Service and Certificates of Service

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What is service?

Service is the act of providing documents to the required people (usually, the other parties or their lawyers) involved in a legal matter.  The general purpose of service is fairness. The goal is to be sure that everyone knows what is going on in the case, and that everyone has an opportunity to prepare and respond.  However, the rules are specific, and a case can be lost due to improper service.  There are two main contexts for service, which are described below:



What is it?

1. “Service of process”

Must happen when you first bring someone into a case

For example, serving the defendant with your complaint

Service of process means providing someone with a copy of the “original pleading” (for example, the complaint) that you filed in court, as well as the summons from the court.  Until someone is served with process, they are not part of the case at all. 

With service of process, you first file the pleading, and then have the copy (and the summons) served.

No “certificate of service” is required at the time of filing your original pleading.  Rather, you will later have to prove that the other parties were served in the right way.  For more information about service of process, see Frequently Asked Questions About "Service of Process"

2. Ongoing “service” of documents during the case.

This happens throughout the case

For example, serving the defendant with a motion you file

The second context for service comes after the other person (or company) has been served with process.  From then on, you generally need to provide them with copies of all the documents you file in the court.

At this stage of service, you must first serve a copy of the document (which may be as simple as placing it in the mail), and then you file the original with the court.

When you file the original, the court will require a “certificate of service.”


Here are the steps for filing a certificate of service:

  1. Be sure that each other party in the case (or the attorney of each represented party) is served with a copy of what you filed.
  2. For any party who is represented in the case by a limited appearance attorney, you must be sure that BOTH the party and the limited appearance attorney are served with a copy of what you filed.  If the appearance of the limited appearance attorney has been stricken (meaning that that attorney is now officially out of the case) that limited appearance attorney does not need to be served with copies of new filings.
  3. Fill out, sign, and submit a certificate of service to the clerk, including each of the parts below. Some Maryland court forms are available online.
    • State that a copy of the document was served on each recipient, and list the name and address of each recipient;
    • State the manner in which each was served (for example, by hand; by first-class mail, postage prepaid; by certified mail; or by another specified method);
    • Include the date on which service was made.  If service was made by mailing a copy, this will be the date that the copy was put in the mail.
    •  Sign the certificate of service.

Read the Rule: Maryland Rule 1-323 ("Proof of Service")


There are times when you do not need to give the clerk a certificate of service in order to file papers.  The most common exception is when you are filing an “original pleading." The original pleading is generally the initial Complaint and any Counter-Complaint or Third-Party Complaint.

When you file a complaint, the clerk’s office will create a summons. You must make sure that the summons and a copy of the complaint are served to the defendant, AFTER you file the complaint.

Service for everything after an original pleading can be accomplished by simply mailing the papers to the other parties in the case or, if a party is represented, that party’s attorney. 

Also, after the original pleading (for example, the complaint) you do not necessarily need to serve additional papers on a party who is in default for failure to appear.  However, if you are making a new or further claim for relief against the party, you must serve the party as you would with an original pleading.

Read the Rule: Maryland Rule 1-321.

edits by Regina Strait, Esq., updated by Sara Magette, Esq. (Maryland Legal Aid)
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