If you regularly use an eFiling provider like File & ServeXpress, you’ve probably seen the option to simultaneously eServe while eFiling, or even the option for independent eService (like with discovery documents). At first glance, it may seem unnecessary. Why pay to eServe documents when you email them for free?
With eService, you are not paying strictly for a document transaction. The value of eService is found in risk aversion and access to a better set of legal document management tools than any inbox will provide. In this article, we will review the ways in which email doesn’t address service needs and how a dedicated eService provider can fill those gaps.
Can you Serve Documents Through Email?
Sometimes yes, you can serve documents through email. But, it’s not always an option. Some jurisdictions have rules that ban email as a service method. It’s also possible that other parties involved in the case would prefer to use other methods.
When that’s the case, generally you are limited to different forms of in-person service, standard service (US Mail, FedEx, etc.), or using a dedicated eService provider. Out of the three, a dedicated eService provider comes the closest in pure convenience and may feel the most familiar option for those used to email service.
But even when email is available, it’s often not the best option.
Is Serving Documents Through Email Safe?
We use email all the time, and you likely do too. It’s unbeatably convenient, essentially free, and almost everyone has it. But strictly speaking, it’s not a perfectly secure method for document delivery or storage despite being the easiest one to access.
Serving through email exposes you to certain risks that an eService provider does not. Rarely are these risks highly visible like the kind of hacks you see on television. Rather, the risks are understated:
- There are a variety of email services. Some are better than others as far as security goes. Some have encryption, maybe end-to-end encryption if you’re lucky, but some don’t. And you don’t get to control which email services the other parties in your case use. This means any document you serve is only as safe as the least insecure service used among the recipients.
- Using email increases your vulnerability to phishing attacks. It isn’t terribly difficult to include a malicious link in an email, pretending it’s a link to a document too large to fit in the message. Those using email to serve should always verify the sender’s email address before clicking any links.
- Some email services will scan/share the contents of an email. This is not necessarily a malicious thing (an email service needs to scan the contents of your inbox to search for example) but it could be a concern for certain clients. This gets worse with third-party applications that can access email inboxes, which you have no way of knowing whether someone you serve uses or not.
Every email you send has these risks, but not every email contains sensitive documents about your clients. Exhibits with HIPAA information or sensitive family info and other documents with personal information may be necessary for the case. For sensitive documents and client information, it’s a good practice to be cautious about their treatment, which is where a dedicated eService provider can help.
But some of the risks of using email to serve legal documents has nothing to do with cyber security. The much more realistic risk you are taking on is for unverifiable claims of non-service. Yes, most other parties you work with won’t make these claims in bad faith, but it’s not impossible.
With traditional email, verifying proof of delivery can be difficult. With a good eService provider, read receipts are built into the system so you know when the documents are accessed and by who. By design, you are protected from these claims. This way, everyone is held accountable for communication appropriately and any problems can be verified easily.
Overall, serving documents through email involves security risks minimized when using a dedicated eService provider instead. But some of the problems with email as a service method have nothing to do with security.
Email is a Clumsy Place to Store and Organize Documents Long-Term
If you’re anything like me, you find yourself searching your email inbox before every federal holiday to find a copy of the company calendar. Or maybe you find yourself searching for rarely used document templates that you’ve downloaded five times but still somehow can’t find locally.
Casually relying on your inbox to act as a document management system isn’t uncommon. It’s part of why Outlook and Gmail have search bars and storage space available in the first place. But if you find yourself relying on your inbox to access court documents regularly, it’s time to reconsider that practice.
- Dedicated eService tools design their search tools around case data. So, instead of needing to know every document name by heart, you can simply search for a document by case ID or even client name (without having to wade through every conversation you’ve ever had with them).
- A good eService tool will guarantee storage throughout the entire length of the trial and follow the jurisdiction’s retention period afterward. For File & ServeXpress, we store documents perpetually so our users can access them years later if needed. With an email inbox, storage caps, automatic junk removal, and other processes could delete documents you find yourself needing later.
- If you use a DMS, some eService providers can help documents into your system. For example, with FSX we have Case Conformer, a feed that transfers documents and related metadata onto a site where your DMS/internal systems can ingest them. Its cadence can be set at hourly/daily intervals to ensure you have access to any documents you’re served quickly. With email service, the process tends to be manual, where a human is loading documents into the DMS by hand when they find the time.
In short, dedicated eService providers are much better equipped to help you manage your served documents than your email inbox. A good one can fill the role or supplement actual DMS, with all the storage, search, and management tools necessary to handle documents proficiently.
Creating a Separate Email Takes Time that is Better Spent
It’s worth noting that serving through email also adds time to the overall process. While it’s not too much for a normal transaction, preparing an email each time will add up in time spent:
- Do you find yourself copying and pasting every contact from the previous email hoping that list is correct and up to date? With a good eService tool, you will have the service contact list you need for the case saved with every transaction, verified with the court’s contact list when applicable, and easily expanded upon when necessary.
- Do you like dragging a bunch of documents into an email after uploading the same documents into a filing system? What about handling fickle file size limits per message? None of these are super appealing and become a real pain when working with a lot of documents. With simultaneous eFiling and eServing, you only need to go through that process once, and spend that saved time doing anything else. Of course, it’s not like adding documents into a filing system is a lot of fun either, so it’s worth being picky about the tools you use for that as well.
By filing and serving simultaneously or serving discovery through an eService provider, you can do the whole process in one location and in less time.
Email Is an Option, But Not the Best Option
It’s not that serving by email is horrifically dangerous or takes way more time. But the fact it adds some risks and takes more time should be enough reason to consider serving with another method. If you’re interested in serving with a dedicated industry service, take a look at what File & ServeXpress offers with eService here.