers exist to confirm in person that they contacted the correct person. 

Common documents that process servers deliver include court summonses, subpoenas, divorce papers and evictions. Process servers can work at law offices, government courts and other legal organizations to facilitate legal communications.

Related: 15 Types of Law Careers You Can Pursue

What are the duties of a process server?

After receiving an assignment, the process server typically looks up their contact information, home address and workplace to track down their current location. They travel to the individual's location and alert them of the delivery. Process servers normally have to physically hand the court documents to their target individual after confirming their identity. 

If a process server can't find one of their defendants and can prove multiple contact attempts, they can submit a court request for substituted service. Substituted service means that process servers can deliver the documents to a family member or send the documents through certified mail.

Process servers have these additional duties to facilitate their document delivery:

  • Recording contact attempts and successful deliveries: Process servers have to maintain detailed documentation on behalf of their employer about which defendants they contact and when they delivered each document.

  • Following up with previous contact attempts: It's typical for process servers to make multiple contact attempts before successfully completing a delivery. Process servers spend time checking up on old cases and looking for new ways to reach the defendant.

  • Scheduling delivery timelines: Process servers communicate with attorneys and court officials about when they plan to deliver legal documents. Scheduling document deliveries can streamline the process of beginning legal proceedings.

  • Providing surveillance: When trying to contact a defendant, process servers may have to spend time observing their habits and schedule to find the best time to approach them with a legal document delivery.

  • Preparing legal statements: Writing legal statements and reports about experiences with defendants is one of the main administrative duties for process servers. These statements can be for record-keeping purposes or as an exhibit in a court case.

  • Testifying about delivery interactions: Some process defendants testify in court about their interactions with defendants, either confirming that they made contact or describing failed contact attempts.

  • Collecting information about defendants: Process servers submit requests for public records and other documents that their employer can use in their case.

  • Upholding rules about legal methods for delivery: Like other legal professionals, process servers have to operate within certain restrictions to ensure that they're using ethical methods to complete the document delivery process and can validate each delivery.

How to become a process server

Because process servers are essential to the legal process, this profession is in high demand for people who qualify. Follow these seven steps to become a process server:

1. Get an active driver's license

Employers typically expect process servers to have a valid driver's license and provide their own transportation. Make sure your license is up-to-date and explore options for buying or leasing a reliable vehicle that you can use on the job.

Related: Driving Skills: Definition and Examples

2. Research your state's requirements

Each state has its own unique requirements for process servers. In some areas, you only have to be over 18 and have no connection to the case that you're serving documents for. Other states have regulations that require process servers to have training, certification or both.

3. Complete process server training

Depending on your state, completing a process server training program may be required. Even if a training course isn't mandatory in your area, you can still benefit from signing up for a course. Process server training covers topics like research methods, how to approach defendants, ways to get a defendant to identify themselves, delivery techniques, surveillance strategies and documentation requirements. You can complete a typical training program for process servers within a few hours or sooner.

4. Review state service of process laws

To protect yourself and your employer, familiarize yourself with federal and local laws about service of process in your area. As a process server, you'll encounter unique situations that require you to use your best judgment about how to interact with a defendant. Knowing the law can help you make the best decisions about how to reach out to defendants without breaking any rules. It's also an important step in studying for any licensing tests.

5. Apply for certification

If you live in one of the states that have mandatory board certification for process servers, fill out the application for licensing and register with the state or local government. This may only require proof of completing a training program, or it could involve an additional exam depending on the state. When applying for certification, you may have to pass a background check and even get fingerprinted to qualify.

6. Practice foreign language basics

As a process server, you'll have to communicate with defendants and guide a short conversation to confirm who they are and give them their legal documents. Being able to speak common languages other than English can make it easier for you to serve legal documents to anyone, regardless of what language they speak. Learn a few key phrases related to serving legal documents so you'll be prepared when interacting with a native speaker.

7. Search for job openings

Look for open jobs at law firms, courthouses, sheriff's offices and private process service companies. You can look for long-term employment options or short-term projects depending on your ideal career path as a process server. Update your resume to include your knowledge of process server best practices and highlight any official professional qualifications you earned.

Related: The Essential Job Search Guide

Average salary for a process server

Process servers earn an average of $27.32 per hour. Process servers can work full-time, part-time or on a contract basis. Because tracking down people involved with legal conflicts can be challenging and require constant effort, legal companies can hire process servers to work flexible schedules. Process servers who work as independent contractors can earn their pay based on the number of documents they can serve, so delivering more documents can generate more income.

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Skills for process servers

Being a process server requires you to develop several core skills that allow you to properly navigate legal situations. Some of the important qualities that good process servers should develop to be successful include:

  • Attention to detail

  • Organized

  • Patient

  • Calm

  • Persuasive

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