Service of Process Health Check: 7 Key Questions
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Growing organizations need to scale their tools and methods for handling service of process (SOP). A staggering number of organizations don’t learn this lesson until it’s too late, and they usually learn in one of the most expensive ways possible—default judgments.
In this free webinar, CSC® will share best practices and what you should be thinking about when evaluating whether your processes are built to last or primed for failure.
CSC has been in the registered agent business for more than 115 years, and we have seen what it takes for organizations of all sizes to mature their processes to meet the increasing service of process volumes and complexities that come along with running a thriving company.
In this presentation, we’ll discuss how CSC can help you:
- Identify critical resources and tools
- Streamline and unify your intake processes
- Develop a solution that includes sufficient controls and oversight
- Provide a better return on investment if you currently pay fees for excess SOP
Anu: Hello, everyone, and welcome to today's webinar: "Service of Process (SOP) Health Check, 7 Key Questions." My name is Anu Shah and I will be your moderator. Joining us today are Paul Matthews and David Jefferis. Paul is a Senior Product Manager at CSC. In this role, he defines CSC product development vision and strategy for litigation and Matter Management products. David is a Senior Sales Engineer for Compliance and Governance Services at CSC. He has significant experience providing training, implementation, and consultative services to clients of CSC's Entity Management. And with that let's welcome Paul and David.
Paul: Morning, everyone.
David: Great, thanks, Anu, and we're both very excited to be here today to cover our SOP webinar, and we'll start with the agenda. And so we're going to talk initially about some of the basics. You know, what is service of process? What is typically the role of the registered agent in handling and distributing services of process? We're going to look at some of the common problems that organizations typically face when handling and managing what could be in some cases be high volume of what we'll call SOP. And so you'll probably hear us use that abbreviation quite often during the demonstration in our presentation today. We'll look at some of the key questions.
We have seven key questions that you should really think through as you kind of access your current process and think about ways to potentially improve it. We're going to share with you what we call our complexity continuum to get a sense for maybe where our audience is in terms of their needs around managing SOP and litigation. Towards the tail end of our presentation today we're going to take a live demonstration of our SOP Manager solution, and then certainly at the very tail end we'll make sure that we have some time for Q&A. And as Anu mentioned, you can certainly submit questions during the webinar using the Q&A widget of the web conferencing tool itself. So, Paul, let's talk about the basics.
Paul: Thank you, David. And so David mentioned, we're going to be using the term SOP or service of process throughout today's presentation. So we want to make sure that we're level setting what we're referring to when we use that phrase. So in a strict legal definition, service of process is the notice to a party of the commencement of a legal action. We're going to be speaking about it a little bit more broadly today. In a more practical sense, this tends to also include things like wage garnishments, subpoenas, bankruptcies, foreclosure filings, and any number of other documents that get handled through the court system or similar agencies in various jurisdictions. So just kind of keep in mind that broader context as we look at things today.
And then in terms of the role of the registered agent, the registered agent, the individual or organization that you've designated in each jurisdiction to handle the intake of service of process on your behalf. There's obviously lots of different considerations that come into play in terms of you use your registered agent. The most basic requirement of a registered agent is they be available to receive service of process in a brick and mortar location in each jurisdiction where your organization is doing business. So, again, just starting with those basic ideas of what we're talking about and then we're going to roll into some of the more specific information.
David: So now let's talk about some of the common problems that organizations typically face when dealing with managing SOP and litigation. You know, one of the challenges is that the organizations typically go through a lot of changes. So you could be acquiring or forming companies. Maybe you've gone through a merger or an acquisition. And in general terms, the more entities that you have, the more jurisdictions where you're registered when you have a larger footprint, so to speak. You just are creating sort of, unfortunately, a greater opportunity to receive SOP and litigation.
Another thing that creates a challenge for an organization is when they have a lot of manual processes. And so we speak with a lot of prospective clients that tell us about the way that they handle SOP and in many cases it's a paper process. They are not getting the documents directly to the people that handle them at the outset, and so there's a lot of sort of manual distribution that they're doing within their current process for managing SOP and litigation.
Another problem that a lot of legal departments face is the fact that the law department, it could be seen in many cases as a bit of a cost center. And there's scrutiny around budgets and expenses. And if you have a manual, perhaps even paper-intensive process, they can kind of exacerbate the problem. And what a lot of organizations find is that if they add technology into the equation, if they add tools and technologies that they can really add some efficiencies and save their organization quite a bit of cost.
Here's another thing that we hear from a lot of prospects that we speak to around managing SOP. That there's so much going on that it's hard to focus on what's important. In one example I could share, I spoke with a prospect that receives a lot of garnishments, but they themselves are not really responsible for handling the garnishments for the organization. And so they're kind of clogging up the pipe, kind of getting in the way of what they really as an individual want to be able to focus on, and so that can create some challenges with the way that some people receive SOP.
No single source of truth system of record. There are a lot of organizations that have multiple registered agents. And when that's the case, you got sort of SOP coming in from different streams or avenues, and it can some challenges where there's no central repository to refer to, to really get your arms around all the SOP and litigation that's facing your organization.
And then last but not least, things that are just simply falling through the cracks. So, again, if you don't have a single source of truth or a single platform to manage your SOP and litigation, what kind of auditing can you do? What kind of alerting do you have access to? Do you know the status of a particular SOP document? Are you the responsible person? If not, where is that document in the life cycle of managing SOP? And I don't know, Paul, if you have any other thoughts to mention around some of these challenges or common problems?
Paul: Yeah. I think the one thing that I'd add is that most organizations won't find that they're suffering from all of these things at once. But at various times, as David mentioned, different things can change in your organization that may bring some of these things up to the surface. And so what we're going really be looking at today is just some kind of questions that you can ask about your process to understand what risk you might have around any of these particular areas and what things you can do to address those types of problems.
David: Seven considerations. And so I'll start with the health check. I'll just read this one and then Paul will kind of fill us in here. So if you're paying for what's called "excess SOP" fees, is it a penalty or are you getting true value back for your spend? And maybe, Paul, before we even answer that, should we define what that term means?
Paul: Yeah. Absolutely. And this is something that typically pertains to organizations that have high volume of SOP documents. So most commercial registered agents will charge what has become known in our industry as "excess SOP" fees. And these are fees that you're paying over and above just the representation fees for your registered agent. Historically, the perception for most customers that this is basically a penalty. One thing that we would urge you to do is don't treat it that way, understand that you're paying for something. And what you should really be asking of your registered agent is what am I getting in exchange for that. So there's lots of things that you want to get out of registered agent. Minimally, you need delivery of the service or process documents.
Again, that's their minimum requirement. You already paid for that when you pay the representation fee. So over and above that, you should really be looking for those additional value added features that can be included in most solutions.
Even look at how they're delivering documents. Do they deliver those documents in a way that's useful to you both immediately and in a long-term? Do they make it easier for you to address problems that you have or risks that you have in your service of process work flow?
So I'm going to let David tackle the next one. So the next question that we would suggest that you look at is, "Does your process land documents directly in the hands of those that have the responsibility to take action on those documents?"
David: Quite frankly, the response that we get from folks that we talk to is that unfortunately the answer is no. There are other parts of the organization that play a role in managing SOP and litigation that are not kind of at the beginning of the process. And so that begs the question, "Well, how are you getting those documents to those individuals?" And so we hear things like sending SOP documents via email. We hear people that print out SOP and physically walk it over to an individual's desk as a means of delivering that SOP.
And so as you have these manual processes obviously it's inefficient. And so one of the things that a powerful SOP delivery tool can do is provide what we're calling here data-driven routing rules which in plain English would mean that you can deliver SOP automatically, dynamically to the right set of individuals. And a kind of a classy example, you could say that if we receive a garnishment, let's have that go right to our HR or payroll team. Maybe if it's something like a breach of a warranty or a personal injury case, let's get our risk team involved right away. Let's not have to ourselves email that out. Let's just have the system just dynamically alert those individuals from the get-go.
Another thing that we'll talk about here is immigration with third-party downstream applications. So, again, this is something that we kind of teased earlier, but the ability . . . if there is a matter solution in place or an enterprise legal management solution in place, the ability to actually take those SOP documents and move them into the system electronically, securely, not having to do that via a manual process.
Paul: And so, David, I'll just quickly share an anecdote here. So when we talk about manual processes that people have in place and some of the challenges that come along with those. We dealt with one customer who was very tied to a manual process and a key component of that manual process is they would print out the SOP documents and they would go in color-coded folders based on the type of matter that it related to. When we talked to them during our earliest conversations about what their biggest challenges were, the thing they ran into most often is that they ran out of yellow folders. You know, one of the benefits of an electronic process is we never run out of yellow folders. So right off the bat, there's an efficiency and a quick solution to a problem.
David: Excellent. So now we're going to talk about consideration number three. So what controls do you in place to ensure that all documents are accounted for and handled in a timely fashion?
Paul: Sure. And there's several things that I would suggest you consider relative to this. So first and foremost, you want to understand and think about how you're being notified when new service of process comes in. You know, obviously, time is very critical when service of process is involved. Almost every service of process document is essentially a ticking clock and you want to make sure that you have as much time to address that document as possible. So what you want to look for here, you want to see real time electronic notifications that allow you to get immediately to the document. You want to make sure that there's no delays that are built in just because of the process that occurs before you get the document.
Beyond that, you want to look at things like do you have line of sight to whether or not someone in your organization has taken responsibility for each document and can you see that in some sort of summary view? So most often what this amounts to is some sort of acknowledgement mechanism. So it just tells you, yes, someone at the end of this process has taken responsibility for it. And ideally, the way you see that information is in some sort of scheduled or automated report. So you don't have to go looking for that information, rather you have it served up to you so you know when there's an issue and when you need to attend to it.
And then for organizations that need more nuance approach to tracking the work related to each document. Maybe a simple acknowledgment feature is not substantial enough. And what you actually want is some sort of mechanism for assigning specific tasks to one or many people, and then being able to track the completion of those. So, again, when we talk about asking about what you can get in return for excess SOP charges or just any other fees that you're paying to your registered agent. This is something to look for in these types of solutions.
David: Absolutely. And in fact we'll look at an example of the acknowledgement when we go to the demo towards the end of our presentation today.
Paul: So next up, the question that David is going to talk about is, "Do you have a central system of record where all SOP documents are collected and managed?"
David: And certainly, as we saw from our poll earlier in the presentation, it sounds like one of the key concerns of our audience is many of them, I think over a third, do not currently have a single central repository for that information. So that creates certainly a number of challenges. You know, if there are multiple agents, again, you can have documents coming in through various systems. Different processes are being used.
And so the benefits of course of having a central repository is that you have a shared tool really across the organization where multiple individuals can collaborate. You can have standardization around the data elements that are being captured around your SOP and also access controls, which is really critical. The ability to make sure that only the right individual see select SOP cases, which is something that we'll talk a little bit in more detail about when we get to our technology.
But, again, going back to an earlier example of where we want the garnishment cases to go directly to an HR payroll group. Do we want that HR payroll group to see any other types of cases? And perhaps the answer is no, that that should be the only view within an SOP tool to see those cases that have a relevance to their responsibility.
So question number five, "Can you easily look at specific documents based on your current document storage solution?"
Paul: Yeah. So obviously David described the importance of having essential repository. But in a technical sense, a filing cabinet in your basement can be a central repository. It's just not a very effective one. So what you want to look for is does your repository give you the ability to get through the documents you need too quickly? So how can you search that repository? How much organization is available to you in that? And then beyond that, can you control who has access to documents? Again, what you want to look for in these types of solutions are things that allow you to search the actual content of the documents.
So if you want to find every document that has a specific individual's name in it, you want to have a repository that doesn't require you to open 1,000 PDFs and search them each manually. So you want something that has that robust capability, being able to look across the range of documents quickly.
As well as the content of a document, it's important to be able to search by the metadata related to that document. So most of registered agents, when they handle the intake of service of process on your behalf, they're going to collect a certain set of data. That set of data should be the information you need to uniquely identify a single document or a group of related documents.
And then, again, most importantly, you want to make sure while making it easy for people to find the documents they need, that you can control who can access those documents. So, again, a wide open repository where anyone can find anything. It might be right for your organization, but when it's not, when you need to have that higher level of control, you want to make sure that your repository solution provides those capabilities.
Wonderful. So let's talk about consideration number six, self-check question number six. "Can you aggregate your data to get an overview of your SOP profile and identify trends?" You know, in planning, what type of reporting can you do with your SOP document. In a traditional SOP delivery tool, you most likely have a screen of documents that are not really organized in any meaningful fashion. Maybe it's the most recently served documents flowing to the top of your group of documents.
But beyond that, what ability do you have to kind of analyze trends? And you're getting more SOP this year than the year before? Are we dealing with more certain type of cases? Are we getting more subpoenas than we have in the past? Are there certain sort of trouble areas? Maybe certain entities and certain jurisdictions where there's a much greater volume of SOP versus other areas?
And so, again, a powerful SOP reporting tool will allow you to design reports that allow you to focus on the information that is critical to your organization to see those types of trends. Often the ability, as I think we may have talked about before, to schedule reports. So this is where reports really can become alerts. You know, tell me about unacknowledged SOP documents. Tell me about unread documents. The ability of not having to go into the tool to see that information but to have reports generated in an automated fashion that come directly to your inbox that gives you insight into that type of information.
And then certainly full access to all the data capture. You'd want that reporting engine, not only to be able to actually say, to be able to focus on every single data element around SOP cases, not just the subset of that information.
So this is something that we teased before. And I'll read the question for Paul here. "Can you connect your SOP data and documents with other applications that rely on the same concept within your organization?
Paul: Yeah. And David had mentioned previously, and as I talked about it at the top, when we were talking about service of process. You know, I think most traditionally people think of litigation and all the documents that relate to that. But in today's world, service of process casts a broader net than that. So it includes things like garnishments and other types of documents that aren't handled by members of the legal department in most organizations. So, again, having a central place where everything comes through is useful. Having that to be able to connect to other downstream systems is even more powerful. So whether that's a matter management system that you're using to handle your high profile litigation and manage all the things that come along with that, a payroll system or even a payroll vendor that manages wage garnishments and keeps you in compliance for all of those things.
And then depending on your industry, you may also have other types of systems. We often see claims management systems and things along those lines coming to play. But basically, you want to look for a solution that has the ability to not only hold your information, but also push it into those downstream systems so that, as David had alluded to earlier, you don't have to have a manual effort around taking something out of one system and putting into another. It should be something that's automated and connected. And that way everything, as we mentioned earlier, is pushed as far into your workflow as possible before anyone on your side has to take any manual steps with it.
David: And then also, what I would add to that is ideally, if you're able to integrate your SOP documents with a downstream system like we're talking about here, you would have the ability to define which SOP documents do we want to move to which systems. Instead of sort of turning a fire hose where everything flows through, having some ability to kind of parse out and control which documents. Do you want to speak to that, Paul?
Paul: Yeah, absolutely. You know, again, sort of the common example, this is customer who want to see their litigation documents end up in matter management system. What they don't want in that matter management system is every garnishment, every foreclosure document that have to get handled by some other department. So rather than having to wade through all of that noise . . . again, that was one of the problems we alluded to at the frontend of the presentation today. You want a system that helps you reduce the noise and gives you a focused view of what you want to see when you want to see it. And then, again, you want to be able to see that in the context of a system where you do that kind of work.
David: So now we'll talk about what we're calling our complexity continuum.
Paul: Right. So obviously a lot of content on the slide, so I'll just mention at the outset that this is one of the resources that's included and you'll be able to download this and kind of take a deeper look at it. But what this is meant to represent is sort of the evolution that we see organizations go through. Again, everyone is going to plot in a different point along this curve, but essentially it starts with making sure you have the baseline foundational elements taken care of. You have some solution that brings all of your information together, serves as that repository tool for you, allows you to have a consistent set of data captured about each document. That's what enables your ability to do searching and reporting and things like that.
Again, you want to bring a level of automation to your process. So where you've got . . . again, I'll use that notion of a traffic cop who is just getting a document and passing it to the same person every time it's a certain type of document. That's a process that screams for automation. So you want to make sure you have a solution in place that gives you that level of automation.
And then some basic things like being notified when new documents come in and being able to acknowledge those and make sure that they're all accounted for. As we move right across this continuum, you'll layer in additional features as needed. So once I've got that high level automated routing, maybe I'm ready to look at it at even deeper level.
So, again, that notion of getting things as far into your workflow as possible. Once you've sort of proven out the case for automation in your organization, it becomes easier to see where there's an opportunity to push things even further. Once you've got everything in this central repository, you also should be looking for that to unlock an ability to track those documents and have a level of oversight and without having to get deep into the weeds on every single document, be able to see at some sort of summary level that everything is being taken care of and where you might have potential risk and so that you can address it before it becomes a problem.
And then, again, with that common consistent data capture, you also make it possible to do some basic reporting. As we move again to the right, many solutions will also give you the ability to capture custom data. So beyond just what you registered agent captures during intake, maybe there's some other coding or categorization that you want to add to your process again to make it easier to route things, make it easier to report on things, easier to find things. So, again, layering in that custom set of data collection can be very powerful in regards to that.
You know, another thing that we see a lot is now that I've got my service of process that came through my registered agent in a single place. We also get service of process directly, and we want to get that into the same system of record as well. So, again, having system that allows you to contribute documents and content beyond just what comes through your registered agent can be very useful in that regard. And then as you continue to evolve, you've got more information at your disposal. You've been doing it for longer. Now you have the opportunity to look at more complex set of reports.
And then, again, as we move to the last element here. What we see people layering beyond that is they do look to move beyond just a mere acknowledgement process and start assigning specific tasks and wanting to be able track activity around each of those tasks, for each document or each matter, layering in collaboration. So being able to share the content that's in your repository with people outside of your corporate legal department. Being able to do that quickly and easily without just sending documents out in an insecure email or some other place that's a little harder to control. And then as we mentioned, being able all of these information and share with downstream systems. That's where we see people evolve to eventually when their process calls for it.
So there are plenty of organizations that are doing all of these things and there are plenty that will never need to do the full range of things that are represented on here. So what we'd ask you do when you look at this is sort of take a look at this. Try to understand where you are on this continuum and where you think you should be or would like to get to. And these are some of the components you can look at to kind of gauge how close you are to where you need to be.
David: And final consideration. So, Paul, I'll let you start, but I might add a little bit to this as well.
Paul: Sure. So we've talked a lot about your process and the solution you use once service of process received. We want to make sure that we don't forget about one of the most critical things which is what happens before you get the documents. So that, in most cases, is a matter of who you've selected to be your registered agent. Obviously, what you want to look in a registered agent is someone who knows what they're doing in this space. So someone with experience. Someone who has been able to do this well consistently over time. And, again, someone who have proven themselves to be both secure and trusted.
So there are lots of complex things that go into a registered agent handling this well. And there's lots of ways to handle it casually and badly. So you want to make sure that whoever you select for this role is someone that you feel confident is a good representation of you at the frontline because no matter how good your systems and processes are downstream, if the engine that get things into that process and into that system isn't something that you depend on, then you're never going to see all the value that you put into all those other things.
David: Yeah. And maybe I'll sort of weave in where CSC falls into this. A couple of things you mentioned. So you talked about experience and consistency over a long period of time. So CSC was a pioneer in delivering SOP electronically. We've been doing that I think for now 11 years as just a standard course of business. Every document that CSC receives goes through an optical character recognition scan, which means that all your documents are automatically searchable. And we talked about document searching being a critical consideration.
A few other things to mention. We have a core team of individuals that are responsible for actually doing the SOP processing. So actually reading through those physical documents and then to scan documents certainly to pull out core vitals. You know, the entity served, the nature case, the answer date, first name plan defendant.
And the individuals at CSC that are essentially making decisions about those SOP documents, pulling out those core vitals, are individuals that solely work on SOP and they are just exclusively CSC U.S.-based employees versus what we've heard from some other prospects is that there are agents that will do offshoring or near shoring of resources to handle these documents. We exclusively have U.S.-based CSC employees working on those documents.
I guess, Paul, is there anything else you would add to that?
Paul: No. I mean, I think you hit on all the key points. Again, I think all that comes together to demonstrate that we kind of exhibit these three elements. You know, the way we speak about our handling of service of process is we want to handle the documents as if they were our own. And again, we've been this electronically for 10 years. We've been in the registered agent business for 117. So we understand how critical these documents are and how critical it is to get them to the intended target quickly and accurately and to be able to do that consistently over time.
Anu: So thank David and Paul. This information was very interesting, very informative for the group. So, folks, that is all the time we have today. If we didn't get to your question, we will contact you after the webinar with a response. Thank you to everyone who joined us. We hope to see you next time.