Facts & Findings Magazine: Who to Hire – Process Server or Sheriff?
In the News
When a paralegal or legal assistant needs a legal document served they generally have two options: hire a professional process server or hire a sheriff. Though often instructed to utilize a sheriff’s services without indication of an alternative, paralegals should consider every option when choosing who to trust with service of process. With legal risks involved and differences in customer service, pricing structure and communication, there are a number of factors to evaluate in each professional. Findings from a recent survey outline what legal professionals have to say about each option. The unprecedented study provides a clear indication of whether a process server or sheriff is the best option and why.
The Process Server vs. Sheriff Project
The study was conducted by ServeNow.com, a network of trusted process servers, and outlines the differences between process servers and sheriffs in the categories of success rate, fees, knowledge of related laws, communication and customer service. The data was collected through a survey of 100 paralegals, legal assistants and legal administrators who have documents served on a regular basis. Process servers were also surveyed about their fee structures and turnaround times while sheriff pricing was collected from public records.
“We wanted to gather unbiased data and make it readily available for individuals and professionals who require service of process,” ServeNow Co-founder Trent Carlyle explained. “It was crucial to find out who is the preferred provider and why, as well as which option is less expensive and if that lower price comes with a sacrifice in quality.”
ServeNow was founded in 2004 by Carlyle and Adam Camras and focuses on connecting legal professionals with local, qualified process servers. Even with strong industry roots, both co-founders were surprised by some of the results. “We knew from the moment we discussed the project that the process server would be the better option,” Camras said, “but a number of the results were still surprising.”
Process Server vs. Sheriff By the Numbers
78% of the legal professionals surveyed selected the process server as their preferred provider, while 19% would rather hire a sheriff. Multiple participants, including legal assistant Jaclyn Wissmueller, expressed her reasons for only using a sheriff in necessary situations, saying, “The only times I use a sheriff is if it is an area where I cannot locate a reasonably priced process server, or [if] it is someone in jail or a government entity.”
Participants also ranked process servers higher in terms of speed of service, listing the process server as the faster option 9 times out of 10. The legal professionals surveyed described process servers as more diligent, organized and dependable than sheriffs. “Over my career I have found private process servers to be much faster in getting process served,” paralegal Theresa Prater explained. “The sheriff’s office generally has other things going on.”
In the provided ranking system of 1 to 5 stars, process servers received an average customer service rating of 4.28 out of 5 stars compared with the sheriff’s 2.55. “Private process servers have to compete in the marketplace and know they can be replaced if they don’t give good service,” paralegal Robert Stover explained.
Perhaps the most surprising statistic was regarding knowledge of related laws. 13% of the legal professionals surveyed listed the sheriff as the more knowledgeable professional, while the remaining 87% described process servers as having an equal or better understanding of relevant rules and regulations. “This is one of the most important aspects of service of process,” Camras explains, “as when service of process is not completed in accordance with due process requirements a court case can experience a costly delay or be dismissed from court.” Additionally, professionals who hire process servers generally experience a higher success rate of 92%, with sheriffs effectuating service an average of 74% of the time.
The average fee for a process server is $53.99. The fee structure for process servers is different than that of sheriffs, as process server pricing often includes multiple attempts and mileage while the sheriff’s does not. When you account for additional fees, the process server’s higher cost, a difference of $14.41, becomes practically negligible.
In conclusion, the process server was ranked higher in speed of service, customer service, knowledge of laws, success rate and was selected as the preferred provider. The sheriff has a lower average cost, ranking better in the only category that was based on written reports rather than the preference and experience of the surveyed legal professionals.
Tips for hiring a process server
In light of the results of the study, many legal assistants and paralegals may wonder what to look for when hiring a process server. Hiring the wrong professional can be detrimental to any court case, so it’s important to consider a few things when choosing who to hire. Locating a trusted, pre-screened process server is an important first step, as trusted networks provide a contact outside of the server to hold them accountable if something goes wrong.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when hiring a process server:
- Verify the process server’s license or registration and association membership. Though not all states require process servers to be licensed, it’s important to check.
- Ask the process server if they have an Errors and Omissions (E&O) policy or bond.
- Check the process server’s website for more insight on the company.
- Complete an Internet search for the company’s name and ‘complaints’. This will help you establish if they have any unsatisfied clients and if so, what they’ve done to fix their mistakes.
- Ask about their experience, how long they have been in business, whether or not they have an area of expertise and their service history. Keep in mind that a 100% success rate is not realistic.
- Ask for recommendations and testimonials. These will give you insight on the process server’s customer service style and whether or not they have happy customers.
- Consider the fees and ask about additional costs for multiple attempts and mileage. Remember that you get what you pay for, and standard cost for a non-rush is fairly inexpensive when you consider what is being performed.
- Once you’ve hired the process server, make sure you give specific service instructions, including the who, what and where of the serve. Explain your preferred method of receiving updates, your deadline and any other relevant information.
- It’s always a good idea to verify the details and get them in writing. Outline the service fee, additional fees, number of attempts, court filing, deadlines and other information and confirm with an email.
- Don’t send the process server the only copy of your documents, as it’s important for you to maintain your own records
The Process Server vs. Sheriff study makes it clear that in most cases it is of benefit to hire a process server rather than a sheriff, and if you follow these guidelines you will likely have a positive experience in having your legal documents served. It’s important to consider all factors and requirements of your serve when choosing the right professional for your needs. For more information and for the full infographic, visit ServeNow.com.
As Director of Marketing and Multimedia, Kimberly sets strategy for outreach, distribution, social media, and network growth, and manages multimedia production for the network. She has a Bachelor of Science with a background in design, marketing, production, editorial, and operations and strategy. Kimberly consults with the production, operations, and tech teams on a variety of projects and initiatives. You can follow Kimberly on Twitter at @kimberlyfaber.