Process Serving: Ethical Dilemmas and Scenarios
Recorded on June 30th with Kimberly Hamilton
This webinar was presented as a part of the ServeNowEDU Webinar series. To watch other previously recorded webinars and to register for upcoming webinars, visit ServeNowEDU.
Let’s start at a high level here, then get into ethics in process serving. What is a good definition of ethics and When we refer to business ethics what are we generally talking about, and why are they important in business?
I’ve attended classes where the philosophy and definitions of ethics has gone on for hours. I am willing to bet most of us have and do not care to do so again.So basically, it can be summed up whiling remaining short and sweet. It is good vs bad, right vs wrong, vice vs virtue. When thinking of ethical decisions, think about what good is going to come from this, what harm will it have and who is it going to benefit and who will it have a negative impact on. If you keep these simple things in mind when faced with faced with a dilemma, you are guiding yourself to making the best possible and hopefully, easier decision, either personally or with your business.
Having high standards of ethics and good practices is crucial to the success of any business. Why? For one, it helps attract new clients; how many key advertising words are linked to ethical behavior? Look at business websites, what words do you see over and over again? (professional, trustworthy, dependable, honest, accountable, dedicated, reliable, great customer service, committed, competent, ) All these terms are used to instill the idea that this company is the one you should hire ; Referrals are also important to success, these may come from other PS companies, lawyers, other types of clients, but it is the same thing, you want them to use your services; Client loyalty, which is making the new client into a regular client and is very crucial. All that hard work of obtaining a new client should not be wasted; High ethical standards reduces the risk of negative backlash or “doing the wrong thing”, it prevents that bad reputation, which we all can probably think of one process serving company that we know that has a bad reputation. Do you want to be THAT company? Setting the standards for employees. If you hire people to work in your office or to serve for you then you need to be clear in what you believe are best practices, as they are a direct reflection upon your company. I can’t tell you how many times I have spoken with someone who answered the phone who was rude or did not have a clue on what they were talking about. Do I remember that persons name? No, I remember the company name. Clients want and NEED to know the companies that they hire know right from wrong, will do the right things, get the service done and will not make their company look bad for hiring them.
It seems obvious that process servers should be held to higher than normal standards when it comes to ethics. But, let’s talk about the reasons why for a moment. Why should our audience prioritize ethical practices.
We as process servers are serving legal documents, summonses, complaints, subpoenas, notices, orders and other court issues to individuals involved in one way or another with a lawsuit. Being involved in any lawsuit on any level is not usually a welcome or pleasant experience for most people. We are delivering documents related to personal financial matters, family situations such as child support, divorces, estate issues, and situations in which they may be trying to run and hide from. Process serving is an industry that practicing high ethical standards is a must: Dealing with other people’s personal business is not an area that can be compromised or jeopardized due to lack of professionalism, respect, and honesty. Our names, once we sign that affidavit become an important part of the judicial process and we must be prepared to sit in front of a judge on any given case we have worked and be able to be accountable for all our actions. We have to make sure that we have done our jobs in a professional, respectful and legal manner at all times.
Not having a strong set of ethical guidelines and procedures is very dangerous to your company, yourself personally and your employees and clients. Serving papers is not the same every time, we run into all kinds of individuals, clients and situations. Often there is no clear answer or easy way to do things. Often there are times in which the easiest answer is not the right answer. But by practicing high ethical standards and gaining confidence through making the right decisions, being a process server with dignity, values, and principles will be very easy.
When you are teaching your course on ethics what are some of the guiding principles, and how do those translate to the business of process serving?
There are 6 principles that I have found to be very useful and help form the basis of business ethics: honesty, integrity, obeying the law, respect, excellence, accountability. If these 6 principles are implemented into your business matters as well as your personal life, being ethical and doing the right things should never be a challenge.
The first one, honesty is pretty much a no brainer and being honest with yourself and all involved is a must. Remember, we work in an industry in which we may have to testify in court on any paper we serve. Being dishonest can land you in a world of trouble and in court, and possibly in jail.
Integrity, Your integrity is how you gain trust from anyone you encounter. You gain trust by doing the right thing in all situations and also having the courage to do the right things.
Obeying the Law
This too, is a must and should be a no-brainer, common sense. But we know that there are companies out there that will push the limits, even legal ones to get the serve done, make money, deal with competitors and other aspects of their job. There is no paper worth serving nor a client with enough money that would get me do something illegal.
Respect is one principle I see lacking, not only with our industry, but with a lot of professionals and individuals. “Do unto others as you would have done unto you” seems to be a forgotten concept. Respect should be given because everyone deserves fair and equal treatment. Role playing is a good tool to utilize when it comes to respecting others. Just think of each person you deal with, either a client, attorney, paralegal, business owner, process server, person we are serving or the resident of the home as your mother, father, spouse, son, daughter….how would you want them to be treated in that situation? If someone was serving them papers, what tone of voice would you want them to use, what choice of words, what behaviour would you want them to use? You would want them to be treated with the greatest respect at all times. This in turn, is how you should treat others.
I think this principle is the quickest one, if lacking that can destroy a ps company. If you fail to give excellent customer service to your clients, it will be very hard to stay in business. Most ps companies talk to other ps companies, share many of the same attorney clients, belong to the same associations and by not providing quality excellent quality service, news gets around to others very quickly. Providing excellence in every step of serving a paper makes good business sense. Your clients should be confident that they have hired the best person for that serve and you should feel that you do an excellent job from the start all the way to the finish.
Finally, accountability. We live in a time where it is the norm to blame others, to point fingers, to make excuses, go the easy route, sweep things under the rug and where responsibility for one’s own actions seems to be a disappearing act, Being ethical means holding yourself and your business accountable and responsible for every single action. It means owning up to a mistake, being honest, standing by your actions and keeping your word and promises. If you quote a client for 6 attempts in 7 days, then you better be doing just that.
Those are 6 basic principles that you should be incorporating into your daily routine and are a good, solid foundation for a successful business. They protect you from doing the wrong things and will impress those you work with when you choose to do the right things.
In talking to you leading up to today, it seems you get asked the question “What would you have done in this scenario?”, quite often. It’s a question that you can’t really answer without having been there, in the shoes of the process server. But, what are common scenarios you’re asked about, and what do you want process servers to consider in those scenarios?
I have compiled a list of Dilemmas and Scenarios that I have experienced myself or discussed with other servers over the past several years. I like to think and I like to make people think. I want the process server to think about how they would handle each of these situations and what steps they would take in making the right decision. So lets read off some of the scenarios.
A client calls you to cancel a serve. You are one minute away from the address where you will be attempting. Do you still charge? discount? Not charge at all?
A client prepays for a serve. Two weeks later, you receive a second check for that same job. What do you do with that check?
A client emails over documents and upon printing, you notice that the documents cannot be read, they are blurred and too light. The client says that is the only copy and to serve them anyway. What do you do?
You receive a paper for a business that you have attempted before and know it is a bad address and they closed their door several years ago. Do you go back again to the address or fill out the affidavit based on the info you know?