The majority of court systems in the world require both parties to a lawsuit be at least informed of the lawsuit before the action is allowed to proceed. In most cases, a party learns that an action is pending against him when he is served with court documents. A process agent is a person who is hired to execute that service.
How service must be executed is a matter of some controversy in the courts, and is not always consistent. Each legal system has its own specifications on what kind of service is appropriate and allowable. Under some laws, process must be served on a person directly in hand. Others allow documents to be left at a party’s known address, or permit service on family members or housemates. Sometimes, courts will also allow electronic service of process, through e-mail or otherwise.
Improper service is grounds for dismissing, or at least delaying, a lawsuit in most countries. Service is easy in cases where the parties are in close contact or expect the action, such as in an uncontested divorce. Most of the time, however, service is more difficult to execute. Sometimes lawyers will serve process themselves in order to ensure that is done properly. A lawyer’s time is costly, however. It is usually more economical — and often more efficient — to hire a process agent to carry out the service.
The job of process agent is not necessarily among the traditional legal professions, but it often requires a firm understanding of the law and the jurisdictional rules at play. In some jurisdictions, so long as a party gets the information, it does not matter how or through what means. In these places, anyone can be a process agent. Most countries require that agents at least be registered, however. A registered agent has usually received some basic training in appropriate service techniques, and is usually able to market himself freely to law firms and other agencies looking for an agent for service of process.
Most process agents work on cases that involve agency law or business law matters. They are often charged with locating the appropriate individual to serve, and executing that service within a set amount of time. Sometimes, the process agent also has to act as a sort of detective. This is particularly true when a defendant is evasive and does not want to receive service.
Service of process is more complicated in cross-border matters. In order to serve process on a defendant who is outside of a court’s jurisdiction, a process agent must follow the rules and requirements set out in the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters. The Hague Convention is a treaty agreement governing cross-border court matters that most countries in the world have signed on to and ratified. Process agents are not usually qualified to serve international defendants without special training to become registered agents for service of process abroad.