Two or three times a week, I’ll get an email or phone call from a civilian (ie: somebody wise enough to have avoided taking a bar exam) seeking help with a cross-border issue. The majority are pro se spouses (or ex-spouses) who need help serving a divorce action or petition to modify custody or child support. Quite often, it’s a business owner in conflict with an overseas supplier. Occasionally, it’s an injured party seeking damages from a foreign* manufacturer or visiting driver from abroad.
In each and every case, I tell the caller, “have your attorney get in touch with me and I’ll be happy to help.” Their responses usually come in one of four forms:
- Will do. You should hear from her tomorrow.
- I don’t need a (*!@&ing) lawyer. Go (*!@&) yourself.
[I have no problem hanging up on these guys. Yes, they’re universally men, in my experience.]
- I can’t afford a lawyer.
[This one truly is heartbreaking, but I still can’t risk advising them, so I suggest contacting Legal Aid.]
- I’ve tried to find somebody to help me, but they don’t understand the Hague and they’re afraid to take my case.
It’s this fourth one that most bothers me, because there’s no good reason for it. There are any number of highly capable specialists** who can advise lawyers of every stripe on a host of niche questions. There are a couple of us who handle service abroad almost exclusively.
Recognizing that there might be 137 different reasons to decline a representation, an offshore defendant shouldn’t automatically be one of them. All other factors being equal, take the case, and then avail yourself of the resources available to you. The Hague Service Convention doesn’t have to be the daunting, 800-pound gorilla it’s reputed to be. At the risk of sounding all sales-pitchy, you’ve got three ways to go:
- Tap us on the shoulder for bespoke attention — or tap somebody on the shoulder for help,
- Cruise over to the Hague Envoy platform at USM94.com to automate the completion of your Hague forms, or
- If you’re feeling froggy & are confident enough to handle it yourself with a bit of guidance, see “How to Complete a Form USM-94” for a step-by-step primer. It lays out the framework you’ll need.
But above all, don’t decline a case merely because you don’t know everything there is to know about tagging offshore defendants.
That’s what we’re here for.
* It’s a term of art. Here, I mean foreign in the “you need a passport to go there” sense, rather than the “across State Line Road” sense.
** The word “specialist” is a minefield for Missouri attorneys. It causes myriad headaches in our bar, and others– but the simple fact is that lawyers specialize. Unless you’re a small-town generalist, specialization is the only way to make a go of it as a lawyer in the 21st century. There’s certainly merit to the restriction: if a lawyer says they specialize in XYZ, and they really don’t know much about XYZ but birddog cases to refer out to somebody else for a fee, that’s bad. But the truth is, I’m far more honest if I say I specialize in something– and accept work only in that field– than if I just put up a website that says “Lawyer!” and lead the public to think I can handle anything that comes my way. We can call ourselves experts (just as questionable), and we can say our “practice is limited to XYZ,” but each says something different.