What Happens When You’re Served

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What it Means to be Served Legal Papers: A Comprehensive Guide

**Getting served papers** can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially if you’re not sure what it means. In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about being served, including what it is, how it happens, and what to do next.

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Being served means that you have received official notice of a lawsuit against you. The lawsuit can be filed for various reasons, including breach of contract, personal injury, or debt collection. The papers will typically include a summons, which is a court order requiring you to appear in court and a complaint, which provides details of the lawsuit.

The Service of Process: When you’re served, you will typically be handing a copy of the lawsuit papers to you in person by a process server. If you can’t personally served, the server may be left at your dwelling house, usual place of abode or registered office. The individual receiving the papers must be over the age of 16. If personal service or service at your house is not practicable after reasonable effort and service has not been made pursuant to Rule 3(c), then service is considered legally proper as of the day the action is filed, or as soon as it is practicable to do so under these rule provisions.

Time frame to Respond: After being served, you will only have a short amount of time to respond (usually 20 or 30 days). Failure to respond within the time frame may require an answer on your behalf or the for the court to enter a default judgment against you.

Get Legal Help Immediately: If you’ve been served with a lawsuit, it’s important to seek legal advice immediately. A lawyer can help you understand your rights tailored to your specific legal situation, and help you decide how to proceed.

Handling Being Served Papers

Stay Calm: Knowing you are being sued is a panicing situation. It is extremely important to avoid panicking when you are served with legal papers. Panicking will make it difficult to make you think clearly tank tactical actions that need to be taken, and potentially harm your case.

Review the Documents Carefully: Once calms, patiently review all of the paperwork. Documents should contain all the information you need to get started. This will include the name of the plaintiff (person who submitted the action), the reason for the lawsuit, and the damages being pursued.

Stay within the Time Limits: It is important to respond to the lawsuit within the allowable time frame (time frame given to respond is jurisdiction specific). Depending on your case, it maybe recommended to consult with a lawyer regarding filing for what is known as an “Extension of Time”.

Consequences of Ignoring Legal Papers

Default Judgment: if you do not respond to the lawsuit after being served, the plaintiff may ask the court to enter a default judgment against you. This means that state that you are legally liable for the charges and any subsequent penalty or order given by the presiding Judge. Ignoring legal matters may affect your finances, credit history, professional license, and liberty to travel.

Additional Fees: If you ultimately decide to hire an attorney at a late stage, additional fees may accrue from trying to have default orders, judgments and/or warrants lifted.

If You’ve Been Sued, There Are 5 Common Options for How to Proceed:

Negotiate a settlement:This is the most common way to resolve a lawsuit. In a settlement, both parties agree to drop their claims against each other and to pay a certain amount of money.

File a motion to dismiss: This is a request to the court to dismiss the case because it is not valid. Motions to dismiss are often granted when the plaintiff does not have a valid claim or has not properly served the defendant.

File an answer: If the first defense motions fail, filing an answer requires informing the court of your legal defenses against each allegation of the complaint. This type of action will trigger what is known as discovery periods, in which both parties can legally action to gather information to be used against each other in court.

Go to trial: This is the last resort. The matter will go before a jury of your peers or before a Judge to decide the outcome. Opposed to a plea, there is no guarantee of what the judgment or consequences may be regardless of how innocent or guilty you are.

Counterclaim: The filing of a countersue affirmative independent claims against the plaintiff. Counterclaims may amend the complaint and the case information contained within, this may limit the standing of the original plaintiff.

Expert Tips


Seek legal advice immediately. A lawyer can help you understand your rights and protect your case.

Take all documents seriously and make copies of everything.

Meet the deadlines. Late filings may result in your case being dismissed.

Tell the truth. Lying in court can have serious consequences.


Ignore the lawsuit. Doing so could result in a default judgment against you.

Contact the plaintiff directly. This will only hurt your case.

Panic. What is done is done. Utilize your time wisely strengthening your suit.

Trying to handle the case yourself. While it is not necessary to hire a law firm immediately, you do not retake actions previously taken in your case. A poor or incorrect first move or improper filing could severely impact a cases outcome.


Why was I served?

Being served notice most frequently signifies that you are being sued. Either as a person or as the representative of the entity being sued, personal service conveys:

  1. Actual notice, which means formal notification with enough time to consider and respond to a complaint by filing an Answer with the proper venue.
  2. Statute of Limitations – Receipt of notification (service of process) now starts the clock on your right to file a responsive Answer to protect your statutory rights.

How long do I have to respond to a lawsuit?

Timing depends on jurisdiction of the legal action.

What do I do after I’ve been served?

Remain calm, retain counsel, and answer the charges being alleged in the shortest amount of time the law provides.


Being served with legal papers can be disorienting, however it is imperative to maintain composure and seek counsel. As you now know what it means to get served legal court papers, there is no question a quick measured response can be the difference in your matters success or defeat.

Are you interested in learning more about being served legal papers? Conduct research on the topic or contact a suitable subjects matter expert like an lawyer or process server to conduct a consultation and advice regarding your specific issue.

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