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While lawyers now work on transactions online, conduct discovery electronically and communicate through BlackBerrys, there is still one practice that remains in the dark ages — the business of serving papers in a litigation. Serve-em.com, a small company in Palm Beach, Fla., has now found a way to at least partially automate the process of serving. State and federal courts mandate that parties serve witnesses, as well as opposing parties, when initiating a case. Because the rules and standards for serving papers and summons vary from state to state, and county to county, lawyers typically rely on local companies to do the serving. This translates into paper and grunt work for paralegals and associates. They may have to hunt down the local rules for serving papers and then find a local company that can do it — quickly. Alan Crowe, administrator of the National Association of Professional Process Servers, explains that process service is still a low-tech, mom-and-pop market because local rules are so complex and varied, and in many cases, behind the times. Some states still require sheriffs or court officers to serve. Others let private companies do it. Robert Gibson, Serve-em.com’s CEO, began working with a company that handled process service in the mid-1990s. “I found out that there was virtually no automation,” he says. In the early 1990s, he had developed a database for the real estate industry. He never struck it rich in real estate, but the technology became the backbone for Serve-em.com. Serve-em.com acts as a clearinghouse for process servers around the country and the world. Lawyers can order process servers online, over the phone or by fax. To start the process online, an attorney simply logs on to the company’s site at www.serve-em.com and punches in the address of the party the lawyer wants to serve. About 20 percent of Serve-em.com’s customers start the process online, says Gibson. The rest do it by phone or fax. Attorneys can then fax or e-mail the papers to be served. Serve-em.com has relationships with local process servers who handle the physical part of the job. Serve-em.com’s database contains 4,200 service companies. It can automatically find an individual process server in a specific location. The National Association of Professional Process Servers, at www.napps.com, also has an online database of process servers in different jurisdictions. However, the attorney must call and arrange the service himself. Serve-em.com does this automatically. The company charges $98 to serve a party, or $196 for an expedited (48-hour) service. Lawyers can also track the status of the service online. This works much like online tracking of a FedEx package. Simply plug your case number into the Web site and Serve-em.com will come up with a description of the paper trail. In addition, when a paper has been served — or not — the attorney receives immediate notification by e-mail, fax or phone. Lawyers may accept e-mail confirmations from Federal Express for their holiday shopping orders, but when it comes to serving papers, they want a phone call. “The familiarity of a live voice is still important to lawyers,” Gibson says. Still, e-mail notifications take lawyers step-by-step through the process. When Pierre-Yves Kolakowski, an associate in the Greenwich, Conn., office of New York’s Zeichner Ellman & Krause, used Serve-em.com to summon a witness in London, e-mail notifications were helpful, he says, because the witness could not be located. “It confirmed our suspicion that this was a fictitious person,” he says.

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