For the better part of two decades, software solutions seemed to have been on the cusp of revolutionizing the U.S. market for online process serving.
With low barriers to entry and huge order demand, the rise of an “Uber for process serving”—in which customers seamlessly order from top-rated contractors across the country—seemed like only a matter of time.
Yet as we enter 2024, change has come only gradually.
While several national process serving portals are currently vying for their share of the market, no dominant player has implemented anything comparable to the Uber model. In fact, many law firms who serve regularly have become entrenched in the tried-and-true methods they used 15 years ago—calling up their trusted local process server directly to place each order.
To understand why process serving technology adoption remains grounded, InfoTrack conducted research on the state of online process serving in the summer of 2023. Our findings culminated in a survey of 247 legal professionals and a 90-minute focus group with seven legal professionals and one process server.
Among our findings, we noted that trust remains a key barrier to the long-expected Saas takeover of the U.S. process serving market. Without it, no amount of cost savings or convenience improvements seem likely to drive a wedge between law firms and the servers they know.
Sticking with what’s familiar
Each focus group participant cited a slightly different way of establishing trust with a server.
But for many legal professionals, nothing beats the experience of working with a process server you know and have used in the past.
“We have a tendency to be very loyal to process servers,” explained Participant 5, a family law paralegal from Texas. “If we find someone that we love, we will use them almost exclusively in the area that they process serve.”
Participant 8, a paralegal for an Illinois personal injury firm, agreed: “It’s just based on… ‘We used them in the past. They’re doing their job. Let’s keep using them.’”
When firms did seek out new servers—for example, when serving a party outside their preferred vendor’s coverage area—they typically put a premium on recommendations from other legal professionals.
These recommendations might come from speaking directly to other paralegals and legal secretaries, or posting in their regional Facebook groups or bar association listservs.
Typically, participants described singling out specific agencies rather than relying on national providers, especially if the provider did not give them a dedicated point of contact for status updates.
As Participant 5 put it, “I don’t want to do a gamble… that I may or may not get a good server.”
Participant 1, a California paralegal/litigation manager, cited another critical reason choice is so important, saying, “In some cases, firms must comply with an approved vendor list provided by the client.
She added: “With limited or no visibility into who is actually executing the serve through a national process serving provider, there’s no way for a firm to demonstrate that they have complied.”
Obstacles to service
Interestingly, ‘choice of server’ was also cited as the most common weakness of survey participants’ current providers, with 40 percent placing it in their top three.
This factor was closely followed by “broad coverage,” reinforcing the notion that many firms still engage primarily with servers that cover only a limited area.
Rounding out the top three weaknesses was “communication during service attempts,” which focus group participants identified as a drawback of relying on local servers.
Several focus group participants shared that they don’t require much communication until the job is completed, while several complained of getting far too many email updates from national providers that were difficult to interpret.
“Sometimes [my attorneys] do want to know where it’s at in the process and they’re looking for an update,” said Participant 6, a legal assistant for a large national law firm. “But I’d rather have somewhere to go to pull that off of versus being getting overwhelmed with [following up].”
Participant 3 agreed that she’d rather be able to check the current status in an online portal for each service job than get peppered with notifications.
They said, “I just don’t need any more emails.”
A majority of the seven legal professionals agreed they’d like to have a web page for monitoring status updates from their server, chiefly so they could provide updates on the job if asked by an attorney.
The same majority of legal professionals also stressed that being able to directly contact the server without a middleman was a critical aspect of working with local servers that they’d like to see mirrored in the ideal national service solution.
Building a better solution
The fact that many of these issues are cited as top weaknesses suggests that many U.S. law firms are aware of the sacrifice of convenience they are making so they can continue to use local servers they trust.
At InfoTrack, our technology has always been designed to cooperate seamlessly with our customers’ existing processes. We’ve taken a similar approach with our process serving solution, ServeIT, letting our customers add and place orders from their favorite process servers within our platform.
ServeIT fuses the choice of server law firms want with the convenience of a modern, online ordering platform. Like all InfoTrack products, it integrates with your practice management system of choice to make sure documents, information, and expenses sync effortlessly to the correct matter.