A good friend of mine called me last week and expressed frustration about a conversation he had with one of his clients. His client suggested that he pay less for my friend's service since it was a commodity, and he could find it for less elsewhere. You may have read my previous musings about similar comments I have heard about process serving. My friend is a psychiatrist.
This morning, Woody received a call from a long-term client. She's a paralegal with a national law firm, and uses us to serve all her process. She said she needed to serve defendants in south Florida.
What she said next made him wince.
"These were sent to some super fast awesome process service company, and they were unable to get them served, so I want to get you to serve them."
Woody almost fell out of his chair, but then asked why she didn't want to send it back to the super fast awesome process service company?
The client said, "oh no, I didn't send them to the other company, another girl in the office did... that's why I'm calling you."
As it turns out, the other company uses the same server as we do in that part of south Florida. The server sent us a copy of the return, and upon inspecting it, Woody noticed the address had been attempted, and the defendants no longer lived there. The server had also located another address, through their own efforts, and offered it to the other company. Unfortunately for our client, the other service company had the server non-serve and return the documents.
We are now sending the documents back to the server who will probably serve the defendants at the new address. Why didn't the other company do that?
Most legal professionals would be disappointed, to say the least, at the thought of their advice and work product being viewed as a commodity. The truth is, a service can never be commoditized. Services may be offered by many different providers, but are not offered on the Chicago Board of Trade, because they're not commodities.
Service is an experience. The experience may be pleasant or it may be horrible. Perhaps it may even be uneventful. An uneventful service experience may be confused with a commodity, especially when the process is streamlined and efficient. In fact, as illustrated by Woody's story this week, performance and management is often the difference between good service and bad.
In our business we get to see some of the most talented legal professionals creating positive experiences for their clients, and we avoid those misguided souls who view our service as a commodity to be performed by the lowest bidder. I'm concerned they may view their own service the same way. I'm no psychiatrist, but as a businessman, I will provide, and accept, nothing short of great service. How about you?
Yesterday I called my wife to meet for lunch, and she was at Ikea, of all places. It's not my first choice as a lunch venue, but having bought a 50 cent hotdog to satiate my hunger the last time I was there, I thought it sounded like fun. Besides, I like having lunch with my wife. Instead of a hotdog, we shared the lunch special, and it was nice. The quality of the food was good, and it was tasty. The buffet style food delivery was ok, and we didn't mind bussing our own table after we finished. However, as the COO of a process serving logistics company, I often notice the subtleties of business operations, and the cafeteria sign saying something about the prices being low because they expect the customers to "clean up after themselves" got my attention. After all, $15 is not exactly a low-price lunch (we shared a single lunch). In essence, they are asking their customers to do their dirty work while telling them it's a great deal.
Having been married to my wife for 14 years, I know that if she goes shopping, she's going to buy something! She quickly decided what she wanted and headed for the "self serve furniture area" which I call the warehouse - because that's what it is.
Ikea has cool furniture, much of it designed for small spaces and it is relatively inexpensive. Or is it?
Being larger than some small towns, Ikea stores are unique in their ability to stock most of the items they sell, but their distribution system is where the devil resides. The enormous "warehouse" that is ingeniously shrouded by a giant showroom is NOT filled with warehouse workers pulling orders - it's full of customers wondering around looking for the "rows and bin numbers" to locate the items they would like to buy.
The customers (I was one of them) are conveniently given carts with four castering wheels to maneuver through the various zip codes in search of these inexpensive treasures. I bring up the castering wheels because it is an important point. When you go to the grocery store, and use a cart, they are relatively easy to push through the store because they have wheels that turn (castering wheels) on either the front or back, but not both! When all four wheels rotate, it is difficult to push the cart in a straight line. Once the weight of a disassembled piece of furniture packed tightly into a cardboard box is added to the cart it becomes a chiropractor's dream.
That brings me to the subject of lifting the box of furniture pieces. Once a customer finds the correct row and bin, they can retrieve the box from the rack. Moving the box from the rack to the dysfunctional cart can be difficult. Being an athlete most of my life, I'm in pretty good shape, but I didn't want to risk a trip to the chiropractor (or orthopedic surgeon) so my wife and I loaded our cart together.
After getting our box home, unpacking the contents and assembling the furniture, we were finished. The little table is attractive, functional and fits nicely into the small space we needed to fill - but it was not cheap! The cost of procurement, handling, shipping and assembly were passed on to me, and I had to "clean up after myself" at lunch.
Ikea obviously has an appealing business model as they are opening small covered-cities all over America. However, my time and well-being are far more valuable than the "savings" I derive from shopping there, so unless I'm compelled by a shiny new product, the prospects of a physical workout or a chance to clean up after myself at lunch, I will continue to avoid shopping there. Our clients can also relax because we still take care of all the details.
Woody Murray is the Chief Operations Officer at Serve Lgal Process, Inc. and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the business of law becomes more competitive, and the tempo of business accelerates, small increases in efficiency can make a big difference in the overall operation, profitability and reputation of a firm. By watching and listening to our clients over the years, we have been in a unique position to see who's efficient, and who probably wishes there was more time in the average day. Legal professionals are smart people, experts in their craft, and are good advocates for their clients. They should not be expected to be systems and logistics experts as well.
Last week, I received a call from a paralegal client of a large law firm wanting to know which counties we served in Florida, and a list of our fees for each county. That's a reasonable request. She is pleased with our service and wants to use us in more places. When I told her we filed cases, and served process, in all 67 Florida counties for one flat fee, and the other 3001 counties in the United States for a flat fee, she was perplexed. She said her attorney "would have a real problem" sending a package to our main office in Tampa, which we would send to another county to be filed, and maybe another to be served... Then I was perplexed.
I asked her if she ever sent overnight packages for her attorney. "Almost everyday, I use Fedex," she said. Then I asked her if she, and/or her attorney were aware that packages sent via Fedex often go to Memphis, Tennessee before going on to their final destination. "I don't know about that," she said. It's true. It's a hub and spoke system used by many logistical (shipping) operations, including our company, for efficiency and cost effectiveness.
Moving copies of lawsuits, and information pertaining to them, around the country on a daily basis is our business. We take it very seriously, and are extremely good at it. Every detail is important, and any deviation from our system can cause problems for either side of a legal action. We would lose credibility with our clients, and those being served would not get the benefit of proper service of process, if we did not get it right every time.
As in any profession, every year we get more practice, refine our systems and test our processes to become more efficient and foolproof. In the mean time, we innovate and imagine ways to create a better experience for our clients and those being served.
Every once in a while something goes wrong, and we fix it, but 99.9% of the time everything goes right. Our list of reputable clients are proof of that fact. So, don't be afraid, we'll get it done, you can check it off your list. It's that simple. As the competition heats up for law firms, the most efficient and well-run firms will win the day. Will you be among them?
Skip Thomas is the Founder and CEO of Serve Legal Process, Inc., and can be reached at email@example.com.
So much for getting to the courthouse early to file cases, or rushing in at 4:30 for a last minute filing for a client... Effective July 1st, many Florida court clerks' offices are open two fewer hours per day. Instead of 8AM to 5PM, many clerks will be open to the public from 9AM to 4PM. A recent Florida Bar article provides good detail of the story.
Process servers filing law suits for their clients now have less time to do it. As most litigators and paralegals know, electronic filing is in our near future, and will be preparing for that systemic change in their practices.
Perhaps courthouses will become kiosks in malls and airports. Tidy little flat-screen computers called "Justice Boxes" may appear outside your favorite department store, and next to the check-in screens at local airports. After receiving notice on our Facebook Wall that a lawsuit has been filed against us, we will be able to stop at the "Justice Box" and submit an answer while checking luggage at the ticket counter on the way out of town. Of course this is hypothetical, but it's not exactly fantasy.
Having been in the process serving logistics business for three decades, and witnessing enormous changes, it has become obvious to me that anything is possible. The potential to produce a lawsuit electronically, file it and serve it with a few finger-swipes on an iPad is real. Whether attorneys, paralegals, process servers or court clerks are involved is yet to be determined.
All kidding aside, it's serious business. The courts generate enormous fees yet their funding is set by state lawmakers. Meanwhile, citizens need court services, and deserve to be represented, while receiving their due process. It's a balancing act - any ideas?
Skip Thomas is the Founder & CEO of Serve Legal Process, Inc. and can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org and at Facebook.com/servelegalproccess.
Most legal professionals are probably well aware of the budget cuts to the Florida court system that will become effective July 1, if legislators don't act soon. They will need to pony up about $31 million before that date to avoid a grinding slowdown in clerk's offices all over Florida.
Being in the business of filing cases and serving process for our clients, we are especially sensitive to this potential derailment of our judicial system. The good old days of dropping cases to be filed one day and picking them up the next are gone. In densely populated Florida counties, such as Dade and Orange, filing lawsuits takes at least a week unless we, or you, have someone stand in line to get it done. Further, getting more than three cases filed at one time is almost impossible without a secret handshake, password, and a tray of sweet delicacies (bribery is not really possible, and clerks are our friends).
Add this potential conundrum to the "Minimization of the Filing of Sensitive Information Rule" and things could really get interesting! Hopefully electronic filing (due to be implemented next year) combined with my fantasy to serve people via Facebook (I know - we'll be out of business) will alleviate some of this pain and suffering for all of us.
Short of prescribing patience pills, setting your client's expectations, and alerting us to filings that are time sensitive, will help set priorities and keep us all in good graces with each other. Please feel free to contact me directly - anytime.
Skip Thomas is the Founder & CEO of Serve Legal Process, Inc. and can be reached at email@example.com or 813-254-8762.
In my 30 years of assisting paralegals, law firms, and corporate legal departments, one of the strangest comments I've heard was this one:
"As a process serving company, you must be a really small firm to be able to provide such personalized customer service. We don't get that anywhere else."
It was a simple statement based on observation, and I did not take offense to it. After all, when I started my little court-filing and process serving business in the 1980's, I was my only employee and a Kawasaki 250 motorcycle, with a watertight trunk on the back, was my service vehicle. Now that's a small firm, with a really small carbon footprint! Compared to those days my company is pretty big, but as far as businesses go, it's quite small.
What's wrong with being a small firm anyway? Being vertically challenged myself, I often joke about having the advantage of a lower center of gravity, or saving the money spent on business class because I fit comfortably in coach.
Consider these advantages of a diminutive business stature: Decision-making is simplified; information is easier to accurately dessiminate; and adapting to the inevitable changes that occur in business is more fluid. You can even call yourself a boutique firm. How chic is that?
In addition to a more nimble operation, a small business is uniquely poised to focus on the customer. You know your customers personally, and you know what to expect from one another. You can also do business with the best customers, and leave the others to the big dogs. The big dogs have made compromises, and forged the “relationships” necessary to acquire the others. The others are not looking for your brand of service anyway, and if they are, they can't get it anywhere else.
Skip Thomas is Founder & CEO of Serve Legal Process, Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A recent article by Stephanie Eidelman, published on Forbes.com, succinctly stated the results of a phenomenon plaguing many industries globally. It's a race to the bottom. Unfortunately, reaching the bottom will not be pretty in an industry as heavily regulated, and scape-goated, as the debt collection industry (as creditors are often vilified by the media).
As in any business, without cost advantages, there is a price below which quality wanes, possibly resulting in the death of the business. It could ultimately lead to the death of entire industries. Consumers all over the country have witnessed the death of local businesses at the hands of the Low Price Leader. They have fewer choices and an absence of sincere customer service. At best, it may eventually lead to fewer competitors, and as Ms. Eidelman points out, the worst of the bunch, who then with less competition, begin to raise their prices. We therefore get less and pay more for it.
Efficiencies, economies of scale, and reduction of fixed and/or variable costs can all lower the cost of production, and that savings may or may not be passed on to the customer. Without that savings though, prices can not go down without dire consequences for someone. Randomness of the universe will continually ensure, that while some costs may decline, others will increase. Remember, there's no free lunch.
When a salesperson, or advertisement, extolls the lowest-price as their best selling feature, I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Unless they are China's largest trading-partner, they may not have a cost advantage, and are probably in a race they can't win. The ensuing crashing sound is unpleasant, and someone usually gets hurt. Very often, it's the customer.
Skip Thomas is the Founder and CEO of Serve Legal Process, Inc. (f/k/a Florida Litigation Support Services, Inc.). He can be reached at email@example.com.
Debt Collection and Darwin
By Skip Thomas
A lot of discussions have been circulated recently about declines in the collection industry. But I say, the heyday is now! As the overall debt-collection pie shrinks, survival of the fittest will be the order of coming days. Those with the best management practices, the best customer service and the most efficient systems will live to collect another day. Consider Darwin's theories applied to business - adapt and evolve or become extinct.
While diversifying your client base is a good general business strategy, many industries are finding less and less work to go around - unless you are in the oil markets of course. Maybe student loans, subrogation or healthcare will be the next great collections market. I don't know, but that will become obvious to everyone.
It seems trite, and entire business books have been published on the subject, but quality will always be in demand. Tom Peters wrote about it, Ken Blanchard wrote about it, Peter Drucker wrote about it and Rip Van Winkle probably dreamt about it, but who does it? Can you name a company in your industry who embodies the idea of quality customer service? If so, great. If it's you, even better. If not, it could be!
The most glamorous and flashy among us will always get plenty of attention, but they often turn out to be more sizzle than steak. It's the 21st Century and most seasoned veterans in any given profession know their business very well, utilize the latest technology, and know where to get questions answered. After all, that's how they became seasoned veterans in the first place.
Of course knowledge of, and strict adherence to FDCPA rules and other compliance requirements is imperative. And using the latest GPS, or multiplex demodulator, technology is important, but you know that most competitors in your business do that. Some have six gazillion employees and can move the planet off its axis on request; while others work out of their Kryptonite-encased silo within the secure confines of Area 51. Those are not really competitive advantages. Ensuring your clients are receiving the best customer service possible is.
Are your clients talking to you? Are they interested in your professional opinions and ideas? Most of us do business with people, not companies. Companies are just fictitious entities with cool names. Let's create environments of both operational efficiency and delightful customer service. The world will be a better place to live,work - and evolve.
Skip Thomas is founder and CEO of Serve Legal Process, Inc. (f/k/a Florida Litigation Support Services, Inc.) in Tampa, Florida. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From Internal Legal System to Process Service: Smooth, Secure and Streamlined
Tampa, FL (September 8, 2011) Florida Litigation Support Services, Inc. is pleased to announce that it is partnering with NetDirector, a leader in secure data exchange between servicers, law firms and other vendors. This relationship will enable us to automate and simplify the work of clients that regularly process a large volume of law suits.
Using NetDirector, you would simply enter a job in your internal system, auto-upload to NetDirector, and Florida Litigation takes it from there. The horizontal line shown in the flow diagram illustrates the fact that the process server has no access to NetDirector or to your database. You control input to your database at all times.
About Florida Litigation Support Services, Inc.
Our on-the-ground team goes to the courthouse, files lawsuits and retrieves documents. We also locate, select, deploy and manage process servers throughout the US and Canada. Clients include law firms and corporate legal departments that recognize the efficiency, cost effectiveness and compliance support of working with a single provider to file and serve one – or hundreds – of cases. Documented quality standards, continuing education in the rules of all relevant jurisdictions, integrated systems and 25 years of experience ensure quality results on every assignment. For more information, call Skip Thomas at 813.254.8762.
NetDirector provides a Software as a Service (SaaS)-based centralized data exchange to improve process efficiency and standards compliance. NetDirector uses an industry-centric approach leveraging expertise and state-of-the-art technology to address these integration needs. For additional information, call 813-774-4797 or visit the NetDirector website.
You've been served - but not pizza!
Some of you may have seen an episode of a popular TV show in which an individual who'd thus far evaded the process server found himself opening a pizza box, with the "delivery man" saying, "You've been served." Ouch.
Images like these – from TV and movies – color our perception of what this is all about. Often we see an armed law enforcement officer serving process, and the recipient running as fast as he can to get away.
The reality is that, in many cases, being served is important to the recipient – it might be notice of an upcoming eviction, collection of a debt, or even divorce papers. While the recipient may not want to receive any of those documents, walking around in ignorance of a legal process that is taking place outside your radar screen gives you no opportunity to address and solve the problems. Ignorance, in this case, is definitely not bliss.
For most people, the likelihood of being served in a civil process by an armed law enforcement officer is slim. That's because there are two types of civil process service: Enforceable and Nonenforceable.
Only a sheriff or his deputies can serve Enforceable process. These activities require physical action. That means the sheriff or a deputy can Enforce cooperation if necessary. Examples of Enforceable processes include situations in which a writ is issued to recover an item of personal property wrongly taken, or to restrain a person from leaving the country or the jurisdiction of a court. The best known example is the Writ of Habeas Corpus, requiring officials who have custody of a prisoner to bring the prisoner before the court, so that the court may determine whether the prisoner is being detained lawfully.
Non-Enforceable Civil Process requires only that process be served; no physical action or enforcement is required. Examples include:
Subpoena Duces Tecum
Notice of Hearing
Rule/Order to Show cause
Writ of Garnishment
Using the right server in the right jurisdiction and knowing the rules of the case jurisdiction are essential. How do you know whom to trust?