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Sunday, March 18, 2012

ADAPT OR DIE

Adapt or Die


Whether you are running a process serving agency or you are a process server on the street, the changes that have occurred in recent years are very evident. The new tools and advances in technology that have benefited the industry are numerous, here are just a few; Smart Phones, Scanners, Email, GPS, the Internet, WiFi hot spots, Process Serving Management software applications, modern Skip Tracing tools, etc…

If you are running a process serving agency, the use of printed CrissCross directories is no longer necessary. Typing a proof or affidavit of service is very rare occurrence. The use of hanging file folder system to monitor pending assignments is almost unheard of in a modern office.

If you are a process server on the street, the use of map books is almost entirely a thing of the past. Having to drive to the client’s office to pick up documents in many instances is no longer a requirement but rather an obstacle. Responding to a pager and having to find a pay phone to call the office is unheard of these days.

These are only a few examples of how things have changed, yet at its core the task we perform is largely unchanged. For example, we still have the need to intake, manage, monitor, assign, serve, report, document, and bill for all the things we do while performing our duties as a process server or process serving agency. How we get all those things accomplished is the difference. That is to say the march of technology has allowed us to perform the core task more efficiently than ever before. How we attract new customers and interact with existing customers is changing all the time.

I would argue that the most successful amongst us have adapted their policies, procedures, practices in a way that has enabled us to create efficiencies, remain competitive and bring value to all the aspects necessary to properly execute the act of serving process.

Many in the process serving industry are reporting that they are serving fewer Summon and Complaints going to corporate entities and Registered Agents. There are also many process serving agencies that are reporting that they are serving fewer Subpoenas’ as well. That business did not just disappear overnight. Over the last ten years the business services have been slowly eroding and going digital.

Those among us who do not embrace change and leverage the opportunities to evolve, risk remaining relevant. Do you want to join the ranks of jobs, professions, products and services that are becoming extinct?

FACT- Almost every segment of the business world today has been significantly impacted by technology that disrupts the manner in which products and services are made, delivered, marketed, and sold. This disruption can and has completely eliminated entire segments of businesses in a relatively short period of time. A great example of that in the legal support profession is what has happened to traditional legal messenger and courier companies. Those that catered to picking up and delivering legal documents to the federal courts and some instances state court (Colorado and very soon Florida) as well as several large county court systems (Philadelphia County PA, Kings County, WA, and Clark County, NV) around the country were forced to evolve or they most assuredly ceased to exist. The advent of electronic filing poses both a threat and an opportunity. Yet very few traditional court filing providers found a way to evolve in a way that allowed them to retain a role in the electronic court filing business.

Take an honest look at what has happened to many professions… Travel Agents, Stock Brokers, Insurance Agents, The Newspaper and Magazine industry, Video stores, Music stores, Toll Booth Operators, the list goes on and on. The point is it would be na├»ve and perhaps dangerous to think that what has happened to these industries in the last ten years could not happen to us.

In my view one of the most alarming trends by our customers is the practice of bypassing process servers in favor of other means of delivering legal documents. Many corporations large and small have started to implement a practice that is threatening the very existence of process servers. Specifically, I am referring to the practice of allowing parties to a case to use the US Postal Service, FedEx, Facsimile, Email and other electronic means for delivery of legal documents to parties and non-parties. The laws that govern service of process are largely unchanged; some might argue that they have not kept pace the changing business world. Yet the practice exists and goes unchallenged.

I have heard some process servers say we don’t have anything to worry about until the laws change to allow eService. It is true that there not many laws or statutes on the books that explicitly allow electronic service. That said, it is not stopping lawyers and companies from adopting practices that they think are more efficient or effective. Like it or not, the shift away from traditional manner of service of process is well underway. In time, the rules and statutes will be forced to evolve in order to harmonize with the practices that have been and will be adopted.

Sewer Service troubles only contribute to the image of process servers and could contribute to parties seeking other options to give notice – electronic means may seem farfetched for collection papers. But when you consider that the Federal Trade Commission recently held a round table to explore alternative ways that collectors can communicate with debtors. The topic of electronic communication was front and center.

I started this article by asking the question; how has the process serving profession changed. I believe that I have just scratched the surface in this article. Perhaps the better question is – What are you doing to insure that your business and the process serving industry remains relevant?



How do we insure we remain relevant?

None of us can claim to predict the future accurately. But we can make some observations about what we see happening in our industry and in others. These observations can help shed some light on what the future is likely to hold for the process serving industry. Do your state and national associations have a role to play here? Perhaps they do, but the best that I think that you can hope for from your association is to educate you on the impending changes so you can make informed decisions about your individual future. Do not fall into the trap that everything is just fine. I contend it is ultimately up to each process server or process serving agency to be responsible for insuring they remain relevant. Educate yourself pay attention to what matters to your customers, attend legal technology conferences and challenge yourself to re-invent your business. Rest assured that if you don’t someone else will.