What does "service of process" mean? It refers to the legal process for notifying a business that legal action has been taken against it.

Service of Process

If an individual or another company takes legal action against your business, that person or company must provide service of process to notify your business that the suit was filed. Each state has its own laws outlining the steps for service of process. In some states, the requirement is for a process server to hand-deliver a copy of the lawsuit paperwork, while other states require the court clerk to mail the paperwork.

The process server or court clerk who delivers the documentation of the lawsuit must make a record of the date the delivery was made, which is referred to as the "date of service." This date will determine the required deadline to file a response. When the delivery has been made, this is called the "service of process." You might also hear the phrase “service of process” used in reference to the delivery of additional legal documents, such as a subpoena that would require you to testify in a court of law. 

According to the definition in Black's Law Dictionary, service is considered to be the formal delivery of a summons, writ, or other legal note or process. Statutes in Texas designate that the secretary of state can serve as a process agent. This designation means that the secretary of state in Texas is legally authorized to accept service of process for someone else.

Under the secretary of state's Rule 71.21, local court regulations, the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, and other applicable laws, the secretary of state can serve as a process agent. These rules outline the regulations for serving someone with legal documents through the secretary of state.

When serving the secretary of state as the process agent, the process must be handled by:

  • A certified person under an order from the Supreme Court
  • A constable or sheriff
  • A person with written authorization from the court, aged 18 years or older
  • The court clerk where the case is pending (can be sent via USPS certified mail with a return receipt requested)
  • The party filing the lawsuit or their legally authorized representative (if sent by mail, it should be via USPS certified mail with a return receipt requested)
  • Any other individual who is authorized by law

Why Do I Need an Agent for Service of Process?

If your LLC or corporation is sued, the person taking legal action needs to know upon whom to process or serve the lawsuit paperwork. Business owners also need to be sure that they will receive notice of any legal action against their companies. For example, you wouldn't want your business's lawsuit paperwork to be delivered to a part-time receptionist who has already given notice of resignation. To avoid service to someone who isn't authorized to receive legal documents, every state has laws in place that require a business to designate someone to accept service of process on behalf of the business. 

The law requires every business entity to appoint and maintain an agent for the service of process. This agent must reside in the state of business formation. You must also appoint an additional agent for the service of process in each state where your business operates and is registered. Authorized process servers are responsible for making sure that all legal documentation is served in an appropriate and effective manner. 

If an individual wasn't legally made aware of a lawsuit through proper service of process, the court wouldn't be able to make a fair ruling. A lawsuit or case can be thrown out if the service is determined to be inappropriate, improper, or ineffective. The legal repercussions are great, so it's important to understand the laws in your state before serving a defendant.

What Does a Registered Agent for Service of Process Do?

A registered agent for service of process must accept all legal documents on behalf of a company. This agent, also called the statutory agent, is then responsible for forwarding all documents received to the proper person within the business. The public records for a business entity will include the registered agent's name and address. 

If you need help understanding what service of process means, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.