LaurMG via Wikimedia Commons.

Seriously.  It doesn’t exist.

At least, not in the common law world.  Sure, in civil law jurisdictions it might, depending on your definition of informality, but in those places, “informal” is a term of art, and it relies entirely on the defendant’s willingness to play nice with others (not to mention the foreign government’s willingness to let it happen).  Let’s be honest here– if the defendant were going to play nice, then he’d just waive and service wouldn’t be necessary anyway, formalities be damned.

The very nature of serving process– particularly from a due process perspective– requires at least a minimum of formalism.  Mullane says so.  Some examples:

  • Plaintiff’s counsel hires an agent or a sheriff’s deputy to hand documents to a defendant’s wife at their home.
  • An agent or sheriff’s deputy lays documents on the desk of a registered agent and then swears out an affidavit.
  • Plaintiff’s counsel specifically requests that the Clerk dispatch a mailer, requiring a signed receipt, in accordance with Rule 4(f)(2)(C)(ii).*
  • An absolute last resort: counsel publishes an advertisement in the legal notices section of the local paper,** if for no other reason than to “put the world on notice.”

All of these have some element of formality involved.

When your process server tells you that they can just have your overseas defendant served informally, they don’t know what they’re talking about.  What they really mean is that, depending on the foreign country, you may be able to avoid involving a foreign government ministry by engaging a “competent person” under Article 10 of the 1965 Hague Service Convention.  It’s still formal, and if they don’t recognize that, be afraid.

* I still argue that mail service is a bad idea.  That doesn’t make it informal.

** Yes, yes, I know.  Nobody reads the legal notices section in the paper anymore.  To be sure, nobody reads THE PAPER anymore.  Even in 1950, service by publication was a legal fiction, and that was one of the Mullane decision’s biggest issues.