When someone receives a subpoena, there is indeed a legal obligation to respond. The response does not necessarily have to be compliance with the request or requests named in the document, however. It is possible to contest a subpoena under a variety of circumstances. People who receive subpoenas should consult a lawyer to discuss the terms of the subpoena and their options.
Also sometimes called a summons, a subpoena is a document which orders a person to show up at a court or law office at an appointed day and time to give evidence. This evidence may be in the form of testimony, which may be in a deposition or in court, or it can be physical material such as documents. A subpoena ad testificandum calls for spoken evidence, while a subpoena duces tecum calls for physical evidence.
When a summons is received, the first thing to do is to verify that it really is a summons, because sometimes ambiguous legal documents are used to trick people into doing things they are not actually obliged to do. The document should say "subpoena" or "summons" at the top, and include information about the issuer, the court, the case, and the parties involved. Lawyers and other officers of the court including judges and legal clerks are all empowered to issue subpoenas. One can call the issuing officer of the court to ask for clarification about the nature of the document, or ask a lawyer to look the document over and explain it.
If the subpoena is reasonable, the correct response would be to comply with the terms of the subpoena, showing up to give evidence as requested. Failure to comply can result in legal penalties in these cases. People can also contest a summons, however, for reasons such as improper service, undue hardship, or privacy breaches. People can also contest such documents if they are issued to the wrong person, as does happen now and again.
If someone intends to contest a summons, a lawyer should be hired to help, and the documents to file to contest should be filed as quickly as possible. People should not wait until the day named on the summons to contest it. Generally, people contest by filing a motion to quash, which means that they or a legal representative will need to show up in court to explain why they do not wish to comply with the subpoena.