Altstadt, Düsseldorf. Image by qwesy qwesy, via Wikimedia Commons.
Altstadt, Düsseldorf. Image by “qwesy qwesy” via Wikimedia Commons.

Serving process abroad touches virtually every aspect of civil litigation.

It happens all the time.  I’ll give a lecture or mention what I do at a bar association event, and the colleague I just met will express appreciation for what I do, tell me it’s a really neat niche, and then try to convince himself that our practice areas don’t overlap.  I’m here to tell you that, yes, they do.  The conversation usually goes something like this:

Sorry, Aaron.  I handle creditors’s rights cases, not immigration.  But thanks for doing that CLE.  You’re a funny guy.  (Funny how?  I’m a clown?  I amuse you?)  No, I mean I really like how you got that picture of that Ned Stark guy into your slide deck!

This is Boromir, from the Fellowship of the Ring. It is not Ned Stark.
This is Boromir, from the Fellowship of the Ring. It is not Ned Stark.  But he appears in all of my CLE decks.

Wait a sec, there, pal.  First of all… immigration?  You’re kidding, right?  You did just sit through my lecture on international law, right?  Those are not the same concepts.  (He’s not kidding, sadly.)

Second of all (setting my incredulity aside), let’s say you do handle collections exclusively, no visa applications ever.  What if you’re pursuing a German debtor?  (Let’s call him Dieter just for fun.)

What if Dieter bought a car financed by your client, wrecked it, and moved back to Düsseldorf the next day?  Dieter’s return to the fatherland has thrown a Mjölnir-sized monkey wrench into your otherwise straightforward plan.  You still have to initiate the proceedings, and that’s not going to be as easy as just tossing the complaint into a FedEx envelope and jetting it off to the address listed on Dieter’s MySpace page.  Serving process in Germany requires a very particular procedure.

Or what if the debtor is not Dieter from Dusseldorf– let’s say it’s Stan the soldier from Sacramento– and the Army has just sent him to Stuttgart for three years?  Stan’s status as a soldier serving overseas* makes things even more complicated than if you were serving a German citizen.

Woe be to the lawyer who doesn’t do it the right way.  The nightmare scenario really is frightening (you might win a default, but good luck enforcing it… and good luck overcoming the malpractice complaint).  And it is easily avoided if the litigant and the attorney are patient and understand what requirements they must observe beyond just the rules of the venue court.

The point here is that serving process abroad touches virtually every aspect of civil litigation, and if the plaintiff doesn’t do it properly…

THIS is Ned Stark.
THIS is Ned Stark.

* Hat tip to Monty Python.  Don’t practice your alliteration on me.