What Office Administrators Need to Know About International Process Service

By Jerry Colasurdo

International service of process is one of the less common tasks attorneys need to oversee, but you can be a valuable resource for your staff if you know how the process works and have an idea of what they can expect.  From extended timelines to increased costs to nuanced rules, serving someone internationally is an entirely different process than serving someone within our own borders.  Handling it properly can be the difference between a successful case and one that leaves your clients extremely unhappy, so it’s critical to take the right approach.

How is international service of process different from serving someone in the United States?

When you serve someone in the United States, service is conducted in accordance with both state and federal rules.  Serving internationally requires the same type of approach, with service needing to be conducted in compliance with the receiving country’s rules and laws.

There are three primary ways to serve someone internationally:

1.      The Hague Service Convention

The Hague Service Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents was created to make it easier to serve someone in another country.  Under this treaty, signatories can choose which articles they agree to during the service process, such as service via mail.  The Hague Service Convention works by creating a central authority in each country for service requests to flow through to streamline the process, leaving it to the country to handle service internally once received.

 2.      Letters Rogatory

Letters Rogatory is a method of service utilized for countries with no formal agreements for international process service such as the Hague Service Convention and the Inter-American Convention on Letters Rogatory (for select South/Latin American countries).  In Letters Rogatory, the United States Department of Justice will seek the assistance of the judicial authorities of the receiving country to help with the service of the defendant in that country.  This is typically a cumbersome and very expensive process, with the expected time to complete service via Letters Rogatory being dramatically longer than other methods.  These requests go through diplomatic channels to ask the receiving country to complete service and timelines, and results are highly dependent on the current political climate between the two countries.

 3.      Service Via Agent

When you aren’t looking to have a judgment enforced, service through the informal method of service via agent is an option.  Serving someone this way is primarily for notification purposes and isn’t intended to be used when the receiving country is going to be expected to enforce a judgment.  Rather, foreign courts will expect you to complete service in the specific manner prescribed by the country, whether it is through the Hague Service Convention or Letters Rogatory.

Why is it so complicated?

Each country has their own unique set of rules, as well as specific articles of the Hague Service Convention they agree to if they are signatories.  These nuanced requirements mean no two countries are the same and serving someone incorrectly can result in a dismissed case or the inability to enforce a judgment.  For example, if a defendant is served through mail under the Hague Service Convention, but that is one provision they have expressly stated they would not agree to, the entire service would be considered void.

There is also the consideration of translation.  Many countries require that the documents being served be translated into their official language.  However, it can get complicated to figure out what language is necessary, especially in countries like Switzerland, where there are four national languages, or in China, where there are various dialects.

It can also be very difficult to obtain updates during international service.  The ability to call up a process server and ask for a status update is not an option.  In many instances, the only time an update comes is when the final affidavit of service or non-service is received in the mail months down the road.

What are the costs and timelines?

Attorneys and law firms need to be aware of the costs and timeframes associated with international service so they can properly set expectations with clients.  Serving someone internationally is an undertaking and requires a clear conversation about what to expect.  Costs for formal methods of service (the Hague Service Convention and Letters Rogatory) can fall between $600.00 and $1,200.00, plus translations, and timelines can range from three months to three years.

Service via agent is one of the fastest and cheapest options, with timelines that can run like those you would expect in the United States.  However, it is important to remember this method cannot be used when a judgment will need to be collected or a ruling will need to be enforced.  In these circumstances, you would be required to go through the more formal methods detailed above.

How can we help our attorneys if they need to serve someone internationally?

As office administrators, you are often considered a go-to resource for both information and vendors.  It is important to make sure attorneys follow the proper procedures and translation requirements, which vary from country to country.  Failure to adhere to these requirements can result in a court declaring service improper and dismissing it.  After spending a substantial amount of time and money on service, no client wants to hear that the service has been deemed improper and needs to be completed all over again.

Jerry Colasurdo is Founder and President of DGR.  Jerry has established his respected reputation with over thirty years of experience.  He is the founder, as well as the past and current president, of the New Jersey Professional Process Servers Association, a Certified Process Server and a member of the National Association of Professional Process Servers.  Originally a chemical engineer, Jerry first got his start in the industry when helping a friend who was an attorney.  Without anyone to serve the document, he asked for Jerry’s help, which eventually turned into a full-time business.  Jerry may be reached at [email protected].

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