They key to understanding personal jurisdiction is that it is a multi-step analysis, as follows:
First, there must be a basis for jurisdiction. The basis can be established by consent (the defendant agrees to the court’s jurisdiction), waiver (the defendant fails to timely object to personal jurisdiction), domicile (the defendant lives in the forum state), transient jurisdiction (this occurs when the defendant is personally served with process in the forum state), or a long-arm statute (this is the most commonly tested by Civil Procedure professors and on the Uniform Bar Exam). A common mistake in analyzing personal jurisdiction is jumping straight to the constitutional analysis, without first identifying the basis for jurisdiction. This is understandable, since most Civil Procedure courses spend the bulk of the time devoted to personal jurisdiction on the due process part of the analysis. However, it is very important that you first establish a basis for jurisdiction before moving on to the due process issue.
Second, you must establish that the exercise of jurisdiction comports with due process. If the basis for jurisdiction is consent, waiver, domicile, or transient jurisdiction, due process is automatically satisfied. (You can see now why it is so important to establish the basis of jurisdiction first before moving on to the constitutional analysis!) If the basis is a long-arm statute, due process requires that (1) the defendant have sufficient minimum contacts with the forum state; and (2) the exercise of jurisdiction does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. With respect to the first requirement (minimum contacts), you need to determine if jurisdiction is general (meaning that the lawsuit is unrelated to the defendant’s contacts with the forum state) or specific (meaning that the lawsuit is related to the defendant’s contacts). If jurisdiction is general, the contacts must be continuous and systematic. If jurisdiction is specific, only one contact is required as long as there is purposeful availment of the forum by the defendant.
That was a lot of information! You may want to read the paragraphs above to get a better handle on how the analysis works, and then review the flow chart, which will help you to see how those steps come together.