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What to Do When Served Legal Papers

Do's & Don'ts Upon Service of Legal Papers

in New York State

(Version 040707a)

Being served with legal papers can be frightening and stressful but do not worry -- if you are reading this, you are already on the right track.

The service of legal papers means that someone is giving you legal papers that require you to respond to, or be aware of, a legal matter.

Use of Legal Papers. Many legal matters involve the service of legal papers. The service of legal papers is also the way lawsuits are usually started. The service of legal papers could simply be a subpoena, which is a legal paper requiring you to appear at a designated time and place, usually a court or an attorney's office, to answer questions about a legal matter.

What is a Lawsuit? A lawsuit is usually a claim for damages in the form of money claimed to be owed by the defendant to the plaintiff for one or more legal reasons, for example, breach of contract, accident, assault, etc.

Infrequently, a lawsuit could be started to require the defendant to do or not do something, for example, sell the property that the defendant agreed to sell when the defendant signed a contract.

Losing a Lawsuit. If the defendant loses a lawsuit, usually the result is a judgment awarded by the court for a sum of money to be paid to the plaintiff by the defendant.

In the infrequent lawsuit where the defendant is required to do or not do something, the court will order the defendant who loses the lawsuit to do or not do what the plaintiff has requested.

Do Not Ignore Legal Papers. If you received legal papers, you may have been "sued". If you have been sued, and you ignore the papers, a judgment could be filed against you. If a judgment is filed against you, the judgment could ruin your credit and could result in the seizure of your property and your bank accounts.

In the infrequent lawsuit where the plaintiff wants you to do or not do something, if you ignore the legal papers and a judgment is filed against you, you could be arrested and jailed at least until you comply.

Dibble & Miller, P.C. Can Help. With the combined litigation experience of many years, the attorneys at Dibble & Miller, P.C., have protected and defended their clients in court against a wide range of matters involving legal papers and lawsuits.

If you are served legal papers, it is strongly recommended that you retain a lawyer immediately.

Do's & Don'ts Upon Receipt of Legal Papers. We have provided below some important suggestions to consider when you receive legal papers:

  1. Save Everything When You Receive Legal Papers. If the papers come in an envelope, be sure to save it too. Do not write on the papers that you receive, including the envelope. Your lawyer will want to see everything you get. A resourceful lawyer with complete information is a powerful ally.

    If someone hands you, or tries to hand you, legal papers, or leaves them in front of or by you, you have been served. Do not leave the papers behind, or throw them away, or not pick them up if they are dropped or left by you.

  2. Receive Multiple Copies? Sometimes the law requires that you be served in various ways, such as by regular and certified mail and by leaving a copy at your home or business. This is a normal practice to make sure you receive the papers and have time to prepare a response with your lawyer. Again, SAVE EVERYTHING!.

  3. Say Nothing.  Anything you say could be used against you. Your lawyer will know what to say or do after meeting with you and reading the papers, including possibly counter-suing if the papers are the start of a lawsuit.

    • Do not talk with a process server (if you want, you can say, "You'll hear from my lawyer!" if it makes you feel good).

    • Do not contact the person who sent you the papers.

    • If you are being sued, do not talk to the person or company who is suing you.

    • Do not talk to any lawyer who represents the adversary listed on the papers.

  4. Keep A Record of How You Got the Papers. Write down the time, date, place and how you received the legal papers, and, if possible, the name of the person (often called a process server) who delivered them (or a description of the person).  The name or description of the person who delivered papers may be helpful, but is not crucial if the information cannot be obtained.

  5. Make Notes of Any Facts About the Papers. Make notes of any information that you know about the subject matter of the papers.

    Any private record that you make with the intention of later showing it only to your lawyer (and that you do not share with anyone else) is privileged--no one else can see it and it cannot be used against you. Feel free to write down your thoughts so you can go over them with your lawyer.

  6. Do Not Ignore Legal Papers. In New York State and in Federal Courts, you could lose a lawsuit automatically or even be jailed if you ignore the time requirements set forth in certain legal papers.

  7. Protect Your Rights. You have MANY rights. Experienced lawyers, including the lawyers at our firm, spent years studying how to protect their clients even when the situation seems bad to the client.

  8. Find a Capable and Experienced Lawyer. You should find a lawyer you trust and can communicate well with as a person. If you are comfortable with the lawyer that you select, that's a good start.  Ask that lawyer if he or she has handled cases like yours. Ask that lawyer how he or she fought for and protected their client.

  9. Tell Your Lawyer Everything. You should tell your lawyer everything about the subject matter of the legal papers, do not hold back any information. If you do not want the lawyer to use certain information, tell the lawyer the information that you do not want to be used, and why you do not want it to be used.

    Discuss with your lawyer whether or not you are correct in holding back certain information. One of the worst things that can happen to a lawyer is to be "blind-sided" (by not knowing something that the other side knows or may find out) when the lawyer is attempting to resolve a legal matter. If the lawyer knows that certain information cannot be used, the lawyer can attempt to minimize the effect of not using the information.

  10. Initial Consultation at Dibble & Miller, P.C..  Our firm will waive the consultation fee for the first meeting and even speak with you by telephone at a time convenient to you (yes, we work nights and weekends too!). During the first meeting, we will attempt to provide the following information:

    • We will discuss the subject matter of the papers with you.

    • We will advise you of your legal rights.

    • We will give you a preliminary plan of how we will handle the subject matter of the papers.

    • We will give you our initial thoughts about the likelihood of the outcome of the subject matter of the papers.

    • We will estimate how much it will cost to handle the subject matter of the papers.

    • We will estimate the anticipated time it will take to complete the resolution of the subject matter of the papers.

    • We will give you a written document listing your rights as a client.

    • We will give you a written Retainer Agreement. This agreement will set forth in writing all of the financial obligations that we agree upon.

    • We will inform you of the computer services at our firm available to assist you to resolve the matters in the legal papers.

These suggestions are for informational purposes only and to assist you when you contact your lawyer and are not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.  This information is not intended to create, and use of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship or the rendering of legal advice.



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