Profile of a Maryland Process Server: Wilma T. Peppers
Wilma T. Peppers, 64, is originally from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, but she’s lived in Ellicott City (Howard County), Maryland, since November 1989. She has three adult sons and two grandchildren, but it's her seven chihuahuas that ride along when she's serving. Wilma's oldest son works for a utility company in Virginia, the middle is a marine stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, and the youngest is a professional comedian. Wilma also gives back to her community as a Covid-19 test administrator and previously as a 2020 Election Judge. Prior to the pandemic, she did animal rescue work.
Wilma recently took time out of her busy schedule to tell us more about her life and career as an ABC Legal process server.
What are you passionate about? Aside from being an animal advocate, I am passionate about music and movies. Prior to the lockdown, I went to the movie theater almost every Friday night. I attend as many as a dozen concerts, at indoor and outdoor venues, throughout the year. I listen to a wide range of music and enjoy everything from jazz to current day pop music.
Who inspires you? For many reasons, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. She embodies true grace under fire. I'd like to think that I draw upon a smidgen of her grace and composure every time I find myself in a difficult situation.
Tell us something about you that not many people know. I have a Nursing degree and am currently taking classes for administering the Covid-19 vaccine; I worked as a Litigation Specialist (paralegal) for 25+ years; and I speak four languages, including French, Spanish, English & Portuguese (the last two fluently).
Size of area you serve (zip codes): Service areas have changed frequently due to work availability. My home base is Howard County, but I also cover parts of neighboring counties: Frederick, Baltimore, Montgomery, Prince Georges that include more than 25 zip codes.
How long have you been a process server? Began full time in 2009, although I worked a brief stint as a process server in the early 1980s.
How long with ABC Legal? Since 2011, almost 10 years.
How many hours/week do you serve process? My hours vary greatly. Because I subcontract for other companies in addition to ABC, I can work 10+ hours/day, seven days/week (apx 70 hours). Conversely, I can work only a couple of days/week, amounting to only 10-15 hours/week.
How did you get your start? My career began with law as a paralegal. After my practice group disbanded in 2009, I was invited to work under the license of a private investigator who had been our go-to process server when I was working at my former law firm.
What legal requirements are there to work as a process server in your state? None except that you must be 18 and over.
What sort of training from ABC Legal? I came to ABC with a year's worth of hands-on experience, and there was no training in those days. More recently, with the expansion of corporate ABC governance over local territories, online training became available.
What’s your favorite part of the job? A successful serve on the first attempt! I do enjoy, for the most part, the people contact. Thankfully, not all encounters are adversarial.
What’s your least favorite part of the job? Confrontations! Though it doesn't happen often, it is always difficult to recover from even a minor brush with the servee.
What are some tips for people getting started as a process server?
- Be mild, be gentle, be kind, be diplomatic, and, above all, be polite.
- Be prepared (know who you're serving, what you're serving, confirm the house #, and take note of vehicles, packages, etc., that might help confirm residency).
- Be concise (take note of everything, even if it seems irrelevant, and be accurate without overinflating the sequence of events).
- Be safe! Take note of surroundings upon approach (Are there loose dogs? What available items could I use to shield myself if a dog charges? Always do a mental check for an escape route. Park car strategically for a fast exit while still respecting the resident's property). Always secure storm/screen doors with foot to prevent an aggressive dog from forcing through. Carry pepper spray and keep it on your person for quick access. Attempt the riskier addresses during the day first.
What’s the most important thing to know/remember? Always be professional and respectful, no matter how tense an encounter may be. Learn the art of de-escalating a difficult situation so as to minimize the risk of physical violence.
What does a typical serve look like? I conduct a brief review of the information provided, assess the environment, stand back from the door (even prior to Covid), ask for the defendant using his/her full name, and I ask necessary questions to better understand the situation. Oftentimes, you can obtain much more information if you explain why you are asking. Be polite (yes sir, no ma'am, thank you)!
Do you provide other services besides process serving such as notary, investigations, etc.? Though I am a Notary, I have no reason to use it in conjunction with serving papers. I sometimes am asked to perform minor investigative-type services, but usually only perform them under the license of a private investigator.
How do you keep yourself safe? Again, being polite and professional is usually the best way to avoid confrontations. Also, I will do a mental check to prepare for possible untoward scenarios. I always carry pepper spray. Additionally, I keep a heavy police-type flashlight in my pocket in case I have no recourse but to defend myself.
Is there any technology you find helpful? The ABC app! Having served papers for dozens of other companies -- hands down -- nothing compares to the ease of use and convenience of the ABC app.
How has technology, such as the ABC Legal process server app, impacted your job as a process server? The app facilitates the documentation process and it corroborates the server's account, eliminating the need to justify attempts. "Veni, vidi, vici," that is: I came (gps coordinates), I saw (detailed description), I conquered (served).
Do you use any other tech tools in your work? GPS and a high-end flashlight.
How has the pandemic changed process serving? Surprisingly, the pandemic hasn't changed much. People are answering the door and have not, for the most part, objected to receiving papers. Of course, it helps that Covid-19 precautions are being implemented with every serve.
Do you have indicators when it might be a more difficult serve and how does this change your process? My experience has been that the more difficult serves don't manifest themselves right away, which is why it is important to keep the exchange of words down to a minimum. When I sense that someone is growing angry, I can usually talk my way out of it through politeness and by using language that de-escalates rather than incites. Choose your words wisely.
Do you face natural disasters? If so, how does it affect process serving? The most common barriers to serving in my area are inclement weather, specifically flooding and heavy snowfalls. Though rare, we've experienced tornadoes and hurricanes, and even small earthquakes. Under all of these conditions, it's a matter of waiting it out until it is safe to return to serving.
How has the industry changed since you started? The do's and dont's of serving have been better defined since my initial serves in the '80s.
Any lessons learned as a process server? Trust no one; check, check, and triple check; maintain composure at all times. Dress professionally, but comfortably. You can't run fast in heels.
Any fun serving stories? You can't be a process server without accumulating a good deal of stories. Here's a recent (and short) one: I struggle with unpronounceable foreign names, especially the long, 3+ names that are made up of mostly consonants, so I practice before knocking. On this particular occasion, an elderly woman answered the knock from behind closed doors. I slowly pronounced the defendant's name. The woman said, "What?" So, I tried again with even more exaggerated effort to pronounce the full name. Again, the woman says, "What?" followed by, "Can you speak English? I can't understand you."
How are you managing during the pandemic? What has been the most significant change? The flow of work has been greatly impacted by the restrictions imposed during the pandemic. As such, my workflow has been inconsistent, reduced, and often interrupted.
What else should we know about you? My seven chihuahuas ride with me while I am serving.
About ABC Legal
With more than 2,000 process servers across the U.S. and 75 countries, ABC Legal is the nation’s leading service of process and court filing provider, as well as the Acting Central Authority to the U.S. Department of Justice. Our digital approach saves valuable time and resources, and our cloud-based solutions are compatible for use on desktop, browser, and smartphones. Docketly—an ABC Legal subsidiary—provides appearance counsel on a digital, custom-built platform that smoothly integrates with our applications and services. Learn more at www.abclegal.com.