As a small business owner, you probably receive a large number of important documents through both your business and personal email accounts. Therefore, it can be easy to overlook a legal document you receive through email. This article will explain: 

  • some of the most important legal documents you might receive via email; and 
  • what to do if you receive one.

What Important Documents Might You Receive?

Legal documents that can affect your business fall into four main categories. These are:

  1. court documents;
  2. demands; 
  3. notices under contracts; and
  4. correspondence from government agencies.

Court Documents

There are many documents used in court processes.  Documents that are used to commence legal proceedings include subpoenas, statutory demands and bankruptcy notices. These are known as originating processes.

Originating Processes

Depending on the state, originating processes have different names, including:  

It is also possible to receive a third party notice. This is a notice that brings you into a proceeding that has already begun between two other parties. 

These documents usually must be served either personally or via service on a company. Service on a company means that these documents can be delivered to the company’s director or office. If you have listed your current or former accountant as your company’s registered office, they may email you to notify you that your company has been served. 

You are also able to instruct your lawyers to accept service of an originating process on your behalf. If you have opted for this, you might receive an email or call from your current or previous lawyer informing you that they have received such a document.

All originating processes are very serious documents to which you must respond before the stated deadline. Failure to do so can have serious consequences and could lead to a default judgment.

It has become fairly common for parties to serve court documents via email. If you acknowledge the service of court documents via return email, this may count as accepting service of the documents. 

Subpoenas

A subpoena is a legal document which a court issues at the request of a party to a legal proceeding. This legal document compels a person to produce documents or give evidence at a hearing or trial. However, it may be possible to set aside a subpoena where:

  • it is too difficult to comply with a subpoena; or 
  • the subpoena was issued for an improper purpose. 

There may be times where an individual wants your employee to provide documents that belong to your business. In these situations, a court will likely issue a subpoena to your business instead of to the employee. Your business will then be responsible for ensuring that the employee complies with the subpoena. 

As above, subpoenas need to be served personally or via service on a company. Failure to comply with this requirement can result in serious consequences.

Statutory Demands and Bankruptcy Notices

Statutory demands and bankruptcy notices are documents that are served on companies and individuals who have failed to pay money to their creditors. If you fail to comply with these notices before the deadlines, your creditors can apply to a court to have you or your company declared insolvent. If a court declares your company insolvent, it means that your company has been declared unable to pay its debt on time.

Once the deadlines have expired, it can be very difficult to prevent a court granting such an application or undoing orders it has made.

Demands

Parties to a dispute will often issue a formal letter of demand just before commencing legal proceedings. It is often the last opportunity for both parties to resolve the dispute before incurring court costs. The purpose of a formal demand is to set out: 

  • what the other party wants from you; and 
  • why you should give it to them. 

If you receive a letter of demand, you have four options. You can choose to:

  1. perform the act demanded (usually, payment of the amount demanded before a stated deadline);
  2. make an offer to pay an amount without admitting any fault (called a without prejudice offer); 
  3. write to the other party setting out why you do not agree with their letter of demand and why; or
  4. request additional time to respond to the demand.

Most often, parties send demands by email so that the opposing party can receive them as quickly as possible. 

Given the serious nature of the potential consequences, you should seek legal advice when you receive a letter of demand. More importantly, you should act before the expiry of the deadline. Failing to do so can result in the dispute becoming significantly more serious and expensive for both parties. 

Notices Under Contracts

As a small business, you will have likely entered into many contracts, such as:

  • leases;
  • loans;
  • guarantees; and 
  • supply agreements. 

Each of these contracts will likely have a notice clause which specifies where notices must be issued before a party can exercise a clause of that agreement. 

This means that you may receive a default or breach notice via the email address you provided at the time of entering into the contract. If your email has changed since then, the default or breach notice may have been sent to an email address you no longer use. If you do not respond appropriately, the other party to the contract may terminate the contract or seek to enforce any securities which you provided to them. The exact situation will depend on the contents of the contract itself. 

If you receive such a notice, you should act quickly to seek advice on receipt of such notice. You should seek advice preferably from the lawyer who reviewed the contract before you entered into it. You should also regularly check to make sure that your contact details are up to date for all the contracts that you are a party to

Correspondence from Government Agencies

You may also receive documents from local, state or Australian government agencies. Ignoring such documents can result in a variety of consequences. 

There are currently many scam emails purporting to be from a variety of government agencies. If you receive suspicious correspondence, you should first contact the agency directly to verify its legitimacy. Some agencies such as the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) also have information available online to help you.

What Should I Do if I Receive One of the Above Documents?

If you receive one of the above documents, you should read it carefully and note:

  • who it is from;
  • who the document addresses (you individually or your company); and
  • any deadlines that it sets out. 

If you have any doubts as to its authenticity, you should call the relevant court, issuing authority or sender using contact details from their official website. Finally, if you still think that there is something wrong with the document, we recommend asking a lawyer to look at it for you and provide you with advice if necessary. Most importantly, you must make sure that you do all of the above before any deadlines expire.

Key Takeaways

If you receive a letter of demand, notice under a contract or correspondence from a government agency, make sure that you give it your utmost attention and take action before any deadlines expire. If you think that you might have been served with an originating process or are not sure of the legitimacy of the documents received via email, contact LegalVision’s dispute and litigation lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page. 

About LegalVision: LegalVision is a tech-driven, full-service commercial law firm that uses technology to deliver a faster, better quality and more cost-effective client experience.

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Sam Riggall
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