Hague Envoy created an app to efficiently generate completed Hague Service Requests (colloquially known as the USM-94). This request allows litigators in the US and Canada to serve opposing parties in other countries, but the standard request form comes in multiple versions and is sent under varying requirements for each country. Learn how they launched the legal app, decided on pricing, and marketed it to their customer base.
Service of process is tricky enough when you’re serving a party in the same state - it becomes even more complicated when you’re serving documents on litigants in a foreign country. The Hague Service Convention is a multilateral treaty adopted in 1965 to create an efficient way to serve legal documents on individuals or entities in foreign countries using the proper methods required by those countries. The treaty is applicable in over 100 jurisdictions, including the US and Canada.
While the Hague Service Convention does create an adequate way of initiating legal proceedings, parties serving in different countries encounter problems due to complex processes, language barriers and varying procedural requirements in each jurisdiction.
That’s where Peggy Lukken comes in to save the day (and the kickoff of the case). Peggy is the Developer and Managing Director of Hague Envoy. She noticed an opportunity to streamline the process and eliminate the obstacles with international service of documents.
Are you here to serve documents abroad? Click here to go to Hague Envoy and start the process.
Peggy’s partner, Aaron Lukken is an attorney with extensive expertise in service of process and cross-border litigation support. Peggy took Aaron’s expertise and built an automated platform to scale it to all parties initiating cases abroad.
Specifically, Peggy built a platform to efficiently generate completed Hague Service Requests (colloquially known as the USM-94). This request allows litigators in the US and Canada to serve opposing parties in other countries, but the standard request form comes in multiple versions and is sent under varying requirements for each country.
Previously, litigators’ only option, other than a do-it-yourself approach, was to engage Aaron or someone like him (a very limited field) one-on-one. In many cases, Aaron’s fees were cost-prohibitive, but the litigators recognized that they shouldn’t go it alone. Yet no platform was helping with service abroad using technology, so Peggy decided to build it. She signed up for Documate’s no-code automation software, which is the infrastructure for her platform. Although Peggy had no experience in coding, she was able to create a full-fledged legal technology company in a previously untouched area. In doing so, she has established Hague Envoy as the one online platform that actually assists users in completing the proper forms. Various “free PDF fillers” pop up in online searches, but Hague Envoy is the only system that interacts with the user, offering guidance and formatting help. It even provides comprehensive instructions on what to do when the form is completed.
The complexity of Hague Envoy’s platform is shown by the ease of creating documents that can be served in over 100 jurisdictions worldwide. We sat down with the mastermind of Hague Envoy, Peggy Lukken, to learn more about her journey and the future of her company:
PL: I’m an educator and a conflict specialist who has never done any coding in her life. About four years ago, my husband had an idea to create a platform where any legal professional could create their own Hague Service Request forms, get guidance, and do it accurately. He didn't have the time, attention or patience to put it together then. But once his practice reached a point where we could afford for me to leave my 9-5 job, I decided to build this out and things got very interesting.
It took me every bit of two months to find the perfect platform to build it on. I even got a bid from someone for $30,000 to create a basic version of it for me from scratch. That's a lot for a startup. We didn’t have the extra cash flow to put into something that we weren't even sure was going to work. It took months of research to find the right platform, and Documate was the perfect fit.
The primary function of Hague Envoy was to sell a product to legal professionals who were not already coming to Aaron for his expertise. Typically, these people didn’t access his expertise either because of cost or because they felt like they could do it on their own and weren’t aware of the pitfalls. It helps those legal professionals reduce the hours that it would take them to figure out what they have to do.
If they have all of the information and materials together, they can generate service requests for up to ten defendants in the same case in less than 20 minutes.
We’ve created a safe space for legal professionals that is a cost-effective and value-add resource.
PL: The Hague Service Convention is a treaty that has been joined by 79 countries (several covering numerous jurisdictions under one signature), each with its own procedural requirements. It allows you to serve an entity or individual in those countries. The service form (USM-94) standardizes the information submitted and harmonizes methods, so there’s consistency between Central Authorities while recognizing each country’s unique requirements.
So, what we’ve done is automate this into an expert system on Documate. The legal professional starts with a checklist to prepare all their documents. Then, they go through and answer a series of questions. Based on the answers to those questions, we route them to the specific procedures, instructions, and documents they need.
As one example of particular methods for foreign countries, we may need to give the user an instruction that particular statements on the form need to be translated into the local language in some jurisdictions before they can continue. There may also be other country-specific information and rules for how to effect service, including whether they accept an electronic signature and what constitutes prompt service under the convention.
Once they’ve filled out all the information and gone through the workflow, they can review their responses. Then, they submit their approval, and Documate generates PDFs that they can download and are emailed to them. This includes detailed instructions on the next steps, estimated response times, and fees based on their situation– and even includes a sample cover letter to send to the correct Central Authority. Our platform eliminates the need for guesswork and eliminates the possibility of a very costly and time-consuming mistake.
PL: We’ve experimented a lot with pricing to get to the right place in the market, where we are providing immense value to our customers but are still fairly compensated for the knowledge base built into the platform.
To start, this was a difficult product to price because nothing else like it existed previously. We did some market research among our contacts and peers in the legal community to see what they would be willing to pay for something like this. We let them test out the software, and the price tag they suggested was $500-750 per defendant. That seemed high for an unknown product.
We started out charging $350 per defendant. But when we launched it, we could see in our metrics that people were freezing at the paywall, even at $350.
The people who were continuing on needed to serve in more complex countries where they just couldn't figure out the process at all - like China, Mexico, India, and Pakistan. So we dropped the price to $250 per defendant, but people were still stopping at the paywall.
We realized that the problem wasn’t price, but trust.
Prospective users didn’t know who we were and that we were credible, so I built an About Us page. I also convinced Aaron to put up a Resources page listing three translation providers that we trust.
When we did that, we bumped the fee up to $375 per defendant, because now the user knows the platform was developed from the knowledge base of a well-known expert in this niche area of law. So there's a lot of intellectual power and familiarity behind the platform. Since then, we’ve had a lot more success.
Pricing is truly about finding balance. You want to charge a price that is reasonable to the user, but you also don't want to discredit your own product by charging too little. So, we had a long road, but we’ve finally hit the market equilibrium point.
PL: We’re currently focused on helping with outgoing civil process requests, but we also see opportunities in other areas. Specifically, another project I’m working on is a document automation tool for human resources forms.
Building (and maintaining) legal tech products is like a little ATM. You put in your hard work and expertise, and it pays dividends.
PL: The best way to start is to fully develop your workflow before digging into the tech aspect of a platform. If you've got your workflow and documents mapped out, then it pretty much comes together on its own. Ask for help. Documate is great at helping you throughout the build.
Don’t lose patience on this huge vision you want to realize. You will create something fabulous.
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