By Jed McKeehan

When a lawsuit is filed against someone the defendant is “served” with a copy of it.  This is done by giving the defendant a document called a summons by a process server.

However, after that initial service upon the defendant, when either the plaintiff or the defendant files documents with the court, they are required to deliver a copy of whatever they file to the other party.  They verify they have done this by putting what is called a, “certificate of service,” at the end of the document.

A certificate of service is a statement that effectively states, “I have sent a copy of this document to the defendant, who lives at this address, and on this date.”  And the certificate of service is signed by the party or by the attorney if the party is represented.

Why is this required?  Well, courts frown upon “surprise” proceedings.  If someone sends something to the court, then it is only fair that the other side gets a copy of it and has a chance to respond.

For example, say one of the parties to a lawsuit wants to schedule a trial and sends out a notice of hearing to the other side.  The certificate of service attached to the end of the notice of hearing lets the court know that the other side was informed of the court date and knew that if they wanted to be a part of the trial, they were told when and where the trial would occur and on what day they were told about the trial.

It may seem like a small technical aspect of lawyer interactions, but making sure the certificate of service is on each document that is filed with the court so the court knows that the other side was informed of the filing of a document is very important.


Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.