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If an outside counsel responds to a pre-litigation demand letter, can I safely serve him with the process?

Los Angeles, CA |

I voluntarily sent a pre-litigation demand letter. The company hired an outside attorney to respond. The attorney is based near me and near the courthouse so it would be more convenient to get a process server to serve the attorney. Is engaging the outside attorney sufficient to authorize him to accept service of process on behalf of the company/future defendant? Thank you!

This would be in federal district court in California.

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Attorney answers 5


No. The fact that the potential defendant has retained an attorney does not give you the right to serve the attorney for the defendant. However, you can ask him/her to seek authority from his client to accept service. Attorneys will do that on a relatively regular basis. If the attorney agrees to do that you would then send him the complaint with a notice of acknowledgment form, and once he signs that and sends it back to you, the defendant has been served. However, if he does not agree to accept service then you cannot serve the defendant through the attorney.

THIS RESPONSE IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE. IT HAS BEEN PROVIDED FOR EDUCATION AND INFORMATION ONLY. Mr. Mann is licensed to practice in the State of California. There is no implied or actual attorney-client relationship arising from this educational exchange. Moreover, the facts provided by you were not sufficient to allow Mr. Mann to advise you specifically regarding what you should or should not do. You should speak with an attorney licensed in your state, to whom you have provided all the facts before you take steps that may impact your legal rights. Mr. Mann is under no obligation to answer subsequent emails or phone calls related to this matter, or to take any action whatsoever.


Mr. Mann hit the nail on the head. The answer is "no," unless the attorney tells you he has his client's authorization to accept service. If there is such authorization, you may send the subpoena by mail and ask the attorney to acknowledge receipt.

This response is for information purpose only and does not constitute a legal advice. This response does not create an attorney-client relationship.


I concur with both Mr. Mann and Mr. Lee. The answer is provided by CCP § 416.90, "A summons may be served on a person not otherwise specified in this article by delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to such person or to a person authorized by him to receive service of process." The authorization is key. Thus, for initial service of process, you can either serve the person individually or secure authorization to serve the attorney. For mense process, anything after the original service of process, the filing attorney is an authorized person unless and until withdrawn from the case.

Good luck!


You need to contact the attorney and ask whether he is authorized to accept service on behalf of the company. If he is not, you will need to serve an agent of the company. Corporations are required to list an agent for service of process with the Secretary of State. You can obtain the information regarding the agent for service of process directly from the Secretary of State's website. However, if you are merely responding to the letter sent by the attorney, you do not need to serve the letter. Just send it to him.


The answer is clearly NO. If the company is a corporation, joint venture, LLC, etc., you will have to ascertain the identity of the registered agent and serve that person. Failing to serve the correct person can have harsh effects on your case, including missing the statute of limitations.

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