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What is a Notice of Appearance?

A Notice of Appearance is a party’s formal entry into a lawsuit. The term is normally associated with the Defendant, who appears after being served with the Summons and Complaint. 

The Notice of Appearance is a pleading that is filed with the Court, stating that the defendant is appearing on their own behalf or represented by an attorney. 

By filing and serving a Notice of Appearance, a Defendant becomes entitled to notice of all subsequent proceedings. RCW 4.28.210. 

By contrast, if the Defendant fails to file and serve a Notice of Appearance OR an Answer, the case may proceed against the Defendant without notice of subsequent proceedings, ultimately resulting in the entry of a Default Judgment against the Defendant, awarding the Plaintiff everything they asked for in their Complaint. 

A Defendant may appear by filing and serving a written Notice of Appearance, without immediately serving an Answer. RCW 4.28.210. This is the most common means of appearing and it gives the Defendant time to research and draft a formal Answer without the risk of a Default Judgment. 

  • CR 4(a)(3) requires a Notice of Appearance to be in writing and signed by the Defendant or the Defendant’s Attorney. 
  • The Notice of Appearance must be served on the person whose name is signed on the Summons. 
  • You should make a record of the appearance by filing the Notice of Appearance, together with a Certificate of Service, in the Clerk’s Office. 

Appearance by Attorney: 

  • An attorney licensed to practice law in the state of Washington may appear on behalf of their client. RCW 2.44.010 and CR 70.1. 
  • Once an attorney has appeared on behalf of a party, service of pleadings and other papers must be made upon the attorney, rather than the client, unless the court orders otherwise. CR 5(b). 
  • Service on the attorney can properly be made until the lawyer has formally withdrawn from the case in the manner provided in CR 71. 

Pro Se Appearance: 

  • An adult natural person may prosecute or defend their own action pro se, without an attorney. 
  • A party appearing pro se is bound by the same rules of conduct and procedure as an attorney. 

Service of Answer is Appearance: 

  • Service of a formal Answer to the Complaint constitutes an appearance, even if the Answer is not preceded by a Notice of Appearance. RCW 4.28.210. 


From the Director: March 2021

Let the Law Library be Your Alexa

Barbara Engstrom, Executive Director, King County Law Library

Imagine having a remote assistant like Alexa but focused squarely on helping you with your legal practice. As a subscriber to the King County Law Library, you essentially have your very own virtual legal assistant at the touch of your phone or computer. Need a case from Westlaw, a section from a WSBA Deskbook or an annotated code section? We can quickly provide what you need. What about jury verdicts or Keyciting? We’ve got you covered. Do you have a thorny legal issue and would like to try out some searches on Westlaw? With our video reference, we can screen share databases like Westlaw or the WSBA Deskbooks and work interactively with you to run customized searches and share links in real time.

The law library can even go Alexa one better. If you are short on time or legal research resources and need someone to do your research for you, we can make that happen too. With our Let Us Do Your Research service you can hand off your search query and leave the heavy lifting to our experienced research staff. As you might guess, having what amounts to an on-demand, low-cost research assistant who comes armed with tens of thousands of dollars of legal research resources has been very popular. We have many very happy repeat customers for this service.

If it’s been a few years since you’ve been a part of the subscriber program, you should take a look at all the new services and benefits we added for subscribers in the past few years. Our goal is to make it as easy and convenient for you to use the law library services as possible, even if you prefer not to come to one of our physical locations. Here’s a quick overview of $100 per year gets you as a subscriber.

Remote Access to Lexis Digital eBook Collection

With our newest member benefit, subscribers get remote access to our eBook collection. The digital library includes all the Matthew Bender and Lexis treatises from our print collection including gold standard, multi-volume treatises such as Corbin on Contracts and Powell on Real Property.

Within the larger collection we’ve carved out a special Washington Practitioner Collection which includes all our Washington specific content in once convenient place. Included in the collection are: Employment in Washington: A Guide to Employment Laws, Regulations and Practice; Washington Business Entities: Laws and Forms; Washington Guardianship Law: Administration and Litigation; Washington Insurance Law; and Washington Law of Evidence among others. The LexisNexis Practice Guides, including: Washington Pretrial Civil Procedure, Washington Trial and Post-Trial Civil Procedure, and Washington Criminal Law, are also available. In addition to the practice sets, we also have the Annotated Revised Code of Washington and the Washington Court Rules Annotated available for remote checkout.

For those of you who, like me, are big fans of the KCBA Washington Lawyer’s Practice Manual, it is available for remote checkout by chapter for your convenience. Lexis Digital has recently acquired the WSBA Deskbooks and those will be available for remote checkout shortly too.

As one of our subscribers recently said:

I cannot tell you how incredibly helpful the Lexis Digital Library access has been over the past month. I have had to do a significant amount of research and I found everything that I needed as well as forms. Research and writing has always been the best part of my job as an attorney and this makes it so much easier for me to do both efficiently.

Let Us Do Your Research

For those times when you are running out of bandwidth and could use a helping hand, subscribers can take advantage of our Let Us Do Your Research service. As I noted earlier, for solo and small firm attorneys, it’s like having an on-demand, low-cost research assistant who comes armed with tens of thousands of dollars of legal research resources.

Subscribers submit research projects to us through our website. The first fifteen minutes of research is free as our staff reviews the request and determines: 1) if the question(s) fall within the scope of our expertise and our information resources; and 2) if we can meet the request deadline. Once we determine that the question meets these parameters, the subscriber decides if it makes sense to use the service and how much time she would like us to spend. The current rate for approved Let Us Do Your Research projects is $100 per hour, charged in 15-minute increments. Our researchers will limit the amount of time spent on the question to the predetermined amount. If the question takes less time than projected, we only charge for the time spent on the project. Subscribers receive a detailed research memo that includes references to the resources used, summaries of relevant caselaw as well as the full text of cases relied on in the research memo. This service is available only to subscribers.

Here’s what some of our Let Us Do Your Research service users have said:

I presented a fairly complicated question and didn’t want to spend my time down the rabbit hole. I wanted a pro to help me avoid the hours I would have taken to get to first base. I got a call a day after I sent the question from a gentleman who asked perfect questions and engaged in a fruitful and interesting back and forth on the issue. Three days later I got a clearly written road map memo that got me where I needed and then some. Overall great experience. Thank you, money well spent.

Very helpful! The problem with being an older attorney sometimes is I forget about other potential legal avenues I might pursue. In this case your research reminded me of Restatement of Judgments 2nd which gave me an excellent argument to hopefully defeat collateral estoppel

This is great and exactly what I was hoping for. As a solo practitioner who has zero staff, this type of assistance is invaluable. Thank you, again!

5 Free Document Deliveries Per Month

Subscribers get 5 free document deliveries per month. This can be a case, a section of a treatise, a law review article, or any other document we have in our collection. We’ll shoot you a copy of the requested material over email. For non-subscribers, document deliveries cost $25 per document.

Discounted Conference Room Reservations

We know that coming to the courthouse can be stressful in the best of times and is even more so in the middle of this pandemic. Many of you appreciate having a private, quiet place to use as a base of

operations during trial or to strategize over the lunch break. Law library subscribers get discounted rates on the use of the law library’s conference rooms.

The rate for subscribers is $20/hr and for non-subscribers is $35/hr. Reservations are generally for the lunch period which runs from 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. or all day which runs from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Conference rooms tend to book up quickly and once trials resume more fully, we expect this to be the case. Be sure to plan well in advance if you would like to reserve a conference room.

“Curbside” Book Checkout

Subscribers who prefer to research with print materials can take advantage of our “curbside” book checkout. You’ll notice the scare quotes around the word curbside. Our curbside pick-up and drop-off will occur, not on Third Avenue, but on the 6th floor in the rotunda space just outside the law library entrance in Seattle. Subscribers wishing to drop off or pick up materials can schedule an appointment in advance to arrange a time. Appointments will be staggered to create a minimum amount of time spent in proximity to others.

All returned items will be quarantined for 36 hours before they are allowed to return to active inventory. The catalog will be updated to indicate which items are in quarantine and when they will become available to check out.

Your Law Library Alexa Awaits

Become a subscriber to take full advantage of all that the law library has to offer. Your virtual legal assistant is standing by waiting to help you make the most of your time spent on legal research. To find out more about any of these subscriber services go to https://kcll.org/services/subscribe/ As always, please feel free to reach out with any questions to services@kcll.org

What Do I Need to File?

In order to initiate a lawsuit, you must file the original version of the following documents with the Court Clerk: 

These documents must be filed with the clerk’s office before they may be served on the judge and the opposing party. 

Visit the King County Superior Court Clerk’s website: https://www.kingcounty.gov/courts/clerk.aspx


What is Service of Process?


Service of Process Definition: 

    1. Giving court papers to the other party. 
    2. The formal delivery of a writ, summons, or other legal process, pleading, or notice to a litigant or other party interested in litigation; the legal communication of a judicial process (e.g., service by mail). 
    3. The official delivery of legal documents to opposing attorneys or parties. 

“Service of process” refers to providing the opposing party (or parties) with a copy of the Summons, Complaint, and Case Schedule Order. Service of process is governed by CR 4 and RCW 

In order to complete service of process, you must serve a conformed copy of the following documents on the opposing party: 

    • Summons 
    • Complaint 
    • Order setting Case Schedule (also know as the Case Schedule Order) 

The Summons and Complaint shall be served together. 

In Washington, you must always serve the opposing party in-person. The state of Washington requires personal service of the Summons, Complaint, and Case Schedule Order. 

In order to complete service of process, you must file a Proof of Personal Service form with the Court Clerk after you perform service of the documents listed above. 


If the defendant is a corporation 

If the defendant is a corporation or a company, the Summons, Complaint, and Case Schedule Order must be served on the “registered agent.” 

    • Frequently, a member of the company’s Board of Directors is the designated registered agent. They are usually served at the company’s address during  business hours. 
    • You can find registered agents and their office addresses by searching for the Corporation or Company name on the Washington Secretary of State Corporations website: https://www.sos.wa.gov/corps/. 


Who Can Serve 

Any competent person over the age of 18 who is not a party to the lawsuit (i.e. a third party) may serve process upon the opposing party. 

    • This means that you cannot provide service to the opposing party yourself, but you can get a friend to complete service. 
    • You may also hire a process server. 
    • For a fee, the Sheriff’s Civil Unit for the county in which you file your complaint will execute service of legal documents by the sheriff or sheriff’s deputy. Find information about service of process by the King County Sheriff’s Department here. 


Proof of Service 

You must provide proof of service to the court. 

    • If the sheriff serves process for you, the sheriff will complete and return the “Service Contact Information Sheet” to you. You must provide this form to the Sheriff’s office when you hire them to serve legal documents. You can find this form here. When service is complete and the form is returned to you, you must then file it with the Clerk’s Office. 
    • If a third party, such as a friend, serves process, you must have the person who served the legal documents sign and date a Proof of Personal Service form, return that completed form to you, and then you must file it with the Clerk’s Office.




What is a Complaint?

What is a Complaint?

    1. The first legal document filed in a civil lawsuit.
    2. The initial pleading that starts a civil action and states the basis for the court’s jurisdiction, the basis of the plaintiff’s claim, and the demand for relief.

It includes a statement of wrong or harm done to a plaintiff by the defendant and a request for a specific remedy from the court.

In family law cases, the complaint is called a petition.

The Complaint generally does not go into great detail, but only gives basic information about the alleged wrongdoing. Under CR 8(a), the only requirement for a Complaint is that it must contain: 

    1. A short and plain statement of the claim showing that the plaintiff is entitled to relief, and 
    2. A demand for judgment for the relief claimed. 

CR 8(a) adds that relief in the alternative, or of several different types, may be demanded. Attachments or Exhibits can be included with the Complaint. 

What is a Summons?

What is a Summons?

    1. The document that informs the Defendant: (1) that a suit has been brought against him or her AND (b) when the Answer must be filed. 
    2. A writ or process commencing the Plaintiff’s action and requiring the Defendant to appear and Answer. 

The Summons notifies the Defendant(s) that a suit has been brought against them and sets forth when the Defendant’s Answer must be made. Notification is part of due process. 

    • The content of the Summons for personal service is specified by CR 4 (civil cases generally) and CR 4.1 (family law proceedings). 
    • See also CR 8 on the form and content of the Summons pleading. 

The Plaintiff must serve the Defendant with a copy of the Summons and Complaint within ninety (90) days of the date of filing with the Clerk’s Office. The statute of limitations is tolled at ninety (90) days from the date of filing with the court. See RCW 4.16.170; Jones v. Stebbins, 122 Wn.2d 471, 860 P.2d 1009 (1993); Martin v. Triol, 121 Wn.2d 135, 847 P.2d 471 (1993). 

For a Summons personally served in Washington, the specified response time is twenty (20) days from the date of receipt; the Defendant has twenty (20) days from the date of receipt to reply in the form of a Notice of Appearance or Answer. CR 12. 

For a Summons served outside the state of Washington, the specified response time is 60 days. CR 12 and RCW 4.28.180. 

    • However, if a nonresident defendant has appointed a registered agent to receive service of process in Washington, and the registered agent is served in Washington, the response time is 20 days, not 60 days. CR 12. 
    • Out-of-state corporations and many other entities doing business in Washington are required to name a registered agent for service of process in Washington. 

When service is by publication, the statutes require a special form of Summons with a response time of 60 days from the date of first publication. CR 12 and RCW 4.28.110. 

Summonses, Proof of Service, and related documents require standardized forms.

From the Director: February 2021

Skip Tracing: What It Is and How to Do It Ethically

Barbara Engstrom, Executive Director King County Law Library with Stephen Seely, Outreach Services Attorney King County Law Library

One of the most popular CLEs that we offer at the King County Law Library is on the topic of skip tracing. In this column, we’ll discuss the burning questions regarding all things skip tracing with Stephen Seely, our Outreach Services Attorney.

BE: Stephen, I’ve always found skip tracing to be a very arcane term but for some reason it seems to be commonly used by attorneys or at least in CLE titles. What does skip tracing actually mean, and where does the term come from?

SS: Skip tracing is an old term of art from the private investigation industry, but understanding it is very straightforward. Historically, skip tracing was the process of tracking down someone who had neglected to pay a debt and had ran off. Most people are familiar with the related phrase “to skip town.” The term can be understood by breaking it down into two parts. First, there’s the “skip” which references the scofflaw you’re looking for. Second, there’s the tracking down of the skip, referred to as the “trace.” In modern use, skip tracing has much broader meaning than just finding people who owe debts. The term now means finding people, property, and assets.

BE: Good to know, so skip tracing is essentially the process of finding people and assets. What are the most common scenarios where attorneys would need to do people or asset finding?

SS: Well, there are many reasons why an attorney might need to do some skip tracing, but I would divide them into three general categories. The first category would be finding people. As with the traditional meaning of skip tracing, tracking down someone who owes a debt or is subject to a court judgment or garnishment is still very common. Tracking people who are involved in litigation is also very common. This could include finding parties in order to serve process, finding potential witness, or finding reluctant witnesses. The second category would be tracking down personal assets or information about real property for due diligence purposes. The third category would be tracking down valuations of real property and assessing personal assets.

BE: Much of my knowledge of private detective work comes from watching TV in the 1970s which included a steady diet of Colombo reruns. In my mind, skip tracing is rooting around in dumpsters in a ratty tan trench coat, tracking down marks at the horse track, and absentmindedly saying “oh and one last thing…” before neatly tying the case up. Presumably, things are much different now. What are your top resources for people finding?

SS: I’m happy to report that dumpster diving and trips to the track are no longer required. Skip tracing can largely be done online now, which makes it well suited to the realities of working during a pandemic. In my skip tracing CLE I go through dozens of websites for tracking down particular types of information. We don’t have the time or space to go over all of those now, but I do have recommendations for three sites that provide good jumping-off points. One of the trickiest things at the outset of this type of research is confirming that you have found the correct person. It can be very frustrating to spend a significant amount of time tracing a lead only to subsequently discover he wasn’t the correct “skip” after all. I’ve found that https://www.fastpeoplesearch.com and https://www.spokeo.com are both excellent places to start a free search. They cast a fairly broad net but offer enough information to help you decide if the profile you’re looking at is actually the person you’re looking for. Because social media has taken on an outsized role in the way that people connect with each other, if you have a person’s social media handle, using https://www.social-searcher.com can also be an excellent starting point for combing through social media platforms.

BE: We’ve all heard the horror stories of the ethical pitfalls of social media and litigation. What ethical considerations should attorneys be aware of when doing skip tracing research?

SS: Yes, this brings up a good point. I’m currently developing a CLE on the ethical issues that arise for attorneys when doing internet and social media research. This is a developing area of the law but all of the same basic ethical principles and proscriptions that would apply to real world interactions and tangible research also apply in the world of electronic research. As a general rule: if you wouldn’t do it in person, don’t do it online. Washington does not yet have any on-point ethics opinions about using the Internet to skip trace. However, the American Bar Association does have a formal ethics opinion regarding the more specific use of social media as a tool to investigate jurors. The gist of the opinion is that a lawyer may passively review a juror’s public presence on the Internet but may not communicate with a juror. The opinion also explains that requesting access to a private area on a juror’s social media (i.e., “friending” or “following”) is considered communication.

When in doubt, it’s advisable to err on the side of caution and limit yourself to publicly available information that you can obtain passively, without eliciting it from the skip themselves. And, as with any situation where you find yourself in an ethical grey area, it’s best to contact the WSBA’s ethics hotline for guidance regarding your situation at (206) 727-8284.

BE: This is great information Stephen, thanks for sharing. If people have questions, where can they go to find more information?

SS: My pleasure. For more information I recommend attending the King County Law Library’s Skip Tracing CLE. You can find the next scheduled class on the Law Library’s website by going to our website, www.kcll.org, and clicking on the “CLEs/Classes” option in the menu at the top of the page. As I noted earlier, I’m developing a CLE on the ethics of internet and social media research for attorneys. You can subscribe to KCLL’s newsletter to be alerted when that class becomes available.

BE: Thanks again, Stephen. For questions about skip tracing or any other research needs, remember that you can always contact the King County Law Library at services@kcll.org.