Serving Pro Se Clients
- February 10
- by Stephanie Irvine
From time to time, an individual may seek out a civil process server as a pro se client (meaning on oneself’s behalf). Whether it is to have a spouse served divorce papers or to give notice of an impending lawsuit, individuals are not required to have legal counsel, though many find it beneficial. Of course, as a process server, working for a law or debt collection firm has its perks over working for a pro se client; these firms are familiar with the legal requirements of service of process and often (though not always) will have a pre-payment plan set up for repeat work. However, there are benefits to completing a pro se job. The topic is often a discussion point among process servers: to work or not to work with pro se clients. Keep reading to learn about the merits and pitfalls of serving pro se clients, which is ultimately up to the individual process server.
When serving a pro se client, it is important to get paid upfront for services. This eliminates the hassle of tracking down a client for payment after you have completed the work. A savvy individual expects a written agreement to assuage any fears that your company would take their money without actually attempting service of process. Having a document like this that sets out the terms and the payment expectations can go a long way in preventing headaches for you and for the client down the line. While getting pre-payment is important for both law firms and pro se clients, getting payment from a pro se client carries more risk as an individual is often more elusive than a law firm.
Pro se clients reach out to process servers because they need help and they’re not sure how to get documents served. While this creates a business opportunity for process servers, it also comes with some headaches. Pro se clients often do not understand the rules of procedure, and with our society moving to a point where nearly every service has become instantaneous, their expectations of when service will be completed are skewed. It is important to lay out exactly how you will conduct service and the terms of your agreement (how many service attempts and within what time frame) in order to eliminate any misconceptions. Law firms, on the other hand, are often familiar with how service of process works; while they are sometimes demanding, they also likely will have an agreement in place that dictates their expectations on your civil process service company’s services.
No Serve, No Pay?
New process servers might not realize that there are occasions where a server attempts service but is unable to complete the serve after several attempts, causing them to question whether payment should still be expected. For most process servers, the answer is unequivocally yes. Process servers should document all their service attempts which are ideally attempted at various times. While the inability to effectuate service should certainly not be the norm, the occasion may arise when a service could not be completed due to circumstances outside the process server’s control. Process servers should always attempt service multiple times and at varied times that are laid out in the terms of agreement — and with those terms should be a provision that states what happens if a server cannot serve a defendant. Payment should still be expected in the event of a non-serve, even for pro se clients.
Pro Se, Pro Bono?
At times, process servers are in a position where they are asked to take on a service job for free, also known as pro bono work. Most often, every process server is in the field, at least in part, to make money. Why would a server accept a job without the expectation of payment? Oftentimes there are some cases that pull at a server’s heartstrings and they may feel compelled to take on the case, especially if the law firm is handling the case pro bono. At the end of the day, pro bono cases are at the complete discretion of the process server and under no circumstances are a requirement.
No, Thank You
With all of this considered, you may be wondering if you have to take every client that crosses your doorstep. The reality is that if you work independently, you are in control of what jobs you decide to take on. There are some jobs that seem like a bad idea — and it is in those instances where you should listen to your intuition and decline the job. One thing is certain: the legal world is alive and well with plenty of lawsuits that need process servers. In the event that you decide to turn down a job, it is important to still be tactful and respectful.
Bottom Line: Get It In Writing
The most important takeaway from considering doing work for pro se clients is that it is important to clearly lay out exactly what you will do, from service attempts to payment, in writing. Having this agreement covers both yourself and your business and ensures that the job will, at the very least, be held to the standards set forth in your contract.