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Back to Basics: The Importance of Handling the Receipt of Legal Documents Properly

In these lightening fast times, many of us often unwittingly forget the most basic things. This is true in nearly all walks of life, including in the legal world.

Handling Complaints

Although email has become a common, if not the predominant, form of communication, many legal documents, including lawsuits and subpoenas, are still served in person. Companies and organizations that fail to handle these legal documents appropriately unnecessarily expose themselves to substantial risk and legal exposure. For instance, lawsuits (which are initiated through the filing of a Complaint) have deadlines for responding – a procedure that is typically accomplished through the filing of either a motion or an Answer. These time limits begin to run from the date that service occurs. Organizations that fail to respond to lawsuits in a timely manner are subject to the entry of a default judgment. Regrettably, from time to time, businesses fail to properly docket the receipt of lawsuits and/or forward them to counsel in a timely manner. As a result, defaults have been entered against defendants for claims seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars and more. A lost or misplaced Complaint can also have adverse ramifications in terms of possible insurance coverage, since most insurance policies require that insurance companies be notified promptly when an insured has been served with a lawsuit.

Handling Subpoenas

Less well known to companies and organizations is the fact that subpoenas served upon organizations in connection with litigation involving other parties also have time limits by which a response must be filed. That is, applicable court rules generally permit a third party that has been served with a subpoena to either (i) object to the subpoena (because, for example, it is overly broad and seeks thousands of documents, or calls for the production of confidential and sensitive information); or (ii) file a motion with the court seeking protection from some or all of the subpoena. The failure to respond in a timely manner to a subpoena can operate to completely bar an organization from obtaining relief from the burdens of a subpoena.

Best Practices

Businesses and organizations are well advised to establish basic policies for handling legal documents. These practices should include, among other things, the following:

  1. Formally logging in the date and time when legal documents are received.
  2. Date stamping legal documents upon receipt to evidence the date and time when they were actually received.
  3. Creating a procedure for distributing the actual legal paper received or (a copy of the legal paper) to appropriate authorized individuals within the organization.
  4. Creating a procedure for notifying counsel in a timely manner that a legal paper has been received.
  5. Calendaring the deadline to respond to a legal paper.
  6. Promptly evaluating whether notice of receipt of a lawsuit should be tendered to the organization’s insurance company.


Establishing sound basic practices can be very helpful in preventing legal papers from being misplaced and reducing the likelihood they will not be responded to in a timely manner. Moreover, the establishment of such policies can be helpful in those cases where the issuing party claims that service of a legal paper was made, and there is a dispute as to whether in fact that occurred.

Marc Engel co-chairs Lerch, Early & Brewer’s Employment and Labor group and is a member of the Litigation group. He advises clients on employment issues, litigates employment and business disputes, and counsels companies and organizations on litigation avoidance strategies. He also mediates employment and civil litigation matters, and conducts one-on-one training for professional service providers. Michael Neary is an experienced litigator and appellate attorney whose practice also includes employment and labor matters with an emphasis on employer counseling. For more information about handling legal documents, contact Marc at (301) 657-0814 or, or Michael at (301) 657-0740 or For more information about the firm, please visit our website at This article is for your information only and is not intended to constitute legal advice. Please contact your attorney for more information.

Copyright 2011 by Lerch, Early & Brewer, Chtd.


This content is for your information only and is not intended to constitute legal advice. Please consult your attorney before acting on any information contained here.


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