Modern technologies are shaping the way we live and work today. Mobile phones, cloud storage solutions and electronic transmission of data are commonly used by consumers and businesses alike to speed the flow of information. The legal industry is no exception to this trend; tablets and centralized storage are used in law practices across the country to share information and to support the efforts of attorneys in the courtroom setting. Technological advances are even changing the way Houston process servers perform their duties on behalf of attorneys. Here are three factors to consider when planning to implement electronic process of service for your law firm.
Still in the Development Stages
Federal Rule 4(f)(3) allows for the use of electronic service by email primarily for cases in which witnesses or defendants are located in a foreign country and are unreachable by any practical and available means. This is generally referred as alternate service of process and has been used in several instances to notify foreign companies of legal actions pending against them. Not all documents are suitable for electronic service:
- In some instances, all parties to the case must agree to the use of electronic delivery for pertinent documentation.
- Courts can also require electronic service for documents that do not require personal service and that can be sent via mail, fax or overnight delivery if not transmitted electronically.
- Receipts are generally required to ensure that the electronically delivered messages have been opened and read by the intended recipients.
- Evidence that the person to be served is familiar with the technology can also play a role in the decision to serve via email or text. A recent case involving a temporary protective order cited the repeated use of text messages by the defendant; as a result, the notice of this court order was delivered by text message as the most effective means of reaching the individual involved.
Some states allow the use of email to deliver documents when all other methods have failed; others provide for its use as a primary method to contact parties to a case initially.
Widespread Use Is Still in the Future
The limited use of electronic process service methods is likely to remain the status quo for the foreseeable future. While the adoption of email by consumers as a primary form of communication is a practical fact in most areas of the U.S., not all users of this technology check their messages on a regular basis. Additionally, proof of service is somewhat more difficult to obtain through electronic means. While return receipt services are generally available for most email programs, they are not yet as reliable as the proof offered by Texas process servers.
Advantages of Electronic Process of Service
Electronic process of service can reduce the time needed to reach out to witnesses and other parties. This can substantially reduce the workloads of in-house staff members and can lower the costs of outsourcing litigation support activities for legal firms. Additionally, the rise of social media sites, including Facebook, have made it possible to verify the identity of individuals and to send them messages even when their current physical whereabouts are unknown. This can constitute a major benefit for Texas litigation support firms and for attorneys alike.
While electronic process of service is not expected to become a standard part of the legal industry immediately, the integration of modern technologies has already begun to change the landscape of modern law practices. By taking steps to familiarize yourself and your staff with the precedents and current standards for this new method of process service, you can ensure the most proactive response if and when these advanced communication strategies are implemented on a larger and more comprehensive scale.