So, You Were Served with Papers for a Lawsuit — What Should You Do?

“You’ve been served” are three of the most terrifying words anyone will ever hear. Those three words mean someone wants something from you. It might be an employee or someone you upset arguing you owe them money. Your child’s father may be arguing you are an unfit parent. What if you forgot to pay your property taxes and it’s the county foreclosing on your home’s tax lien? Regardless of the situation, news that you are being sued is never pleasant.

Once the wave of anxiety and stress recedes (or potentially before), you must take action. No matter the nature of the lawsuit, you have a limited amount of time to respond and get ahead of the looming disaster. This article will briefly touch on what you should do once served.

Please note that you may find out about a lawsuit before you receive formal notice. The same information applies in that situation. The caveat is that you may have more time than provided in this article. Just know that being named in a lawsuit is a situation you cannot just ignore and hope goes away on its own.

I want to stress this point because it is vitally important: DO NOT SIMPLY PUT THE PAPERWORK ON A TABLE AND FORGET ABOUT IT!

Waiting until the last minute will only complicate your options, increase the cost of getting help, and ultimately do you no good.

Step One: Determine if you were really sued.

There are several reasons you may have received notice of a lawsuit without actually being sued.

First, you may share the same name as the intended recipient and someone made a mistake. A few months ago, I — Matthew C. Lewis, an attorney in Texas — received extremely sensitive medical documents from a hospital in New York. I am not licensed to practice in New York and conduct absolutely zero business in the state. Despite that, the hospital sent me those documents because I shared the name of the person’s actual attorney, Matthew W. Lewis. Mistakes happen.

Second, it could be a scam. Fake lawsuits are common, especially involving unpaid debt. You can often tell just by the sloppiness and unprofessional appearance of the documents that they didn’t come from a professional. To the untrained eye, however, it may appear legitimate. ChatGPT is already being used to generate legitimate-looking materials for scammers and AI-generated documents will only get better over time. Verifying the information provided (as discussed in Step 2) should be one of the first things you do.

Third, you may not actually be named in a lawsuit. If you are being subpoenaed to appear in court in someone else’s lawsuit as a witness, the situation may appear identical and you may be worried about nothing more than having to take a day off of work to testify about something you saw two years ago.

Finally, there may be a misunderstanding. Even if you are the correct person and it isn’t a scam, people make mistakes. Your child’s mother may be suing you for divorce despite you never being married; she may believe you are in a common law marriage. If you are right and they are wrong, you will be fine provided you take steps to resolve the matter.

Step Two: Verify the Details

Regardless of whether there is a mistake or the other person is flat-out wrong, you should verify whether the paperwork you have corresponds to a lawsuit filed in an actual court.

Texas: There is no general state-wide court database in Texas, unfortunately. The easiest way to verify whether a lawsuit is legitimate is through the court itself or the county.

  • While the paperwork you received may provide a phone number, you should look online for the information. A scammer could easily put a fake phone number for the courthouse and be the one who answers. Somewhere on the Summons or Petition you receive should identify the court you’re being sued in. Google that court and call the number listed.
  • Most counties — such as Bowie County — maintain a limited search engine for cases within the county. You can search for your own name in their database and it should pull up the results.

Arkansas: Unlike Texas, Arkansas maintains a robust court system database known as CourtConnect. You can reach it at this link. It is extremely easy to use. Simply click on the top link to search by person name and input your name where indicated. You should find the documents you are holding in one of the results.

Step Three: Talk to an Attorney

I know you don’t want to read those words above, but you really should at least speak with an attorney about the matter once you verify it is a legitimate lawsuit. Trust me: I’ve had to hire attorneys prior to becoming one and I know it’s nerve-wracking. While you can represent yourself effectively in some situations, there are three reasons why you should at least talk to a professional before proceeding.

I want to stress one thing first, however: DO NOT wait until the last minute.

First, you are required to file a response — either a Motion to Dismiss or an Answer — within twenty days (Texas) or thirty days (Arkansas). Failure to do so can result in a Default Judgment, which means you lose regardless of whether the facts and allegations are true.

There are several defenses you may be able to allege upfront that untrained people just don’t know about, such as personal jurisdiction and venue. Failure to bring them up at the beginning can result in them being waived. Similarly, you may be able to allege a counterclaim but be barred from suing later because you failed to bring up your compulsory counterclaim in your Answer.

To put it bluntly, you just don’t have enough time to learn all you need to do in order to respond adequately. An attorney can at the minimum identify these issues for you. He or she may be willing to draft your response while you proceed on your own (known as appearing pro se).

Second, you may have rights you do not even know about. For example, let’s say you are being sued because someone is alleging you failed to perform under a contract but they’re flat-out wrong. You may be entitled to have your attorneys’ fees paid by the person suing you when they lose. If you don’t answer for it in your Answer, you may not be able to recover them. Also, you need to hire an attorney to have attorneys’ fees.

Finally, you will likely lose more money via lost wages and missed work than you would save on skimping an attorney. I know it’s stressful but attorneys exist to handle this kind of thing for you so you can keep living your life. Unless it’s a criminal charge, you generally aren’t required to attend every court hearing and meeting.

Step Four: Determine a Plan-of-Action

This is where my ability to give general information ends. The plan-of-action for your particular situation will vary greatly depending on who is suing you, the nature of the lawsuit, and so on. I cannot stress enough that you need a plan though.

If you do not sit down and commit to an actual plan, you will likely miss an important deadline or forget to appear in court. If you aren’t sure about when to be where or what you need to file, the Rules of Civil Procedure for the state you are being sued in is a good place to start.

Have you been served with notice of a lawsuit and don’t know where to go from there? Please feel free to contact our office. We may be able to help. You can reach our office at (903)221-9180 or you can email Evelyn Burrows, our Client Services Director, at

The material on this website may not reflect the most current legal developments. The content and interpretation of the law addressed herein is subject to revision. We disclaim all liability in respect to actions taken or not taken based on any or all the contents of this site to the fullest extent permitted by law. Do not act or refrain from acting upon this information without seeking professional legal counsel.