Help! I’ve Been Served! – What to do After Being Served with Legal Pleadings


By Danielle Stubbs and Melissa Miller

We’ve all seen movies where someone hears the three dreaded words – “You’ve been served.”  Although often not as dramatic as Hollywood would make it seem, being served with legal documents can cause a world of stress and confusion – especially when it’s unexpected. However, there are some things that you can do to save yourself trouble down the road:

  1. Breathe (and read!) – Take a moment to read the documents that you have been served with and see what they are. There are a multitude of documents that are required to be “served” upon you that do not necessarily mean that you are in legal trouble. Some examples include Notices of Hearing, Subpoenas, requests for information, and others (see Rule 5, SCRCP for full list).
  2. Think – Do I need an attorney? In some cases, being served means someone is taking legal action against you. In such cases, you will likely need an attorney, and pronto. In the case of service of other types of legal documents, an attorney may not be necessary. However, if you are ever served and are unsure or uncomfortable with the documents you were given, it is always best to talk to an attorney. Even if the paperwork with which you have been provided does not involve a lawsuit, an attorney will be able to explain what you were given and what is being required of you.
  3. Calendar – Some documents require a response within a certain amount of time. Examples of these include Summons and Complaints, Interrogatories, and Requests for Production. Most of the time, these responses are due within thirty (30) days of service. However, an attorney may in some cases be able to get the deadline extended, thereby allowing you more time in which to respond.  Until then, this deadline is important to be aware of because failure to respond within the appropriate timeframe without an extension can put you at a legal disadvantage. Other documents, such as Notices of Hearing, will contain the date and time of an important event. These are also important to have calendared, as they may require your presence.  In some cases, an extension or continuance of that date may be possible, but this is something best discussed with your attorney.
  4. Call – Best practice is to always speak to an attorney if there is even the slightest bit of confusion or concern regarding what you were served with. The biggest mistake someone can make after being served is to not consult an attorney at all. If the document requires a response, it is always recommended to have an attorney to, at the very least, review or, in some cases, to help you draft an appropriate response/figure out what further information is required, including whether it would be cost effective to hire an attorney to represent you in the matter.  Remember:  What you say can and will be picked apart not only by the other party but their attorney.  It is an attorney’s job to figure out the appropriate legal response. If the document requires you to give testimony, whether oral or written (such as in a written affidavit) an attorney can also help you prepare and know what to expect.

Remember:  South Carolina allows for multiple different methods of service of process depending on the type of case and the type of pleadings/documents involved.  Thus, depending on the type of case, another question an attorney can help to answer is whether you were properly served with the documents in the first place. 

Being served doesn’t always foreshadow legal doom.  If you have recently been served and need legal advice on what your next steps are, call our office at (864) 527-0413 to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys.

Danielle Stubbs is a paralegal intern at The Miller Law Firm, P.A with a special interest in Family Law and Personal Injury.  To schedule a consultation with an attorney at The Miller Law Firm, P.A., please call Danielle or Terry at 864-527-0413.