For real. This is a screenshot of the registry for the biggest company in England. Handy to have when you need to serve.

Say what you will about law professors– the best ones always hammer on the most important mantras that soon-to-be lawyers must internalize even before the bar exam.

  • Don’t have (relations) with your client. [Sadly, yes, it’s still necessary to say this.]
  • Don’t steal your client’s money. [Still necessary to say this, too.]
  • Keep reading. [This is one that I’m constantly telling clients to remind the judge about!]

But the biggest one:

  • BUILD A RECORD. [This one is prescient in my particular niche of niches.]

I cannot overstate how vital an accurate address is in serving a defendant. The most important question in what we do here is “where?” It doesn’t matter whether that defendant is a major offshore pharmaceutical manufacturer or a foreign tourist who rear-ended the plaintiff at a stop light, if you can’t substantiate the defendant’s address, I can’t substantiate service— all I can do is say that my people delivered the summons and complaint to the address provided by plaintiff’s counsel. I can’t properly cite a foreign jurisdiction’s applicable rule, I can’t help the court conclude that service was effective, and I can’t protect you from a 12(b)(5) motion. Even worse, if we don’t know the defendant’s address, the Hague Service Convention doesn’t apply.

An interesting situation arose recently as we were trying to serve a foreign* corporation and one of its owners. My client, plaintiff’s counsel (all of my clients are lawyers, and primarily plaintiffs’ lawyers), gave me the service address and, as is our usual practice, we pulled the company’s registry.

Lo and behold, the address my client gave me was nowhere to be found in that registry– nor was there a current entry for the company either– which creates quite a quandary. So I asked my client where he got the defendant’s address.

“From its website, of course.”

Outstanding! Shoot me a screenshot and we can tie everything up with a pretty little bow.

“Well, see, what happened was… “

No screenshot.

Now, I have no doubt that the purported address was correct. I likewise have no doubt that my client did his homework before he filed the suit. When I checked the address in Google Maps, it popped up straightaway– Street View showed a nice house in a nice neighborhood– but the company’s website was dead as a doornail and a regular Google search for the company produced nada. Its prior corporate registry said something entirely different. And unfortunately, the rules of the jurisdiction in which we had to serve it don’t allow for “nail & mail” service– even on a corporation. Even though the address might have been correct, we couldn’t substantiate it for the court.

Had it been a bigger company, like this one…

… we’d have been just fine. Shell’s website pairs up perfectly with the British government’s corporate registry.

Mercifully, I had a top flight agent in the foreign jurisdiction, and he pulled screenshots from the Wayback Machine to substantiate the location. But it could have ended very badly (ie: dismissal for failure to serve) for my client.

Build the record, y’all.

* Foreign in the “you need a passport to go there” sense– not in the “across State Line Road” sense.