Who knew Pineapple Express had such technically accurate legal scenes?

Service of process can drive me and my clients crazy. Before filing the lawsuit, I am in total control of all aspects of the timing of the case, from the initial review to filing the Complaint.

But, once I file the complaint and send it to be served on the defendant, we are sometimes at the mercy of luck and a little bit of good timing.

Nobody wants to be served with a lawsuit (for obvious reasons), and, until you get them served, they have no responsibility to answer and the case doesn’t move forward.

In many cases, a plaintiff has to employ creative tactics to get the process into the hands of the defendant.

You’ve probably seen this in a movie, where the process server hides in the bushes, hands somebody a piece of paper, and yells “You’ve been served!” as he runs away.

So, yes, I thought about the opening sequence from Pineapple Express, when I read a recent opinion by Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Lyle about an evading defendant and an irritated process server, in Joyce B. Martin v. Devon Lawrence, et. al., Davidson County Chancery Court Case No. 20-1091-III.

In that case, the process server was knocking on the defendant’s door, had confirmed that the defendant was inside the house, and, when the defendant refused to come to the door, attempted service pursuant to Rule 4.04(1) by “plac[ing] the summons and complaint into a clear plastic sleeve and tap[ing] it to the glass front door before leaving the [Defendant’s house].”

(The opinion was silent on whether the process server yelled “You’ve been served!” as he walked away, but I would bet money that he did.)

On these facts, however, Chancellor Lyle found the service ineffective. Rule 4.04(1) provides that if a defendant “evades or attempts to evade service,” then the process server may perfect service of process “by leaving copies thereof at the individual’s dwelling house or usual place of abode with some person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein, whose name shall appear on the proof of service, or by delivering the copies to an agent authorized by appointment or by law to receive service on behalf of the individual served.”

Citing this Rule’s plain language—which expressly imposes a requirement that the summons be left “with some person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein”—the Judge found that merely taping the summons to the outside of a home does not meet the statutory requirements, even under these circumstances.

(Note: You can read more analysis of this opinion (and see a full copy) by visiting the Nashville Bar Association’s Trial Court Opinion page, which will be updated soon with more notable decisions.)

In a surprise twist, then, Seth Rogen’s stoner private process server turns out to be a highly effective process server whose work would be approved even by Chancellor Lyle (though she may question other aspects about his…demeanor and tactics).

In each instance in the movie clip he, in fact, personally serves each person. We lawyers can be awful to watch movies with, since we love to nit-pick the accuracy of the Hollywood depictions of the job, but this sequence complies with the law (except the part when he’s driving and using illegal substances).

But, other than that–congratulations to Seth Rogen–this clip could be shown in a first-year Civil Procedure class. Who knew?

The 341: Too Busy to Blog, but Listen to this Podcast by Prof. Anthony

You can always tell when I get really, really busy with work: I stop law blogging.

Which is a perfectly reasonable outcome, of course. But, having said that, August was a busy month, so here are some quick notes.

The Tennessee Bar Association interviewed me about starting my own firm during the pandemic. I know we’ve reached peak podcast capacity, but I really enjoy the TBA’s podcasts featuring interesting legal and lawyer stories from across the State. In a time where we’re not seeing each other in court or at events, it’s nice to virtually catch up with what is going on.

I was featured on the TBA’s Sidebar broadcast, and the topic was the decision to leave my long-time law firm to start my own practice. The full episode can be found at this link or by finding Sidebar on SpotifyApple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcher or TuneIn.

It was a fun podcast, and, to my surprise, I didn’t collapse into a ball of cringe when I listened to it. Yeah, I used the word “pivot” way more than I (believe) I do in real life, but, otherwise, I was pleased with the message.

As many of you know, I have a tendency toward saying more than is sometimes necessary, and I credit my wife’s advance coaching in that regard. Lena is a writer and a master content creator, and she made sure that I kept it reasonably on topic.

Except, of course, for the opening stories: She expressly told me not to talk about the RV trip or the boat. Oh well, I hope you all enjoyed it. (And, if I have kept one person from buying a boat this summer, my personal embarrassment will have been worth it.)

I’m teaching Client Communication at Belmont’s Law School this semester. Part of the reason that my schedule has been so tight is that I am teaching this fall as an Adjunct Professor at Belmont University’s College of Law.

The course focuses on strategies and best practices in communicating with clients, witnesses, and other parties in the legal system, at all stages of the legal process.

A central tenent of my new firm is to focus on providing client-centered service, asking every step of the way: How are we serving our clients and what can we do better? This is the future, and my goal is to share this mind-set with the next generation of lawyers.

For the first week, I pointed out that all them, whether or not they had any law-related work experience, have already communicated with clients. In our modern age, your social media is the first line of communication about who you are, what you do, and whether you can be trusted. (Hence, my wife’s advice to icksnay on the boatsnay).

The first week’s assignment was my age-old advice: Google Yourself. The students were tasked with seeing what results a potential client would find, deciding which ones were good (or bad), and what action they could take to minimize or eliminate the bad ones (like ones complaining about boat ownership in the Nation’s Newspaper).

Hint: Invariably, a person’s LinkedIn page ends up being the highest result (or way up there). My new advice (and part of last week’s assignment): Create a good LinkedIn page for yourself. The best way to decrease the impact of negative information online is to lower that information in the google search results.

If LinkedIn has a fast track to the top of the list, create a LinkedIn page that is so robust with information (name, biography, practice areas, contact information) that a potential client or employer never clicks on your Myspace page from 2007 (an actual top result for one of the students).

I’m two classes in, and, so far, it’s been extremely rewarding and extremely hard work. Hug a teacher, guys, they’re the real heroes.

Side-note: I’ll be back with the law blogging soon–there have been lots of fun new opinions issued.