Are You Asking Who Pays Us or How We Charge?
For as unique as process serving is, it is a job like any other and we do get paid for our work. Exactly who pays us and how our fees are usually structured, though, seems to be a bit of a mystery to people outside our industry.
If you want to know how a process server charges for service, keep reading.
Process Server Fees: How We Get Paid
Every process serving company has its own fee structure. We will outline a few of the most common ways process servers get paid. This isn’t to say there aren’t other ways, these are just the most common.
1) Per Serve
Some servers only charge you if they actually serve the paper. You don’t pay if they don’t get it served. At first glance, this might seem to be the ideal solution, but there’s a HUGE problem with it: you are giving the server an incentive to lie about having served your papers. After many attempts with no luck, the server is out a lot of time and money. Unless those papers get served, he’s not going to see a penny. See the problem? Servers like these are the ones who make headlines and give us a bad name. If a process server tells you they only get paid if the papers get served, run.
2) Per Attempt
Other servers charge for every attempt they make. If the papers are served on the first attempt, you pay less. If they make a dozen attempts, you pay a lot more. This style of fee structure can also pose ethical problems as it’s suddenly in the server’s interest to make a lot of halfhearted attempts to serve the paper.
3) Per Mile
There aren’t a lot of servers who charge by the mile, but they do exist. These servers will figure out how far the service address is from their office and charge accordingly. Sometimes they’ll only charge you for one round trip. Other times they might charge you for every attempt. Generally, you’re better off if the server only charges for one round trip because then you’ll know exactly how much service will cost in advance and there’s no reason to pad the attempt logs.
4) Flat Rate with Some Add-Ons
This is how we charge, so we might be biased, but it’s clearly the best arrangement for servers and our clients. Whether your papers are served or not and regardless of the number of attempts that are made, you are charged a flat rate for service. This eliminates any incentive to lie about service or make bogus attempts. You know what the fee will be in advance so there are no surprises. There can be a few add on charges, like making attempts at more than one address, making it a rush order or serving multiple people on the same case, but these will be disclosed up front.
In case you’re afraid this fee structure gives the server no strong reason to serve your paper, have some faith in professional pride. Reputable serving companies are keenly aware of their servers’ success rates. At Southeast, we push our servers to achieve a 90%+ serve rate, some of us are actually in 95%+ territory and we have a couple of servers who are at nearly 100%. Don’t worry that a flat rate service fee lowers the chance of your paper being served.
There’s no single way that all servers get paid. Just make sure you understand how your server charges before you have them attempt any papers. If you are struggling to find a local server you can trust, give us a ring. We have nationwide server coverage and will be glad to help.
Short Answer: By the Person Asking Us to Serve the Papers
The paper trail behind our paychecks can get rather long, making it a bit confusing for people outside the legal sphere. The shortest answer for who pays us to serve papers is the person or company giving us the papers to serve.
Whether it’s a law firm or a pro se individual, the party that hires us to serve the paper is almost always the party that pays us. However, the money trail is much longer than that.
Slightly Longer Answer: By Whoever Retained the Person Who Hired Us
The actual named parties in a case are not the only people who give us papers. In many instances, there are attorneys or civil agencies in between. When this happens, the check we see will normally come from this third party, but it’s actually the entity named on the case that is paying.
In instances where somebody other than a named party (i.e. the plaintiff or defendant) in the case gives us the papers, it’s really that named party who pays us.
So, if you hired a lawyer to represent you in a case, the lawyer is most likely the person who is giving us the papers to serve. While the check for the service fee may come from the attorney’s office, really it’s you who is paying for service. The attorney is just advancing the fee or has it rolled into the total cost of legal representation. For those who think racking up the service fee is a good way to get back at whoever is suing them read on.
The Longest Answer: By the Person We’re Serving
This is where it gets a bit difficult. Many courts allow parties to recover process serving costs as part of the case’s final monetary judgment. All the service fees on the case get rolled into the final amount the defendant must pay to the plaintiff, should the plaintiff prevail. This means that all the service fees are ultimately the defendant’s responsibility.
This is why it’s usually a good idea to cooperate with service.
The court will see the service fee listed on the affidavit of service and it will get added to the final judgment total. When the defendant eventually pays the plaintiff, they will pay back the service fee.
Very important note: the server will NEVER ask you, the person being served, to pay them.
While you will eventually end up paying the service fee, you will NEVER be asked to give money to the server. The service fee will be rolled into the final judgment that you pay to the plaintiff, who has already paid us. If you are told by a server that you need to pay them, you are most likely being scammed. For more information, please read our article on Fake Process Serving Scams.
Wait, Process Servers Get Paid Three Times per Serve?
No, not at all. We only get paid once and it’s almost always by the person who gives us the papers. But if you look into how the legal system works, you see that the money is ultimately coming from the defendant in many cases. This may seem like an overly complicated explanation of how process servers get paid, but it is important to understand.
Plaintiffs can rest assured there are ways to get their money back for service fees. It is not a sunk cost, it’s often recoverable. For defendants, the important thing to remember is it’s normally in your best interest to cooperate with service.
By making the process server’s job easier, you can often keep service costs down. Process servers normally charge additional fees for each extra address attempted. If the server has to run all over the place to serve you, expect a higher service fee to be tacked onto the final judgment amount. If, on the other hand, you arrange for service at a mutually agreeable time and location, you can help keep the service fee down.