Venice, Italy… just before the flooding of November, 2019.

A highly relevant question comes up frequently when I’m handling a Hague Service project for my fellow lawyers:

What documents do I have to serve?

The genesis of the question is pretty straightforward– and completely reasonable.  Most litigators are unfamiliar with Hague doctrine, so they’re naturally unsure about what special paperwork has to be included in the packet.  Fortunately, it’s got a pretty easy answer (ie: “you tell me!”), but there is significant nuance behind that answer.  Aside from the request forms that must accompany the documents handed to the defendant, nothing else is necessary.  Because the Hague Service Convention goes to how documents are served– not what.   The “what” of the equation is determined by forum rules. 

Easiest way to illustrate the point: a garden-variety federal suit.

The list of what must be served is determined by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Rule 4 in particular) and the forum court’s local rules. So, if you would have to serve a particular document in New York or Los Angeles or Atlanta, you also have to serve it in Mexico City or Amsterdam or Venice.  Rule 4 requires only the summons and the complaint– bearing in mind that exhibits are part of the complaint– and in most federal districts, that’s all.

Sure, common practice may include service of a civil cover sheet or ADR program guide or (gasp) a particular judge’s Rules of Civility.  However, if there isn’t a “thou shalt serve XYZ” mandate, omit it.  Just because we’ve always done it that way is not a good enough reason to bear unnecessary costs– which I’ll get to in a moment.  But local rules may affirmatively require that you serve a civil cover sheet or ADR program guide or Rules of Civility (several districts require extras).  Those rules don’t distinguish whether a defendant is in the U.S. or abroad, which can cause problems– big problems if translation is required.

If your defendant is in London, no biggie.  I might charge a small printing fee if you have more than 50 or 60 pages (some rule pamphlets are a hundred pages long) but the cost isn’t unbearable.  Let’s say your defendant is in Berlin or Beijing, though.  Translation becomes a necessary part of the equation, regardless of the defendant’s competence in English, so that 100-page set of rules might cost you $10,000 to translate.  That’s a pretty penny.  So hold down the costs by omitting anything that isn’t required.  And if you just think it’s required, peruse the rules– or ask the clerk to cite the rule that mandates it.