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Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer Steven Salvati concentrates on defending those persons charged with Red Light Camera Tickets. Since 2011 we have defended hundreds of Red Light Camera Traffic Citations. If you have been charged with any traffic offense in South Florida, or your license has been suspended or revoked, we may be able to help you get back on the road.

Contact Form or Call Us 561-279-0775 or Fax Us 561-279-9775

Attorney Steven Salvati
235 Ne 6Th Ave, Delray Beach, FL 33483, United States
(561) 279-0775
Mon-Fri: 9am – 5pm
Sat-Sun: Closed

Click for Map of South Florida Red Light Camera Locations

Red Light Tickets

Red Light tickets are being given out more and more each day. In fact there is a big movement to install thousands of red light cameras across the nation!
Running red lights is one of the deadliest types of traffic infractions. However, as we all know, sometimes we just make a mistake and ran the light. But this does not mean you should have to get points on your license.
If you get a ticket for running a red light from an officer, we can fight it. In fact, if you just pay it, you will get points. However, in South Florida there are now dozens of Red Light Cameras in place:

Palm Beach County Red Light Cameras

Gateway Blvd & N Congress Ave Boynton Beach, FL 33426
W Boynton Beach Blvd & N Congress Ave Boynton Beach, FL 33426
S Federal Hwy & SE 23rd Ave Boynton Beach, FL 33435
Woolbright Rd & S Congress Ave Boynton Beach, FL 33436
Belvedere Rd & Parker Ave West Palm Beach, FL 33405
N Australian Ave & 25th St West Palm Beach, FL 33407
N Australian Ave & Banyan Blvd West Palm Beach, FL 33401
Summit Blvd & Parker Ave West Palm Beach, FL 33405
U.S. Highway 1 & Donald Ross Rd Juno Beach, FL 33408
Donald Ross and ellison Wilson Road
U.S. Hwy 1 and Juno Isle Blvd
U.S. Highway 1 and Universe Blvd
Powerline Rd & W Palmetto Park Rd Boca Del Mar, FL 33433
Lantana Rd & Jog Rd Lake Worth, FL 33463
Forest Hill Blvd & S Congress Ave West Palm Beach, FL 33406
S Congress Ave & 10th Ave N Palm Springs, FL 33461
Lake Worth Rd & S Congress Ave Lake Worth Corridor, FL 33461
N Military Trail & 45th St West Palm Beach, FL 33407
Okeechobee Blvd & Palm Beach Lakes Blvd West Palm Beach, FL 33409
N Congress Ave & Palm Beach Lakes Blvd West Palm Beach, FL 33401
Okeechobee Blvd & Jog Rd West Palm Beach, FL 33411
N Congress Ave & 45th St West Palm Beach, FL 33407
45th St & Village Blvd West Palm Beach, FL 33407
Okeechobee Blvd & Spencer Dr West Palm Beach, FL 33409
Palm Beach Lakes Blvd & Spencer Dr West Palm Beach, FL 33409
Okeechobee Blvd & N Congress Ave West Palm Beach, FL 33409
Belvedere Rd & S Australian Ave West Palm Beach, FL 33409
Village Blvd & Brandywine Rd West Palm Beach, FL 33409
Belvedere Rd & Parker Ave West Palm Beach, FL 33405
S Dixie Hwy & Okeechobee Blvd West Palm Beach, FL 33401
Forest Hill Blvd
West Palm Beach, FL
Palm Beach Lakes Blvd & N Tamarind Ave West Palm Beach, FL 33401
Okeechobee Blvd & Interstate 95 West Palm Beach, FL 33401
Southern Blvd. and S. Dixie Hwy
Okeechobee Blvd & S Rosemary Ave West Palm Beach, FL 33401
Broadway & 45th St West Palm Beach, FL 33407
N Australian Ave & Palm Beach Lakes Blvd West Palm Beach, FL 33401
Palm Beach Lakes Blvd & N Robbins Dr West Palm Beach, FL 33409
Okeechobee Blvd & S Sapodilla Ave West Palm Beach, FL 33401
Glades Rd & NW 15th Ave Boca Raton, FL 33431
Glades Rd & St Andrews Blvd Boca Raton, FL 33431
Glades Rd & NW 2nd Ave Boca Raton, FL 33432
N Federal Hwy & NE 20th St Boca Raton, FL 33431
Clint Moore Rd & Congress Ave Boca Raton, FL 33499
N Military Trail & Spanish River Blvd Boca Raton, FL 33431

Attorney Steven Salvati gives clients personal attention and excellent customer service.
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Monday - Friday 9:00AM to 5:00PM
Evening and Saturday appointments available
All Major Credit Cards Accepted: MasterCard, Visa, Discover Card and American Express
Payment plans available
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While our office is located in South Palm Beach County, we represent clients in:
Broward County
Dade County
Martin County
Palm Beach County
Miami-Dade County
St. Lucie County

We handle red light camera tickets in every South Florida County.

Broward County Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer:

Coconut Creek Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Cooper City Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Coral Springs Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Dania Beach Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Davie Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Deerfield Beach Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Fort Lauderdale Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Hallandale Beach Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Hillsboro Beach Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Hollywood Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Lauderdale-By-The-Sea Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Lauderdale Lakes Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Lauderhill Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Lazy Lake Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Lighthouse Point Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Margate Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Miramar Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

North Lauderdale Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Oakland Park Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Parkland Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Pembroke Park Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Pembroke Pines Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Plantation Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Pompano Beach Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Sea Ranch Lakes Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Southwest Ranches Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Sunrise Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Tamarac Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

West Park Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Weston Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Wilton Manors Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Dade County Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer:

Aventura Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Bal Harbour Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Bay Harbor Islands Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Biscayne Park Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Coral Gables Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Cutler Bay Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Doral Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

El Portal Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Florida City Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Golden Beach Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Hialeah Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Hialeah Gardens Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Homestead Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Indian Creek Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Key Biscayne Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Medley Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Miami Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Miami Beach Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Miami Gardens Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Miami Lakes Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Miami Shores Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Miami Springs Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

North Bay Village Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

North Miami Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

North Miami Beach Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Opa-Locka Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Palmetto Bay Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Pinecrest Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

South Miami Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Sunny Isles Beach Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Surfside Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Sweetwater Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Virginia Gardens Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

West Miami Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Martin County Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer:

Hobe Sound Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Hutchinson Island Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Indiantown Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Jensen Beach Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Jupiter Island Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

North River Shores Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Ocean Breeze Park Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Palm City Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Port Mayaca Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Port Salerno Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Rio Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Sewalls Point Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Stuart Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Palm Beach County Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer:

Atlantis Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Belle Glade Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Boca Raton Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Boynton Beach Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Briny Breezes Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Cloud Lake Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Delray Beach Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Glen Ridge Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Golf Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Greenacres Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Gulf Stream Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Haverhill Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Highland Beach Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Hypoluxo Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Juno Beach Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Jupiter Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Jupiter Inlet Colony Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Lake Clarke Shores Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Lake Park Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Lake Worth Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Lantana Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Loxahatchee Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Manalapan Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Mangonia Park Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

North Palm Beach Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Ocean Ridge Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Pahokee Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Palm Beach Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Palm Beach Gardens Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Palm Beach Shores Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Palm Springs Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Riviera Beach Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Royal Palm Beach Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

South Bay Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

South Palm Beach Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Tequesta Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Wellington Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

West Palm Beach Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

St. Lucie County Red Light Camera Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer:

Ankona Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Eden Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Eldred Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Fort Pierce Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Fort Pierce North Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Fort Pierce South Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Hutchinson Island South Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Indian River Estates Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Lakewood Park Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

North Hutchinson Island Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Port Saint Lucie Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

River Park Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Saint Lucie Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

St. Lucie West Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Tradition Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Walton Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

White City Red Light Camera Ticket Lawyer

Red light camera

A red light camera is a traffic enforcement camera that captures an image of a vehicle which has entered an intersection against a red traffic light. By automatically photographing vehicles that run red lights, the camera produces evidence that assists authorities in their enforcement of traffic laws. Generally the camera is triggered when a vehicle enters the intersection after the traffic light has turned red. Typically, a law enforcement official will review the photographic evidence and determine whether a violation occurred. A citation is then usually mailed to the owner of the vehicle found to be in violation of the law. These cameras are used worldwide, in countries including: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, Singapore and the United States. If a proper identification cannot be made in lieu of a ticket, some police departments send out a notice of violation to the owner of the vehicle, requesting identifying information so that a ticket may later be issued.

There is debate and ongoing research about the use of red light cameras. Authorities cite public safety as the primary reason that the cameras are installed, while opponents contend their use is more for financial gain than for safety. There have been concerns that red light cameras scare drivers into more sudden stops, perhaps on a yellow light, which is likely to increase rear-end collisions, while some stop lights allow a red-light grace period of a few seconds before the cross-direction turns green. However, the increased incentive to stop could reduce right-angle crashes during turns. Some studies have confirmed many more rear-end collisions where red light cameras have been used, while right-angle crashes decreased, but the overall collision rate has been mixed as to whether the total crashes were higher when using red light cameras. In some areas, the length of the yellow light has been increased to provide a longer warning with a red light camera. There is also concern that the international standard formula used for setting the length of yellow lights opposes the laws of physics, that opposition causing millions of drivers every day to inadvertently run red lights and a fraction of those to crash.


Red light cameras were first developed in the Netherlands by Gatso. Worldwide, red light cameras have been in use since the 1960s, and were used for traffic enforcement in Israel as early as 1969. The first red light camera system was introduced in 1965, using tubes stretched across the road to detect the violation and subsequently trigger the camera. One of the first developers of these red light camera systems was Gatsometer BV.

The cameras first received serious attention in the United States in the 1980s following a highly publicized crash in 1982, involving a red-light runner who collided with an 18-month-old girl in a stroller (or "push-chair") in New York City. Subsequently, a community group worked with the city's Department of Transportation to research automated law-enforcement systems to identify and ticket drivers who run red lights. New York's red-light camera program went into effect in 1993. From the 1980s onward, red light camera usage expanded worldwide, and one of the early camera system developers, Poltech International, supplied Australia, Britain, South Africa, Taiwan, the Netherlands and Hong Kong. American Traffic Systems (subsequently American Traffic Solutions) (ATS) and Redflex Traffic Systems emerged as the primary suppliers of red light camera systems in the US, while Jenoptik became the leading provider of red light cameras worldwide.

Initially, all red light camera systems used film, which was delivered to local law enforcement departments for review and approval. The first digital camera system was introduced in Canberra in December 2000, and digital cameras have increasingly replaced the older film cameras in other locations since then.


Red light cameras are typically installed in protective metal boxes attached to poles at intersections, which are often specifically chosen due to high numbers of crashes and/or red-light-running violations. Red light camera systems typically employ two closely spaced inductive loops embedded in the pavement just before the limit line, to measure the speed of vehicles. Using the speed measured, the system predicts if a particular vehicle will not be able to stop before entering the intersection, and takes two photographs of the event. The first photo shows the vehicle just before it enters the intersection, with the light showing red, and the second photo, taken a second or two later, shows the vehicle when it is in the intersection.

Details that may be recorded by the camera system (and later presented to the vehicle owner) include: the date and time, the location, the vehicle speed, and the amount of time elapsed since the light turned red and the vehicle passed into the intersection. The event is captured as a series of photographs or a video clip, or both, depending on the technology used, which shows the vehicle before it enters the intersection on a red light signal and its progress through the intersection. The data and images, whether digital or developed from film, are sent to the relevant law enforcement agency. There, the information is typically reviewed by a law enforcement official or police department clerk, who determines if a violation occurred and, if so, approves issuing a citation to the vehicle owner, who may challenge the citation.

Studies have shown that 38% of violations occur within 0.25 seconds of the light turning red and 79% within one second. A few red light camera systems allow a "grace period" of up to half a second for drivers who pass through the intersection just as the light turns red. Ohio and Georgia introduced a statute requiring that one second be added to the standard yellow time of any intersection that has a red light camera, which has led to an 80% reduction in tickets since its introduction. New Jersey has the strictest yellow timing provisions in the country as a result of concerns that cameras would be used to generate revenue; they have a statute specifying that the yellow time for an intersection that has a red light camera must be based on the speed at which 85% of the road's traffic moves rather than be based on the road's actual speed limit.


Red light camera usage is widespread in a number of countries worldwide. Netherlands-based Gatso presented red light cameras to the market in 1965, and red light cameras were used for traffic enforcement in Israel as early as 1969. In the early 1970s, red light cameras were used for traffic enforcement in at least one jurisdiction in Europe. Australia began to use them on a wide scale in the 1980s. As of July 21, 2010, expansion of red light camera usage in Australia is ongoing. In some areas of Australia, where the red light cameras are used, there is an online system to check the photograph taken of your vehicle if you receive a ticket. Singapore also began use of red light cameras in the 1980s, and installed the first camera systems during five years, starting in August 1986. In Canada, by 1998, red light cameras were in use in British Columbia and due to be implemented in Manitoba. In Alberta, red light cameras were installed in 1999 in Edmonton and in 2001 in Calgary. The UK first installed cameras in the 1990s, with the earliest locations including eight rail crossings in Scotland where there was greatest demand for enforcement of traffic signals due to fatalities.

United States

Since the early 1990s, red light cameras have been used in the United States in 26 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Within some states, the cameras may only be permitted in certain areas. For example, in New York State, the Vehicle and Traffic Law permits red light cameras only within cities with a population above 1 million (i.e. New York City), Rochester, Buffalo, Yonkers, and Nassau and Suffolk Counties. In Florida, a state law went into effect on 1 July 2010, which allows all municipalities in the state to use red light cameras on all state-owned right-of-ways and fine drivers who run red lights, with the aim of enforcing safe driving, according to then-Governor Charlie Crist. The name given to the state law is the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act, named for a man who was killed in 2003 by a motorist who ran a red light. In addition to allowing the use of cameras, the law also standardizes driver fines. Major cities throughout the US that use red light cameras include Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Memphis, Miami, New Orleans, New York City, Newark, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Raleigh, San Francisco, Seattle, Toledo and Washington, D.C. Albuquerque has cameras, but in October 2011 local voters approved a ballot measure advising the city council to cease authorizing the red light camera program. The City of Albuquerque ended its red light program on 31 December 2011. Suppliers of red-light cameras in the US include: Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) State and Local Solutions, a Xerox company, of Dallas, Texas; American Traffic Solutions of Scottsdale, Arizona, 1/3 owned by Goldman Sachs; Brekford International Corp., of Hanover, Maryland; CMA Consulting Services, Inc. of Latham, New York; Gatso USA of Beverly, Massachusetts; iTraffic Safety LLC of Ridgeland, South Carolina; Optotraffic, of Lanham, Maryland; Redflex Traffic Systems of Phoenix, Arizona, with its parent company in Australia; RedSpeed-Illinois LLC, of Lombard, Illinois, whose parent company is in Worcestershire, England; SafeSpeed, LLC, of Chicago, Illinois, and SENSYS America Inc., of Miami, Florida.

Some states have chosen to prohibit the use of red light cameras. These include Arkansas, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire and West Virginia.

In February 2012, the red light camera ordinance in the city of St. Louis was officially declared void by St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Mark Neill. On 9 August 2012, the Cary, North Carolina town council voted to end their program. In February 2013, the San Diego mayor helped remove a red light camera to keep the campaign promise he made during the November 2012 election to eliminate these systems.

In the United States, fines are not standardized and vary to a great degree, from $50 in New York City to approximately $500 in California. The cost in California can increase to approximately $600 if the motorist elects to attend traffic school in order to avoid having a demerit point added to his or her driving record.

Notice of traffic violation

In many California police departments, when a positive identification cannot be made, the registered owner of the vehicle will be mailed a notice of traffic violation instead of a real ticket. Also known as "snitch tickets," these notices are used to request identifying information about the driver of the vehicle during the alleged violation. Because these notices have not been filed at court, they carry no legal weight and the registered owner is under no obligation to respond. In California, a genuine ticket will bear the name and address of the local branch of the Superior Court and direct the recipient to contact that Court. In contrast, a notice of traffic violation generated by the police will omit court information, using statements like "This is not a notice to appear" and "Do not forward this information to the Court." 2013

In Chicago, Illinois, violation videos are uploaded to the City of Chicago's website at cityofchicago.org. A notice of violation is also sent to the driver via mail. In the suburbs, a "Red Light Photo Enforced" sign is mounted on a traffic signal mast arm.

Also, many communities in the US upload violation videos prior to notification to driver and offer online payment of red light tickets at payonlineticket.com.

Privacy complaints include having the number of page views recorded.

Commercial complaints are that payment is not made to the community and the community only gets a percentage of the fine.

Studies and politics

A report in 2003 by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) examined studies from the previous 30 years in Australia, the UK, Singapore and the US, and concluded that red light cameras "improve the overall safety of intersections where they are used." While the report states that evidence is not conclusive (partly due to flaws in the studies), the majority of studies show a reduction in angle crashes, a smaller increase in rear-end crashes, with some evidence of a “spillover” effect of reduced red light running to other intersections within a jurisdiction. These findings are similar to a 2005 meta analysis, which compared the results of 10 controlled before-after studies of red light cameras in the US, Australia and Singapore. The analysis stated that the studies showed a reduction in crashes (up to almost 30%) in which there were injuries, however, evidence was less conclusive for a reduction in total collisions. Studies of red light cameras worldwide show a reduction of crashes involving injury by about 25% to 30%, taking into account increases in rear-end crashes, according to testimony from a meeting of the Virginia House of Delegates Militia, Police, and Public Safety Committee in 2003. These findings are supported by a review of more than 45 international studies carried out in 2010, which found that red light cameras reduce red light violation rates, crashes resulting from red light running, and usually reduce right-angle collisions.

In terms of location-specific studies, in Singapore a study from 2003 found that there was "a substantial drop" in red light violations at intersections with red light cameras. In particular the study found that drivers were encouraged to stop more readily in areas with red light cameras in use. A report from civic administrators in Saskatchewan in 2001, when considering red light camera use, referred to studies in the Netherlands and Australia that found a 40% decrease in red light violations and 32% decrease in right-angle crashes where red light cameras were installed. Following the introduction of red light cameras in Western Australia, the number of serious right-angle crashes decreased by 40%, according to an article from the Canberra Times. In an article from the Xinhua General News Service, the Hong Kong transport department reported that in 2006 the monthly average number of crashes due to red light violations fell 25% and the number of people injured in these crashes decreased by 30%, following an increase in the number of red light cameras in use.

North America

In the U.S. and Canada, a number of studies have examined whether red light cameras produce a safety benefit. A 2005 study by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) suggests red light cameras reduce dangerous right-angle crashes. This study also found there can be an increase in the number of rear-end collisions, leading to the total number of collisions remaining unchanged. This FHWA study has been criticized on grounds that one of its co-directors has performed research for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a private corporation representing the auto insurance industry that profits significantly from insurance surcharges on drivers ticketed by red light cameras. The FHWA study has also been criticized as containing critical methodological and analytical flaws and failing to explain an increase in fatalities associated with red light camera use:

(…)the authors spotlight the statistical difficulties of including the cost of fatalities, while ignoring the practical implications of such events (…) assuming that each angle injury crash had a societal cost of $64,468, when in fact the cost was $82,816 before camera use and $100,176 after camera use(…)

IIHS research on the safety effects of red light cameras has also been criticized as biased and methodologically flawed.

Not all studies have been favorable to the use of red light cameras. A 2004 study of 17,271 crashes from North Carolina A & T University showed that the presence of red light cameras increased the overall number of crashes by 40%. This research received no peer review and is considered flawed by the IIHS. A 2005 Virginia Department of Transportation study of the long-term effects of camera enforcement in the state found a decrease in the number of right-angle crashes with injuries, but an increase in rear-end crashes and an overall increase in the number of crashes causing injuries. In 2007, the department issued an updated report which showed that the overall number of crashes at intersections with red light cameras increased. This report concluded that the decision to install red light cameras should be made on an intersection-by-intersection basis as some intersections saw decreases in crashes and injuries that justified the use of red light cameras, while others saw increases in crashes, indicating that the cameras were not suitable in that location. This study, too, is considered flawed by the IIHS. Aurora, Colorado experienced mixed results with red light cameras; after starting camera enforcement at 4 intersections, crashes decreased by 60% at one, increased 100% at two, and increased 175% at the fourth. According to the IIHS, most studies suggest the increase in rear-end collisions decreases once drivers have become accustomed to the new dynamics of the intersection. Some locations experience a decrease in rear-end collisions at intersections with red light cameras over time, for instance, in Los Angeles such collisions fell 4.7% from 2008 to 2009. However, a 2010 analysis by the Los Angeles City Controller found L.A.'s red light cameras hadn't demonstrated an improvement in safety, specifically that of the 32 intersections equipped with cameras, 12 saw more crashes than before the cameras were installed, 4 had the same number, and 16 had fewer crashes; also that factors other than the cameras may have been responsible for the reduced crashes at the 16 intersections. And in Winnipeg, Manitoba, crashes were found to have significantly increased in the years following the deployment of red light cameras. In 2010, Arizona completed a study of their statewide 76 photo enforcement cameras and decided they would not renew the program in 2011; lower revenue than expected, mixed public acceptance and mixed accident data were cited.

Nevertheless, the FHWA has concluded that the cameras yielded a positive overall cost benefit due to the reduction in more expensive right-angle injury collisions. Other studies have found a greater crash reduction. For example, a 2005 study of the Raleigh, North Carolina, red light camera program conducted by the Institute for Transportation Research and Education at North Carolina State University found right-angle crashes dropped by 42%, rear-end crashes dropped by 25% and total crashes dropped by 17%. In 2010, the IIHS looked at results of a number of studies and found that red light cameras reduce total collisions and particularly reduce the type of crashes that are especially likely to cause injuries. A 2011 IIHS report concluded that the rate of fatal collisions involving red-light running in cities with a population of 200,000 or greater was 24% lower with cameras than it would have been without cameras.


United States

In the US, the red light camera industry has invested heavily in efforts to lead public opinion. They have made extensive use of Astroturfing, and have distributed poll results showing heavy public support of red light cameras, often without making a prominent disclosure that those polls were commissioned by themselves or their paid lobbyists.

Despite the industry's efforts, as of the November 2011 elections, photo enforcement in the US had been defeated in 22 of 23 election contests.

Groups who believe that red light cameras reduce crashes and increase safety have formed lobbying groups such as the "Stop Red Light Running Coalition of Florida," which was created to lobby for a state law in Florida allowing red light cameras to be used. Some of these lobbying groups have ties to the red light camera industry. For example, a board member of the Stop… Florida group is Ron Reagan, who is Treasurer of American Traffic Solutions front group the National Coalition for Safer Roads. Melissa Wandall is the President of the National Coalition for Safer Roads. Ms. Wandall lobbied for The Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Program, which brought red light cameras to Florida. Further, this group is "funded in large measure by the traffic camera industry".

There are also various groups and individuals, such as the National Motorists Association, who oppose red light cameras on the grounds that the use of these devices raises legal issues and violates the privacy of citizens. They also argue that the use of red light cameras does not increase safety. In the US, AAA Auto Club South argued against the passage of a Florida state law to allow red light cameras, stating that use of red light cameras was primarily for raising money for the state and local government coffers and would not increase road safety.

Still others believe that red light cameras are, overall, a net benefit to society. These individuals believe that those who are against red light cameras ought to quit running red lights.

Legal questions and restrictions

As of December 2010 Arkansas, Nebraska, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin have enacted various prohibitions on red light, speed or other photo enforcement camera uses. Restrictions or conditions exist in additional states; the New Mexico Department of Transportation, for example, has asserted the right to restrict or prohibit red light cameras on state highways. In states such as Wisconsin, the ban comes from decisions by state supreme courts declaring that the cameras were unconstitutional. While red light cameras may not be prohibited in other regions, they may have some restrictions on their use. In some jurisdictions, the law says that the camera needs to obtain a photo of the driver's face in order for the citation issued for running the red light to be valid. This is the case in California, Arizona, and Colorado where the red light cameras are set up to take a series of photographs, including one of the driver's face. In California, state law assesses a demerit point against a driver who runs a red light, and the need to identify the actual violator has led to the creation of a unique investigatory tool, the fake "ticket." Groups opposing the use of red light cameras have argued that where the cameras are not set up to identify the vehicle driver, owner liability issues are raised. It is perceived by some that the owner of the vehicle is unfairly penalized by being considered liable for red-light violations although they may not have been the driver at the time of the offense. In most jurisdictions the liability for red light violations is a civil offense, rather than a criminal citation, issued upon the vehicle owner—similar to a parking ticket. The issue of owner liability has been addressed in the US courts, with a ruling in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in 2007, which agreed with a lower court when it found that the presumption of liability of the owners of vehicles issued citations does not violate due process rights. This ruling was supported by a 2009 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in which it was held that issuing citations to vehicle owners (or lessees) is constitutional. The court stated that it also encourages drivers to be cautious in lending their vehicles to others.

The argument that red light cameras violate the privacy of citizens, has also been addressed in the US courts. According to a 2009 ruling by the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals, “no one has a fundamental right to run a red light or avoid being seen by a camera on a public street.” In addition, cameras only take photographs or video when a vehicle has run a red light and, in most states, the camera does not photograph the driver or the occupants of the vehicle.

In most areas, red light enforcement cameras are installed and maintained by private firms. Lawsuits have been raised challenging private companies' rights to hand out citations, such as a December 2008 lawsuit challenging the city of Dallas' red light camera program, which was dismissed in March 2009. In most cases, citations are issued by law enforcement officers using the evidence provided by the companies.

There have been many instances where cities in the US have been found to have too-short yellow-light intervals at some intersections where red light cameras have been installed. In Tennessee, 176 drivers were refunded for fines paid after it was discovered that the length of the yellow was too short for that location, and motorists were caught running the light in the first second of the red phase. In California, a combined total of 7603 tickets were refunded or dismissed by the cities of Bakersfield, Costa Mesa, East LA, San Carlos, and Union City, because of too-short yellows. Although national guidelines addressing the length of traffic signals are available, traffic signal phase times are determined by the government employees of the city, county or state for that signalized location. While some states set jurisdiction-wide constant durations for yellow-light intervals, a new standard is taking hold. States are required to adopt the 2009 National Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) as their legal state standard for traffic-control devices since 2011. These standards require engineering practices to be used to set yellow-light-timing durations at individual intersections and or corridors. For guidance to state authorities, MUTCD states yellow lights should have a minimum duration of 3 seconds and a maximum duration of 6 seconds. The deadline for compliance is 2014. In the US, if any part of a driver's vehicle has already passed into the intersection when the signal turns red, a violation is not generated. A ticket is only issued if the vehicle enters the intersection while the light is red.


A red light camera is not the only countermeasure against red-light running. Others include increasing the visibility distance and conspicuity of the traffic light so it is more likely to attract the driver's attention in time for him or her to stop, re-timing lights so drivers will encounter fewer red ones, increasing the duration of the yellow light between the green and the red, adding a "clearance" phase to the intersection's traffic signals, during which all directions have a red light. It has been posited that the regulatory minimum yellow duration has been decreased over the years, that this is a cause of the increase in red-light running, and that the latter countermeasures amount to a reversion to earlier, longer regulated yellow-light durations.

Traffic enforcement camera

A traffic enforcement camera (also red light camera, road safety camera, road rule camera, photo radar, photo enforcement, speed camera, Gatso, safety camera, bus lane camera, Safe-T-Cam) is a camera which may be mounted beside or over a road or installed in an enforcement vehicle to detect traffic regulation violations, including speeding, vehicles going through a red traffic light, unauthorized use of a bus lane, or for recording vehicles inside a congestion charge area. It may be linked to an automated ticketing system.

The latest automatic number plate recognition systems can be used for the detection of average speeds and raise concerns over loss of privacy and the potential for governments to establish mass surveillance of vehicle movements and therefore by association also the movement of the vehicle's owner. Vehicles owners are often required by law to identify the driver of the vehicle and a case was taken to the European Court of Human Rights which found that the Human Rights Act 1998 was not being breached. Some groups, such as the National Motorists Association in the USA, claim that systems "encourage ... revenue-driven enforcement" rather than the declared objectives.

Red light enforcement

A red light camera is a traffic camera that takes an image of a vehicle that goes through an intersection where the light is red. The system continuously monitors the traffic signal and the camera is triggered by any vehicle entering the intersection above a preset minimum speed and following a specified time after the signal has turned red.

Moving violation

A moving violation is any violation of the law committed by the driver of a vehicle while it is in motion. The term "motion" distinguishes it from other motor vehicle violations, such as paperwork violations (which include violations involving automobile insurance, registration, inspection, etc.), parking violations, or equipment violations.


In theory, moving violations are more likely to directly cause physical harm to persons and property. The other forms of violations include:
equipment violations that cause theoretical risk (nonfunctional taillight)
paperwork violations like failure to maintain insurance, expired registration.


While some violations, like parking violations, are civil matters involving a vehicle's owner, moving violations are charged against the actual driver.

Moving violations are usually classified as infractions or misdemeanors, but serious violations such as hit and run, driving under the influence, and road rage can be considered felonies.

The most commonly enforced moving violation, and the overwhelmingly most frequent reason for a vehicle pullover (regardless of type of citation issued, if any), are violations of the speed limit. Measurements of motorist speed throughout time have found many roadways where compliance with speed laws is very low, making many motorists liable to be pulled over at the discretion of law enforcement.


Moving violations involve fines which must be paid as well and sometimes punitive points assessed to the license of the driver. As a driver accumulates points, he or she may be required to attend defensive driving lessons, re-take his or her driving test, pay additional taxes, or even surrender his or her license. Additionally, drivers with more points on their driving record often must pay more for car insurance than drivers with fewer.

Sometimes tickets are used in a speed trap as a form of fundraising. For example, a local government that is suffering a budget shortfall may ticket more aggressively within its jurisdiction to increase revenue.

In the United States, citation fines can vary widely between jurisdictions for the same behavior, usually between $25 and $1000. In countries such as Finland, however, they are specific proportions of the violator's income, and fines in excess of $100,000 can be assessed to wealthy individuals. In Canada, each province is individual in how they treat similar behavior and each violation usually includes a set fine and demerit points against the driver's license. For example, a speeding ticket in Ontario of 50+ km over is 6 demerit points against the driver's license with the approximate fine calculated as (km over x 9.75) x 1.25, as well it carries a one week automatic license suspension and car impoundment. In Manitoba speeding in excess of 49 km is 8 demerit points and a fine of 557 dollars.

Examples of moving violations

speeding, which can be exceeding a limit or simply driving an unsafe speed
failing to maintain an Assured Clear Distance Ahead (ACDA)
running a stop sign or red traffic light
failure to yield to another vehicle with the right-of-way
failure to signal for turns or lane changes
failing to drive within a single lane
crossing over a center divider, median or gore
driving on the shoulder where it is considered illegal under certain conditions
failure to use a seat belt
window tints and obstructions
failure to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk
failure to stop for a school bus when children are boarding or exiting
failure to secure a load to a truck or lorry
driving in a car pool lane illegally
operating a telecommunications device while driving (in jurisdictions that prohibit this)
driving a vehicle outside the conditions of one's license

More serious moving violations include:
driving under the influence
reckless driving
street racing
vehicular homicide

Traffic ticket

A traffic ticket is a notice issued by a law enforcement official to a motorist or other road user, accusing violation of traffic laws. Traffic tickets generally come in two forms, citing a moving violation, such as exceeding the speed limit, or a non-moving violation, such as a parking violation, with the ticket also being referred to as a parking citation, notice of illegal parking or parking ticket.

In some jurisdictions, a traffic ticket constitutes a notice that a penalty, such as a fine or deduction of points, has been or will be assessed against the driver or owner of a vehicle; failure to pay generally leads to prosecution or to civil recovery proceedings for the fine. In others, the ticket constitutes only a citation and summons to appear at traffic court, with a determination of guilt to be made only in court.

United States

In the United States, most traffic laws are codified in a variety of state, county and municipal laws or ordinances, with most minor violations classified as infractions, civil charges or Criminal charges. The classification of the charge depends on the violation itself as well as the jurisdiction, with infractions, civil charges and criminal charges relating to different standards of proof, trial rules and punishments.

What constitutes a "minor violation" or infraction varies, examples include non-moving violations, defective or improper vehicle equipment, seat belt and child-restraint safety violations, and insufficient proof of license, insurance or registration. A trend in the late 1970s and early 1980s also saw an increased tendency for jurisdictions to re-classify certain speeding violations as civil infractions. In contrast, for more "serious" violations, traffic violators may be held criminally liable, accused of a misdemeanor or even a felony. Serious violations tend to involve multiple prior offenses, willful disregard of public safety, death or serious bodily injury, or damage to property. A frequently used penalty is a fine, and this is ordinarily a fixed amount of money, instead of being an amount of money determined based on the facts of each individual case.

Each state's Department of Motor Vehicles or Bureau of Motor Vehicles maintains a database of motorists, including their convicted traffic violations. Upon being ticketed, a motorist is given the option to mail into the local court or the court for the jurisdiction in which the violation is alleged—a plea of guilty, not guilty or nolo contendere within a certain time frame (usually ten to fifteen days, although courts generally provide leniency in this regard). Additionally, the motorist can request a mitigation hearing, which acknowledges that the driver is guilty of a moving violation, but is requesting a hearing with a judge to reduce the fines associated with the ticket.

If the motorist wishes to contest a traffic infraction, a hearing can be set by the court upon proper request. The hearings are before a magistrate or judge depending on the state or city. Hearing dates can often be continued and witnesses or police officers can be subpoenaed. At any point, the motorists may retain an attorney to represent them in a traffic infraction. Retaining or consulting an attorney may be beneficial to the motorist because an attorney would better understand how to contest an infraction in any given state or municipality. Attorneys offer anywhere between full representation in court, taking a case from inception to disposal and potentially appeals, to low-cost online consultations explaining legal options, highlighting important defenses, describing court rules and recommending the best direction for the client.

The motorist may be given the opportunity to schedule a hearing for a time at which the subpoenaed ticketing officer is unlikely to attend. If the officer or representative fails to attend, the court judge will often dismiss the charge, although sometimes the trial date is moved to give the officer another chance to attend. Although each judge, state, county or municipality handle contested hearings a little differently, the court may make provisions for the prosecutor to achieve a deal with the motorist, often in the form of a plea bargain that may reduce the impact from that which would be incurred from pleading guilty without attending court. If no agreement is reached, and the prosecutor feels it is worth his time to charge the motorist, both motorist and officer, or their respective representatives, formally attempt to prove their case before the judge, who then decides the matter. The motorist may, for example, put forward a reason their alleged violation was justified, such as to "get out of the way of an ambulance or avoid a collision with another motorist", and call into doubt the level to which the officer recalls the specific details of the situation among the many tickets they have issued.

If the motorist pleads guilty, the outcome is equivalent to a conviction after the hearing. Upon conviction, the motorist is generally fined a monetary amount and, for moving violations, is additionally assessed a penalty under each state's point system. If a motorist is convicted of a violation in a state other than the state in which the motorist is registered, individual agreements between the two states decide if, and how, the motorist's home state applies the other state's conviction. If no agreement exists, then the conviction is local to the state where the violation took place.

Some states permit challenging a traffic infraction through a written statement instead of appearing in court. For example, California's Vehicle Code Section 40902 permits individuals to obtain a trial by written declaration instead of making an in-court appearance. In Washington state, there is a local option for courts to permit a decision on written statements. This has led to the development of innovative websites to assist drivers challenging their traffic tickets in court.

The practice of ticket fixing by police officers is a recurring source of controversy in the United States. Police officers in many jurisdictions surreptitiously cancel tickets as a "professional courtesy" to the friends and family of other police officers. This practice is not legal in most jurisdictions, but enforcement is often lax, leading to periodic scandals.


A lawyer, according to Black's Law Dictionary, is "a person learned in the law; as an attorney, counsel or solicitor; a person who is practicing law." Law is the system of rules of conduct established by the sovereign government of a society to correct wrongs, maintain the stability of political and social authority, and deliver justice. Working as a lawyer involves the practical application of abstract legal theories and knowledge to solve specific individualized problems, or to advance the interests of those who retain (i.e., hire) lawyers to perform legal services.

The role of the lawyer varies significantly across legal jurisdictions, and so it can be treated here in only the most general terms.


In practice, legal jurisdictions exercise their right to determine who is recognized as being a lawyer. As a result, the meaning of the term "lawyer" may vary from place to place.
In Australia, the word "lawyer" is used to refer to both barristers and solicitors (whether in private practice or practising as corporate in-house counsel).
In Canada, the word "lawyer" only refers to individuals who have been called to the bar or, in Quebec, have qualified as civil law notaries. Common law lawyers in Canada are formally and properly called "barristers and solicitors", but should not be referred to as "attorneys", since that term has a different meaning in Canadian usage. However, in Quebec, civil law advocates (or avocats in French) often call themselves "attorney" and sometimes "barrister and solicitor" in English.
In England and Wales, "lawyer" is used to refer to persons who provide reserved legal activities and includes practitioners such as barristers, solicitors, registered foreign lawyers, patent attorneys, trade mark attorneys, licensed conveyancers, commissioners for oaths, immigration advisers and claims management services Legal Services Act 2007 as well as people who are involved with the law but do not practise it on behalf of individual clients, such as judges, court clerks, and drafters of legislation.
In India, the term "lawyer" is often colloquially used, but the official term is "advocate" as prescribed under the Advocates Act, 1961.
In Scotland, the word "lawyer" refers to a more specific group of legally trained people. It specifically includes advocates and solicitors. In a generic sense, it may also include judges and law-trained support staff.
In the United States, the term generally refers to attorneys who may practice law. It is never used to refer to patent agents or paralegals.
Other nations tend to have comparable terms for the analogous concept.


In most countries, particularly civil law countries, there has been a tradition of giving many legal tasks to a variety of civil law notaries, clerks, and scriveners. These countries do not have "lawyers" in the American sense, insofar as that term refers to a single type of general-purpose legal services provider; rather, their legal professions consist of a large number of different kinds of law-trained persons, known as jurists, of which only some are advocates who are licensed to practice in the courts. It is difficult to formulate accurate generalizations that cover all the countries with multiple legal professions, because each country has traditionally had its own peculiar method of dividing up legal work among all its different types of legal professionals.

Notably, England, the mother of the common law jurisdictions, emerged from the Dark Ages with similar complexity in its legal professions, but then evolved by the 19th century to a single dichotomy between barristers and solicitors. An equivalent dichotomy developed between advocates and procurators in some civil law countries, though these two types did not always monopolize the practice of law as much as barristers and solicitors, in that they always coexisted with civil law notaries.

Several countries that originally had two or more legal professions have since fused or united their professions into a single type of lawyer. Most countries in this category are common law countries, though France, a civil law country, merged its jurists in 1990 and 1991 in response to Anglo-American competition. In countries with fused professions, a lawyer is usually permitted to carry out all or nearly all the responsibilities listed below.

Oral argument in the courts

Arguing a client's case before a judge or jury in a court of law is the traditional province of the barrister in England, and of advocates in some civil law jurisdictions. However, the boundary between barristers and solicitors has evolved. In England today, the barrister monopoly covers only appellate courts, and barristers must compete directly with solicitors in many trial courts. In countries like the United States that have fused legal professions, there are trial lawyers who specialize in trying cases in court, but trial lawyers do not have a de jure monopoly like barristers. In some countries, litigants have the option of arguing pro se, or on their own behalf. It is common for litigants to appear unrepresented before certain courts like small claims courts; indeed, many such courts do not allow lawyers to speak for their clients, in an effort to save money for all participants in a small case. In other countries, like Venezuela, no one may appear before a judge unless represented by a lawyer. The advantage of the latter regime is that lawyers are familiar with the court's customs and procedures, and make the legal system more efficient for all involved. Unrepresented parties often damage their own credibility or slow the court down as a result of their inexperience.

Research and drafting of court papers

Often, lawyers brief a court in writing on the issues in a case before the issues can be orally argued. They may have to perform extensive research into relevant facts and law while drafting legal papers and preparing for oral argument.

In England, the usual division of labour is that a solicitor will obtain the facts of the case from the client and then brief a barrister (usually in writing). The barrister then researches and drafts the necessary court pleadings (which will be filed and served by the solicitor) and orally argues the case.

In Spain, the procurator merely signs and presents the papers to the court, but it is the advocate who drafts the papers and argues the case.

In some countries, like Japan, a scrivener or clerk may fill out court forms and draft simple papers for lay persons who cannot afford or do not need attorneys, and advise them on how to manage and argue their own cases.

Advocacy (written and oral) in administrative hearings

In most developed countries, the legislature has granted original jurisdiction over highly technical matters to executive branch administrative agencies which oversee such things. As a result, some lawyers have become specialists in administrative law. In a few countries, there is a special category of jurists with a monopoly over this form of advocacy; for example, France formerly had conseils juridiques (who were merged into the main legal profession in 1991). In other countries, like the United States, lawyers have been effectively barred by statute from certain types of administrative hearings in order to preserve their informality.

Client intake and counseling (with regard to pending litigation)

An important aspect of a lawyer's job is developing and managing relationships with clients (or the client's employees, if the lawyer works in-house for a government or corporation). The client-lawyer relationship often begins with an intake interview where the lawyer gets to know the client personally, discovers the facts of the client's case, clarifies what the client wants to accomplish, shapes the client's expectations as to what actually can be accomplished, begins to develop various claims or defenses, and explains her or his fees to the client.

In England, only solicitors were traditionally in direct contact with the client. The solicitor retained a barrister if one was necessary and acted as an intermediary between the barrister and the client. In most cases barristers were obliged, under what is known as the "cab rank rule", to accept instructions for a case in an area in which they held themselves out as practicing, at a court at which they normally appeared and at their usual rates.

Legal advice

Legal advice is the application of abstract principles of law to the concrete facts of the client's case in order to advise the client about what they should do next. In many countries, only a properly licensed lawyer may provide legal advice to clients for good consideration, even if no lawsuit is contemplated or is in progress. Therefore, even conveyancers and corporate in-house counsel must first get a license to practice, though they may actually spend very little of their careers in court. Failure to obey such a rule is the crime of unauthorized practice of law.

In other countries, jurists who hold law degrees are allowed to provide legal advice to individuals or to corporations, and it is irrelevant if they lack a license and cannot appear in court. Some countries go further; in England and Wales, there is no general prohibition on the giving of legal advice. Sometimes civil law notaries are allowed to give legal advice, as in Belgium. In many countries, non-jurist accountants may provide what is technically legal advice in tax and accounting matters.

Protecting intellectual property

In virtually all countries, patents, trademarks, industrial designs and other forms of intellectual property must be formally registered with a government agency in order to receive maximum protection under the law. The division of such work among lawyers, licensed non-lawyer jurists/agents, and ordinary clerks or scriveners varies greatly from one country to the next.

Negotiating and drafting contracts

In some countries, the negotiating and drafting of contracts is considered to be similar to the provision of legal advice, so that it is subject to the licensing requirement explained above. In others, jurists or notaries may negotiate or draft contracts.

Lawyers in some civil law countries traditionally deprecated "transactional law" or "business law" as beneath them. French law firms developed transactional departments only in the 1990s when they started to lose business to international firms based in the United States and the United Kingdom (where solicitors have always done transactional work).


Conveyancing is the drafting of the documents necessary for the transfer of real property, such as deeds and mortgages. In some jurisdictions, all real estate transactions must be carried out by a lawyer (or a solicitor where that distinction still exists). Such a monopoly is quite valuable from the lawyer's point of view; historically, conveyancing accounted for about half of English solicitors' income (though this has since changed), and a 1978 study showed that conveyancing "accounts for as much as 80 percent of solicitor-client contact in New South Wales." In most common law jurisdictions outside of the United States, this monopoly arose from an 1804 law that was introduced by William Pitt the Younger as a quid pro quo for the raising of fees on the certification of legal professionals such as barristers, solicitors, attorneys and notaries.

In others, the use of a lawyer is optional and banks, title companies, or realtors may be used instead. In some civil law jurisdictions, real estate transactions are handled by civil law notaries. In England and Wales a special class of legal professional–the licensed conveyancer–is also allowed to carry out conveyancing services for reward.

Carrying out the intent of the deceased

In many countries, only lawyers have the legal authority to draft wills, trusts, and any other documents that ensure the efficient disposition of a person's property after death. In some civil law countries this responsibility is handled by civil law notaries.

In the United States, the estates of the deceased must generally be administered by a court through probate. American lawyers have a profitable monopoly on dispensing advice about probate law (which has been heavily criticized).

Prosecution and defense of criminal suspects

In many civil law countries, prosecutors are trained and employed as part of the judiciary; they are law-trained jurists, but may not necessarily be lawyers in the sense that the word is used in the common law world. In common law countries, prosecutors are usually lawyers holding regular licenses who simply happen to work for the government office that files criminal charges against suspects. Criminal defense lawyers specialize in the defense of those charged with any crimes.


The educational prerequisites to becoming a lawyer vary greatly from country to country. In some countries, law is taught by a faculty of law, which is a department of a university's general undergraduate college. Law students in those countries pursue a Master or Bachelor of Laws degree. In some countries it is common or even required for students to earn another bachelor's degree at the same time. Nor is the LL.B the sole obstacle; it is often followed by a series of advanced examinations, apprenticeships, and additional coursework at special government institutes.

In other countries, particularly the United States, law is primarily taught at law schools. In the United States and countries following the American model, (such as Canada with the exception of the province of Quebec) law schools are graduate/professional schools where a bachelor's degree is a prerequisite for admission. Most law schools are part of universities but a few are independent institutions. Law schools in the United States (and many in Canada and elsewhere) award graduating students a J.D. (Juris Doctor/Doctor of Jurisprudence) (as opposed to the Bachelor of Laws) as the practitioner's law degree. Many schools also offer post-doctoral law degrees such as the LL.M (Legum Magister/Master of Laws), or the S.J.D. (Scientiae Juridicae Doctor/Doctor of Juridical Science) for students interested in advancing their research knowledge and credentials in a specific area of law.

The methods and quality of legal education vary widely. Some countries require extensive clinical training in the form of apprenticeships or special clinical courses. Others, like Venezuela, do not. A few countries prefer to teach through assigned readings of judicial opinions (the casebook method) followed by intense in-class cross-examination by the professor (the Socratic method). Many others have only lectures on highly abstract legal doctrines, which forces young lawyers to figure out how to actually think and write like a lawyer at their first apprenticeship (or job). Depending upon the country, a typical class size could range from five students in a seminar to five hundred in a giant lecture room. In the United States, law schools maintain small class sizes, and as such, grant admissions on a more limited and competitive basis.

Some countries, particularly industrialized ones, have a traditional preference for full-time law programs, while in developing countries, students often work full- or part-time to pay the tuition and fees of their part-time law programs.

Law schools in developing countries share several common problems, such as an overreliance on practicing judges and lawyers who treat teaching as a part-time hobby (and a concomitant scarcity of full-time law professors); incompetent faculty with questionable credentials; and textbooks that lag behind the current state of the law by two or three decades.

Earning the right to practice law

Some jurisdictions grant a "diploma privilege" to certain institutions, so that merely earning a degree or credential from those institutions is the primary qualification for practicing law. Mexico allows anyone with a law degree to practice law. However, in a large number of countries, a law student must pass a bar examination (or a series of such examinations) before receiving a license to practice. In a handful of U.S. states, one may become an attorney (a so-called country lawyer) by simply "reading law" and passing the bar examination, without having to attend law school first (although very few people actually become lawyers that way). In other states, the bar examination can be very challenging, such as in California where only 42.3% of applicants passed the examination administered in February 2011.

Some countries require a formal apprenticeship with an experienced practitioner, while others do not. For example, a few jurisdictions still allow an apprenticeship in place of any kind of formal legal education (though the number of persons who actually become lawyers that way is increasingly rare).

Career structure

In most common law countries, especially those with fused professions, lawyers have many options over the course of their careers. Besides private practice, they can become a prosecutor, government counsel, corporate in-house counsel, administrative law judge, judge, arbitrator, or law professor. There are also many non-legal jobs for which legal training is good preparation, such as politician, corporate executive, government administrator, investment banker, entrepreneur, or journalist. In developing countries like India, a large majority of law students never actually practice, but simply use their law degree as a foundation for careers in other fields.

In most civil law countries, lawyers generally structure their legal education around their chosen specialty; the boundaries between different types of lawyers are carefully defined and hard to cross. After one earns a law degree, career mobility may be severely constrained. For example, unlike their American counterparts, it is difficult for German judges to leave the bench and become advocates in private practice. Another interesting example is France, where for much of the 20th century, all judiciary officials were graduates of an elite professional school for judges. Although the French judiciary has begun experimenting with the Anglo-American model of appointing judges from accomplished advocates, the few advocates who have actually joined the bench this way are looked down upon by their colleagues who have taken the traditional route to judicial office.

In a few civil law countries, such as Sweden, the legal profession is not rigorously bifurcated and everyone within it can easily change roles and arenas.


In many countries, lawyers are general practitioners who will take almost any kind of case that walks in the door. In others, there has been a tendency since the start of the 20th century for lawyers to specialize early in their careers. In countries where specialization is prevalent, many lawyers specialize in representing one side in one particular area of the law; thus, it is common in the United States to hear of plaintiffs' personal injury attorneys.


Law firm

Lawyers in private practice generally work in specialized businesses known as law firms, with the exception of English barristers. The vast majority of law firms worldwide are small businesses that range in size from 1 to 10 lawyers. The United States, with its large number of firms with more than 50 lawyers, is an exception. The United Kingdom and Australia are also exceptions, as the UK, Australia and the U.S. are now home to several firms with more than 1,000 lawyers after a wave of mergers in the late 1990s.

Notably, barristers in England and Wales and some states in Australia do not work in "law firms". Those who offer their services to the general public—as opposed to those working "in house"—are required to be self-employed. Most work in groupings known as "sets" or "chambers", where some administrative and marketing costs are shared. An important effect of this different organizational structure is that there is no conflict of interest where barristers in the same chambers work for opposing sides in a case, and in some specialized chambers this is commonplace.

Professional associations and regulation

In some jurisdictions, either the judiciary or the Ministry of Justice directly supervises the admission, licensing, and regulation of lawyers.

Other jurisdictions, by statute, tradition, or court order, have granted such powers to a professional association which all lawyers must belong to. In the U.S., such associations are known as mandatory, integrated, or unified bar associations. In the Commonwealth of Nations, similar organizations are known as Inns of Court, bar councils or law societies. In civil law countries, comparable organizations are known as Orders of Advocates, Chambers of Advocates, Colleges of Advocates, Faculties of Advocates, or similar names. Generally, a nonmember caught practicing law may be liable for the crime of unauthorized practice of law.

In common law countries with divided legal professions, barristers traditionally belong to the bar council (or an Inn of Court) and solicitors belong to the law society. In the English-speaking world, the largest mandatory professional association of lawyers is the State Bar of California, with 230,000 members.

Some countries admit and regulate lawyers at the national level, so that a lawyer, once licensed, can argue cases in any court in the land. This is common in small countries like New Zealand, Japan, and Belgium. Others, especially those with federal governments, tend to regulate lawyers at the state or provincial level; this is the case in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Switzerland, to name a few. Brazil is the most well-known federal government that regulates lawyers at the national level.

Some countries, like Italy, regulate lawyers at the regional level, and a few, like Belgium, even regulate them at the local level (that is, they are licensed and regulated by the local equivalent of bar associations but can advocate in courts nationwide). In Germany, lawyers are admitted to regional bars and may appear for clients before all courts nationwide with the exception of the Federal Court of Justice of Germany (Bundesgerichtshof or BGH); oddly, securing admission to the BGH's bar limits a lawyer's practice solely to the supreme federal courts and the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany.

Generally, geographic limitations can be troublesome for a lawyer who discovers that his client's cause requires him to litigate in a court beyond the normal geographic scope of his license. Although most courts have special proactive rules for such occasions, the lawyer will still have to deal with a different set of professional responsibility rules, as well as the possibility of other differences in substantive and procedural law.

Some countries grant licenses to non-resident lawyers, who may then appear regularly on behalf of foreign clients. Others require all lawyers to live in the jurisdiction or to even hold national citizenship as a prerequisite for receiving a license to practice. But the trend in industrialized countries since the 1970s has been to abolish citizenship and residency restrictions. For example, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down a citizenship requirement on equality rights grounds in 1989, and similarly, American citizenship and residency requirements were struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973 and 1985, respectively. The European Court of Justice made similar decisions in 1974 and 1977 striking down citizenship restrictions in Belgium and France.

Who regulates lawyers

A key difference among countries is whether lawyers should be regulated solely by an independent judiciary and its subordinate institutions (a self-regulating legal profession), or whether lawyers should be subject to supervision by the Ministry of Justice in the executive branch.

In most civil law countries, the government has traditionally exercised tight control over the legal profession in order to ensure a steady supply of loyal judges and bureaucrats. That is, lawyers were expected first and foremost to serve the state, and the availability of counsel for private litigants was an afterthought. Even in civil law countries like Norway which have partially self-regulating professions, the Ministry of Justice is the sole issuer of licenses, and makes its own independent re-evaluation of a lawyer's fitness to practice after a lawyer has been expelled from the Advocates' Association. Brazil is an unusual exception in that its national Order of Advocates has become a fully self-regulating institution (with direct control over licensing) and has successfully resisted government attempts to place it under the control of the Ministry of Labor.

Of all the civil law countries, Communist countries historically went the farthest towards total state control, with all Communist lawyers forced to practice in collectives by the mid-1950s. China is a prime example: technically, the People's Republic of China did not have lawyers, and instead had only poorly-trained, state-employed "legal workers," prior to the enactment of a comprehensive reform package in 1996 by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.

In contrast, common law lawyers have traditionally regulated themselves through institutions where the influence of non-lawyers, if any, was weak and indirect (despite nominal state control). Such institutions have been traditionally dominated by private practitioners who opposed strong state control of the profession on the grounds that it would endanger the ability of lawyers to zealously and competently advocate their clients' causes in the adversarial system of justice.

However, the concept of the self-regulating profession has been criticized as a sham which serves to legitimize the professional monopoly while protecting the profession from public scrutiny. Disciplinary mechanisms have been astonishingly ineffective, and penalties have been light or nonexistent.

Voluntary associations of lawyers

Lawyers are always free to form voluntary associations of their own, apart from any licensing or mandatory membership that may be required by the laws of their jurisdiction. Like their mandatory counterparts, such organizations may exist at all geographic levels. In American English, such associations are known as voluntary bar associations. The largest voluntary professional association of lawyers in the English-speaking world is the American Bar Association.

In some countries, like France and Italy, lawyers have also formed trade unions.

Cultural perception of lawyers

Hostility towards the legal profession is a widespread phenomenon. The legal profession was abolished in Prussia in 1780 and in France in 1789, though both countries eventually realized that their judicial systems could not function efficiently without lawyers. Complaints about too many lawyers were common in both England and the United States in the 1840s, Germany in the 1910s, and in Australia, Canada, the United States, and Scotland in the 1980s.

Public distrust of lawyers reached record heights in the United States after the Watergate scandal. In the aftermath of Watergate, legal self-help books became popular among those who wished to solve their legal problems without having to deal with lawyers. Lawyer jokes (already a perennial favorite) also soared in popularity in English-speaking North America as a result of Watergate. In 1989, American legal self-help publisher Nolo Press published a 171-page compilation of negative anecdotes about lawyers from throughout human history.

In Adventures in Law and Justice (2003), legal researcher Bryan Horrigan dedicated a chapter to "Myths, Fictions, and Realities" about law and illustrated the perennial criticism of lawyers as "amoral guns for hire" with a quote from Ambrose Bierce's satirical The Devil's Dictionary (1911) that summarized the noun as: "LAWYER, n. One skilled in circumvention of the law."

More generally, in Legal Ethics: A Comparative Study (2004), law professor Geoffrey C. Hazard, Jr. with Angelo Dondi briefly examined the "regulations attempting to suppress lawyer misconduct" and noted that their similarity around the world was paralleled by a "remarkable consistency" in certain "persistent grievances" about lawyers that transcends both time and locale, from the Bible to medieval England to dynastic China. The authors then generalized these common complaints about lawyers as being classified into five "general categories" as follows:
abuse of litigation in various ways, including using dilatory tactics and false evidence and making frivolous arguments to the courts;
preparation of false documentation, such as false deeds, contracts, or wills;
deceiving clients and other persons and misappropriating property;
procrastination in dealings with clients; and
charging excessive fees.

Some studies have shown that suicide rates among lawyers may be as six times as higher as the average population, and commentators suggest that the low opinion the public has of lawyers, combined with their own high ideals of justice, which in practice they may see denied, increase the depression rates of those in this profession.


Lawyers are paid for their work in a variety of ways. In private practice, they may work for an hourly fee according to a billable hour structure, a contingency fee (usually in cases involving personal injury), or a lump sum payment if the matter is straightforward. Normally, most lawyers negotiate a written fee agreement up front and may require a non-refundable retainer in advance. In many countries there are fee-shifting arrangements by which the loser must pay the winner's fees and costs; the United States is the major exception, although in turn, its legislators have carved out many exceptions to the so-called "American Rule" of no fee shifting.

Lawyers working directly on the payroll of governments, nonprofits, and corporations usually earn a regular annual salary. In many countries, with the notable exception of Germany, lawyers can also volunteer their labor in the service of worthy causes through an arrangement called pro bono (short for pro bono publico, "for the common good"). Traditionally such work was performed on behalf of the poor, but in some countries it has now expanded to many other causes such as the environment.

In some countries, there are legal aid lawyers who specialize in providing legal services to the indigent. France and Spain even have formal fee structures by which lawyers are compensated by the government for legal aid cases on a per-case basis. A similar system, though not as extensive or generous, operates in Australia, Canada, as well as South Africa.

In other countries, legal aid specialists are practically nonexistent. This may be because non-lawyers are allowed to provide such services; in both Italy and Belgium, trade unions and political parties provide what can be characterized as legal aid services. Some legal aid in Belgium is also provided by young lawyer apprentices subsidized by local bar associations (known as the pro deo system), as well as consumer protection nonprofit organizations and Public Assistance Agencies subsidized by local governments. In Germany, mandatory fee structures have enabled widespread implementation of affordable legal expense insurance.


Ancient Greece

The earliest people who could be described as "lawyers" were probably the orators of ancient Athens (see History of Athens). However, Athenian orators faced serious structural obstacles. First, there was a rule that individuals were supposed to plead their own cases, which was soon bypassed by the increasing tendency of individuals to ask a "friend" for assistance. However, around the middle of the fourth century, the Athenians disposed of the perfunctory request for a friend. Second, a more serious obstacle, which the Athenian orators never completely overcame, was the rule that no one could take a fee to plead the cause of another. This law was widely disregarded in practice, but was never abolished, which meant that orators could never present themselves as legal professionals or experts. They had to uphold the legal fiction that they were merely an ordinary citizen generously helping out a friend for free, and thus they could never organize into a real profession—with professional associations and titles and all the other pomp and circumstance—like their modern counterparts. Therefore, if one narrows the definition to those men who could practice the legal profession openly and legally, then the first lawyers would have to be the orators of ancient Rome.

Early Ancient Rome

A law enacted in 204 BC barred Roman advocates from taking fees, but the law was widely ignored. The ban on fees was abolished by Emperor Claudius, who legalized advocacy as a profession and allowed the Roman advocates to become the first lawyers who could practice openly—but he also imposed a fee ceiling of 10,000 sesterces. This was apparently not much money; the Satires of Juvenal complain that there was no money in working as an advocate.

Like their Greek contemporaries, early Roman advocates were trained in rhetoric, not law, and the judges before whom they argued were also not law-trained. But very early on, unlike Athens, Rome developed a class of specialists who were learned in the law, known as jurisconsults (iuris consulti). Jurisconsults were wealthy amateurs who dabbled in law as an intellectual hobby; they did not make their primary living from it. They gave legal opinions (responsa) on legal issues to all comers (a practice known as publice respondere). Roman judges and governors would routinely consult with an advisory panel of jurisconsults before rendering a decision, and advocates and ordinary people also went to jurisconsults for legal opinions. Thus, the Romans were the first to have a class of people who spent their days thinking about legal problems, and this is why their law became so "precise, detailed, and technical."

Late Ancient Rome

During the Roman Republic and the early Roman Empire, jurisconsults and advocates were unregulated, since the former were amateurs and the latter were technically illegal. Any citizen could call himself an advocate or a legal expert, though whether people believed him would depend upon his personal reputation. This changed once Claudius legalized the legal profession. By the start of the Byzantine Empire, the legal profession had become well-established, heavily regulated, and highly stratified. The centralization and bureaucratization of the profession was apparently gradual at first, but accelerated during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. At the same time, the jurisconsults went into decline during the imperial period.

In the words of Fritz Schulz, "by the fourth century things had changed in the eastern Empire: advocates now were really lawyers." For example, by the fourth century, advocates had to be enrolled on the bar of a court to argue before it, they could only be attached to one court at a time, and there were restrictions (which came and went depending upon who was emperor) on how many advocates could be enrolled at a particular court. By the 380s, advocates were studying law in addition to rhetoric (thus reducing the need for a separate class of jurisconsults); in 460, Emperor Leo imposed a requirement that new advocates seeking admission had to produce testimonials from their teachers; and by the sixth century, a regular course of legal study lasting about four years was required for admission. Claudius's fee ceiling lasted all the way into the Byzantine period, though by then it was measured at 100 solidi. Of course, it was widely evaded, either through demands for maintenance and expenses or a sub rosa barter transaction. The latter was cause for disbarment.

The notaries (tabelliones) appeared in the late Roman Empire. Like their modern-day descendants, the civil law notaries, they were responsible for drafting wills, conveyances, and contracts. They were ubiquitous and most villages had one. In Roman times, notaries were widely considered to be inferior to advocates and jurisconsults. Roman notaries were not law-trained; they were barely literate hacks who wrapped the simplest transactions in mountains of legal jargon, since they were paid by the line.

Middle Ages

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the onset of the Early Middle Ages, the legal profession of Western Europe collapsed. As James Brundage has explained: "by 1140, no one in Western Europe could properly be described as a professional lawyer or a professional canonist in anything like the modern sense of the term 'professional.' " However, from 1150 onward, a small but increasing number of men became experts in canon law but only in furtherance of other occupational goals, such as serving the Roman Catholic Church as priests. From 1190 to 1230, however, there was a crucial shift in which some men began to practice canon law as a lifelong profession in itself.

The legal profession's return was marked by the renewed efforts of church and state to regulate it. In 1231 two French councils mandated that lawyers had to swear an oath of admission before practicing before the bishop's courts in their regions, and a similar oath was promulgated by the papal legate in London in 1237. During the same decade, Frederick II, the emperor of the Kingdom of Sicily, imposed a similar oath in his civil courts. By 1250 the nucleus of a new legal profession had clearly formed. The new trend towards professionalization culminated in a controversial proposal at the Second Council of Lyon in 1275 that all ecclesiastical courts should require an oath of admission. Although not adopted by the council, it was highly influential in many such courts throughout Europe. The civil courts in England also joined the trend towards professionalization; in 1275 a statute was enacted that prescribed punishment for professional lawyers guilty of deceit, and in 1280 the mayor's court of the city of London promulgated regulations concerning admission procedures, including the administering of an oath. And in 1345, the French crown promulgated a royal ordinance which set forth 24 rules governing advocates, of which 12 were integrated into the oath to be taken by them.

The French medieval oaths were widely influential and of enduring importance; for example, they directly influenced the structure of the advocates' oath adopted by the Canton of Geneva in 1816. In turn, the 1816 Geneva oath served as the inspiration for the attorney's oath drafted by David Dudley Field as Section 511 of the proposed New York Code of Civil Procedure of 1848, which was the first attempt in the United States at a comprehensive statement of a lawyer's professional duties.


Generally speaking, the modern practice is for lawyers to avoid use of any title, although formal practice varies across the world.

Historically lawyers in most European countries were addressed with the title of doctor, and countries outside of Europe have generally followed the practice of the European country which had policy influence through colonization. The first university degrees, starting with the law school of the University of Bologna (or glossators) in the 11th century, were all law degrees and doctorates. Degrees in other fields did not start until the 13th century, but the doctor continued to be the only degree offered at many of the old universities until the 20th century. Therefore, in many of the southern European countries, including Portugal and Italy, lawyers have traditionally been addressed as “doctor,” a practice which was transferred to many countries in South America and Macau. The term "doctor" has since fallen into disuse, although it is still a legal title in Italy and in use in many countries outside of Europe.

In French- (France, Quebec, Belgium, Luxembourg) and Dutch-speaking countries (Netherlands, Belgium), legal professional are addressed as Maître ..., abbreviated to Me ... (in French) or Meester ..., abbreviated to mr. ... (in Dutch).

The title of doctor has never been used to address lawyers in England or other common law countries (with the exception of the United States). This is because until 1846 lawyers in England were not required to have a university degree and were trained by other attorneys by apprenticeship or in the Inns of Court. Since law degrees started to become a requirement for lawyers in England, the degree awarded has been the undergraduate LL.B. In South Africa holders of a law degree who have completed a year of pupillage and have been admitted to the bar may use the title "Advocate", abbreviated to "Adv" in written correspondence.

Even though most lawyers in the United States do not use any titles, the law degree in that country is the Juris Doctor, a professional doctorate degree, and some J.D. holders in the United States use the title of "Doctor" in professional and academic situations.

In countries where holders of the first law degree traditionally use the title of doctor (e.g. Peru, Brazil, Macau, Portugal, Argentina, and Italy), J.D. holders who are attorneys will often use the title of doctor as well. It is common for English-language male lawyers to use the honorific suffix "Esq." (for "Esquire"). In the United States the style is also used by female lawyers.

Attorney at law

Attorney at law or attorney-at-law, usually abbreviated in everyday speech to attorney, is the official name for a lawyer in certain jurisdictions, including Japan, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Brazil and the United States. In Canada, it is only used in Quebec.

Attorneys in the United States

An attorney at law (or attorney-at-law) in the United States is a practitioner in a court of law who is legally qualified to prosecute and defend actions in such court on the retainer of clients. Alternative terms include counselor (or counselor-at-law) and lawyer. As of April 2011, there were 1,225,452 licensed attorneys in the United States.

The United States legal system does not draw a distinction between lawyers who plead in court and those who do not, unlike many other common law jurisdictions (such as those of the United Kingdom which distinguishes between solicitors who do not plead in court and the barristers of the English & Welsh system and advocates of the Scottish system who do plead in court), and civil law jurisdictions (such as Italy and France, which distinguish between advocates and civil law notaries). An additional factor which differentiates the American legal system from other countries is that there is no delegation of routine work to notaries public.

Attorneys may be addressed by the post-nominal letters Esq., the abbreviated form of the word Esquire.

Practice of law

Once admitted to practice by the highest court of a state (the state supreme court), a function sometimes administered by the state's bar association, an American attorney may file legal pleadings and argue cases in that state court, provide legal advice to clients and draft important legal instruments such as wills, trusts, deeds and contracts.

Arguing cases in the federal courts requires separate admission.

In some states, real estate closings may be performed only by attorneys, even though the attorney's role in a closing may involve primarily notarization of documents and disbursement of settlement funds through an escrow account.

Actions that may be performed by lawyers are referred to as the practice of law. Practicing law includes interviewing a client to identify the legal question, analyzing the question, researching relevant law, devising legal solutions to problems and executing such solutions through specific tasks such as drafting a contract or filing a motion with a court.

Most academic legal training is directed to identifying legal issues, researching facts and law as well as arguing both the facts and law in favor of either side in any case.

For several years, law schools have sent through far more students than new job openings have become available. This leads to attorneys (once they pass the bar) seeking work in other occupations, either by choice or by the lack of employment opportunities. This has led to a market in legal temps or contract attorneys, where attorneys spend a certain period of time working on tasks such as discovery for a case.

Media images

Contrary to the media image of attorneys, a great deal of litigation and regulatory legal work is spent conducting research in a law library or in an electronic database like Westlaw, LexisNexis, or Bloomberg L.P. Many attorneys also spend a large portion of their working time drafting documents, such as legal briefs, contracts, wills and trusts. Few television programs and movies accurately portray the hours for tasks forming the core of the occupational life of many attorneys.

One occasional exception is the television program Law & Order, which sometimes shows the main characters researching at a computer late into the night (always using Westlaw, due to a contract between Westlaw and the show's producers). Some episodes also show lawyers keeping a small rack of clothes in their office for those times when research lasts all night and the character does not have time to go home to change.

Another notable portrayal of the profession was the series Murder One which featured a group of lawyers as central characters. The Practice did as well, but its accuracy may be questionable.

Movies and television also generally show attorneys focused on a single case. Most litigators have many cases in progress at any given time. Each case has deadlines that must be carefully monitored and court dates which one must not forget. Because they often balance many cases at once, attorneys that litigate often have difficult working lives when important documents must be drafted or other work must be performed on different cases at one time.

In litigation, attorneys spend much time discovering the facts of the case to develop a "theory of the case" that integrates facts and law in a way most favorable to their client. Many attorneys believe that the discovery process has reduced the number of civil cases that actually go to trial since the discovery process often allows for a clear evaluation of the merits of each side's position.

Some attorneys are not trial lawyers. Non-trial attorneys are sometimes called transactional lawyers, corporate lawyers, or attorney-advisors in the Federal Government. They specialize in activities that seldom involve them in litigation. Among these activities are writing legal opinion letters, drafting wills or trust documents, advising clients, structuring business transactions, negotiating and drafting contracts, developing tax strategies or preparing and prosecuting filings with government agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service, the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Patent and Trademark Office.


Many American attorneys limit their practices to specialized fields of law. Often dichotomies are drawn between different types of attorneys, but, with the exception of patent law practice, these are neither fixed nor formal lines. Examples include:
Outside counsel (law firms) v. in-house counsel (corporate legal department)
Plaintiff v. Defense Attorneys (some attorneys do both plaintiff and defense work, others only handle certain types of cases like personal injury, business etc.)
Transactional (or "office practice") attorneys (who negotiate and draft documents and advise clients, rarely going to court) v. litigators (who advise clients in the context of legal disputes both in and out of court, including lawsuits, arbitrations and negotiated settlements)
Trial attorneys (who argue the facts, such as the late Johnnie Cochran) v. appellate attorneys (who argue the law, such as David Boies)

Despite these descriptions, some states forbid or discourage claims of specialization in particular areas of law unless the attorney has been certified by his or her state bar or state board of legal specialization. Other states allow indirect indications of specialization (in the form of advertisement language such as "our practice is limited to . . ."), but require that the lawyer states that he or she is not certified by a state board of legal specialization in the advertised practice area. Patent attorneys are allowed to advertise their specialization in all jurisdictions, since registration for patent law is administered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) instead of a state-level body.

Some states grant formal certifications recognizing specialties. In California, for example, bar certification is offered in family law, appellate practice, criminal law, bankruptcy, estate planning, immigration, taxation and workers' compensation. Any attorney meeting the bar requirements in one of these fields may represent himself as a specialist. The State Bar of Texas, for example, formally grants certification of specialization in 21 select areas of law.

The majority of lawyers practicing in a particular field may typically not be certified as specialists in that field (and state board certification is not generally required to practice law in any field). For example, the State Bar of Texas (as of mid-2006) reported 77,056 persons licensed as attorneys in that state (excluding inactive members of the Bar), while the Texas Board of Legal Specialization reported, at about the same time, only 8,303 Texas attorneys who were board certified in any specialty. Indeed, of the 8,303 certified specialists in Texas, the highest number of attorneys certified in one specific field at that time was 1,775 (in personal injury trial law). Despite the relative large number of lawyers that presumably would handle divorce, adoption and child custody matters, Texas reported that of 77,056 attorneys, only 697 in the entire state were certified in family law (which is, arguably, the applicable specialty).

Specialization in patent law is administered by the Office of Enrollment and Discipline of the US Patent and Trademark Office, which imposes stringent requirements for applicants to become registered as patent attorneys or patent agents. Only attorneys or agents so registered are permitted to practice patent law before the US Patent Bar. Such registration requires an undergraduate degree in engineering or a "hard" science.

About half of American attorneys work solo or in small firms; see law firm. There are also many mid-size firms, with anywhere from 50 to 200 attorneys and since the 1970s, some law firms have merged to form giant firms with 1,000 attorneys or more.

However, whether a law firm is large or small is also a relative concept depending on the size of the community served. A law firm with six attorneys in a small community may be considered a large firm for that area. Because of conflict of interest rules, the maximum size of a law firm is dependent upon the size of the population it serves. Conflict of interest rules prevent one attorney in a law firm from, for example, representing a client in litigation that has an adverse interest to the interests of another client represented by a different attorney in the same law firm. A 2012 survey conducted by LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell determined 58 million consumers in the U.S. sought an attorney in the last year and that 76 percent of consumers used the Internet to search for an attorney.

Control of cases

An American attorney licensed in each applicable court may in a few cases control and argue his or her case at each level of the judiciary through its entire life cycle. A notable example of this is the Brown v. Board of Education litigation, where the same trial team handled the case from start to finish at the U.S. Supreme Court. However, cases which advance to the appellate level, particularly to the U.S. Supreme Court, are often re-assigned to experienced appellate practitioners or firms.

Education and training

Avenues to becoming a lawyer

Almost all U.S. jurisdictions require successful completion of a bar examination to be licensed as an attorney. All but a few of those states which require a bar exam also require the applicant to have taken a degree in professional law from an accredited law school; most require it to be a professional degree in law granted in the United States (usually the Juris Doctor, or J.D., a doctorate). Only a few states accept foreign law degrees. In addition to this formal education, attorneys in most jurisdictions must complete regular Continuing Legal Education (CLE) requirements.

Bar exams are administered by agencies of individual states. In 1763, Delaware created the first bar exam with other American colonies soon following suit. A state bar licensing agency is invariably associated with the judicial branch of government because American attorneys are all officers of the court of the bar or bars to which they belong. Sometimes the agency is an office or committee of the state's highest court or intermediate appellate court.

In some states which have a unified or integrated bar association (meaning that formal membership in a public corporation controlled by the judiciary is required to practice law therein), the agency is either the state bar association or a subunit of it. Other states split the integrated bar membership and the admissions agency into different bodies within the judiciary. In Texas, for example, the Board of Law Examiners is appointed by the Texas Supreme Court and is independent from the integrated State Bar of Texas.

In almost all jurisdictions, the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), an ethics exam, is also administered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), which creates it and grades it. The NCBE created the MPRE in 1980. The MPRE is offered three times a year, in March, August and November.

The bar examination in most U.S. states and territories is at least two days long (a few states have three-day exams). It consists of essay questions, usually testing knowledge of the state's own law (usually subjects such as wills, trusts and community property, which always vary from one state to another). Some jurisdictions choose to use the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE), drafted by the NCBE since 1988, for this purpose. Others may draft their own questions with this goal in mind, while some states both draft their own questions and use the MEE. Some jurisdictions administer complicated questions that specifically test knowledge of that state's law.

Bar exams also usually consists of the Multistate Bar Examination, which is a multiple-choice standardized test created and sold to participating state bar examiners by the National Conference of Bar Examiners since 1972. The MBE contains 200 questions which test six subjects based upon principles of common law and Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code.

A majority of U.S. jurisdictions also require a performance test, which is intended to be a more realistic measure of actual lawyering skill. The candidate is presented with a stack of documents representing a fictional case and is asked to draft a memorandum, motion or opinion document. Many jurisdictions use the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), which was first created in 1997, while California drafts and administers its own performance tests.

The State of Washington has a separate Law Clerk program under Rule Six of the Washington Court Admission to Practice Rules. A college graduate of good moral character may be accepted into the four-year Rule Six Law Clerk Program, obtain employment in a law firm or with a judge for at least 30 hours a week and study a prescribed Course of Study under a tutor. After successful completion of the program, a law clerk may take the Washington State Bar Exam and, upon passing, will be admitted as an attorney into the Washington State Bar Association.

Degrees in law

The degree earned by prospective attorneys in the United States is generally a Juris Doctor (Latin for "Doctor of Jurisprudence"; abbreviated J.D. or, when conferred in English, D.Jur.).

This is distinct from most other Anglophone countries, where law is taught at the undergraduate level and the Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) or other bachelor's degree is conferred. This undergraduate degree was followed by the Master of Laws (LL.M.), a master's degree in law. Where the LL.B. is still awarded, the highest degree is often still the Doctor of Laws (LL.D.), which is an academic degree in law (i.e. geared toward academia or theory rather than legal practice). The LL.D. is now exclusively given in the United States as an honorary degree.

In the United States, the LL.B. was elevated to the graduate school curriculum as a second bachelor's degree starting in 1896 with Harvard Law School under Christopher Columbus Langdell, "the father of modern American legal education." Then, starting in 1902 at the newly established University of Chicago Law School, the J.D. replaced the LL.B as the professional doctorate in law. By 1971, all American Bar Association-accredited law schools had replaced the LL.B with the J.D.

Because Louisiana has a system that, uniquely among the states, uses civil law, the Paul M. Hebert Law Center at Louisiana State University in the now offers a joint J.D./Diploma of Civil Law (D.C.L.) over seven semesters (instead of its previous six-semester program for the J.D. alone) in recognition of the increased Louisiana civil law component of the new program.

The LL.M. continues to be offered in the United States for two distinct purposes. One is to offer lawyers the chance to acquire an advanced level of expertise in a specific legal discipline, such as tax law. The LL.M may be a type of specialist post-doctoral degree. The other purpose is keeping the LL.M. as a degree for non-U.S. educated attorneys with the LL.B. or other non-U.S. law degree. Many foreign lawyers who have such a degree come to study in the United States to obtain an LL.M. degree in comparative law, in order to familiarize themselves with U.S. common law and to enable themselves to take the bar exam in New York or California, both of which allow foreign attorneys with such degrees to take the exam. Some of these lawyers end up practicing law in the U.S., while many of them return to their home countries and use their U.S. LL.M. and bar admission as a gateway to advising international clients.

The highest law degree obtainable in the United States is Doctor of Juridical Science (Scientiae Juridicae Doctor, abbreviated S.J.D. or J.S.D.). This is an academic degree that, like the Ph.D., is research-based and requires a dissertation (an original contribution to the academic study of law). The degree is very rarely awarded and is generally only sought by attorneys holding exceptional credentials and a desire to enter the legal academy (i.e. to become professors of law). The degree is generally only offered at top-tier law schools, which typically accept only a handful of students into their program each year. Admission is usually limited to those who have achieved their J.D. and LL.M. degrees with distinction. Successful applicants often have already published significant scholarly legal articles in their proposed area of study and a lot of them have legal teaching experience prior to entering the program.

Law students in court

Some courts allow law students to act as "certified student attorneys" after the satisfactory completion of their first year of law school and the completion of particular second- and third-year courses with subjects such as evidence. Many states allow students to argue in front of a court as a certified legal intern (CLI), provided they meet certain prerequisites, such as having completed at least half of their law education, having taken or be taking the law school's ethics class and being under the supervision of a qualified and licensed attorney.

This concept was somewhat misrepresented in the movie Legally Blonde, where the protagonist Elle argues before a jury. Although Elle was under the supervision of an attorney, Massachusetts—like almost all other states—does not allow a first year law student to argue a case in court.

Additionally, most states have rules allowing law students in their third and final year to practice on a limited basis while under the direct supervision of a licensed attorney. These laws vary from state to state. While many states are very strict, some states like Kansas and Illinois provide opportunities for law students to argue cases in trials.

Unlicensed practice of law

Some states provide criminal penalties for falsely holding oneself out to the public as an Attorney at law and the unauthorized practice of law by a non-Attorney.

A person who has a professional law degree, but is not admitted to a state bar is not an attorney at law but may be considered a lawyer (one learned in the law, according to Black's Law Dictionary) since he or she does not hold a license issued by a state. For example, Presidents Obama and Clinton are lawyers, as both men have law degrees and thus are "learned in the law." Nevertheless, they are no longer attorneys at law because neither holds a current law license in any state and thus cannot legally engage in the practice of law. In most states, the practice of law by an "out-of-state" lawyer is considered unauthorized practice of law within that state, even if the lawyer is licensed in good standing in one or more other states. Exceptions are sometimes made when an out-of-state lawyer is granted temporary permission to practice within the state pro hac vice or for in-house counsel who travel to represent a multistate corporation.

In addition, a few areas of law, such as patent law, bankruptcy, or immigration law, are mandated by the U.S. Constitution to be strictly under federal jurisdiction. In this case, state courts and bar associations are not allowed to restrict the practice of that field of law. Thus, these lawyers and non lawyers may freely advise clients as to these matters anywhere in the jurisdiction of the United States without regard to state court or bar association rules. Furthermore, prior to November 15, 1938, individuals could become registered as "patent attorneys" with the PTO without ever passing a state bar exam or going to law school. That status was grandfathered for patent attorneys registered prior to that date. This represents a holdover to the traditional meaning of the term "attorney" as "agent" or "attorney-in-fact". There are still some living patent attorneys who became registered as patent attorneys before that date, as far back as 1934. Today, a non-lawyer who takes and passes the patent bar would be considered a "patent agent" or "patent attorney."

In some jurisdictions, the definition of the practice of law is quite strict. Persons have been successfully prosecuted for publishing do-it-yourself will forms and for representing special education children in federal proceedings as specifically allowed by federal law.

Paradoxically, some jurisdictions will allow a non-attorney to sit as a judge, usually in lower courts or in hearings by governmental agencies, even though a non-attorney may not practice before these same courts. Similarly, in a jurisdiction where a judge is elected by the people, the judge often does not need to be licensed to practice law or trained in any particular way. Likewise, the U.S. Constitution does not provide any such requirement for a U.S. Supreme Court justice or other federal judge, although no non-lawyer has ever been appointed as a federal judge.


Unlike their counterparts in other common law jurisdictions, American attorneys are not required to wear wigs, robes or any other items of court dress when they appear in court. They are usually expected to wear contemporary business suits.

The one exception is the United States Solicitor General and other U.S. Department of Justice attorneys, who traditionally argue before the U.S. Supreme Court in 19th-century morning dress.

Law of the United States

The law of the United States comprises many levels of codified and uncodified forms of law, of which the most important is the United States Constitution, the foundation of the federal government of the United States. The Constitution sets out the boundaries of federal law, which consists of acts of Congress, treaties ratified by the Senate, regulations promulgated by the executive branch, and case law originating from the federal judiciary. Federal law that conflicts with the Constitution is invalid.

The Constitution and federal law are the supreme law of the land, thus preempting conflicting state and territorial laws in the 50 U.S. states and in the territories. However, the scope of federal preemption is limited because the scope of federal power is not universal. In the dual-sovereign system of American federalism (actually tripartite because of the presence of Indian reservations), states are the plenary sovereigns, while the federal sovereign possesses only the limited supreme authority enumerated in the Constitution. Indeed, states may grant their citizens broader rights than the federal Constitution as long as they do not infringe on any federal constitutional rights. Thus, most U.S. law (especially the actual "living law" of contract, tort, property, criminal, and family law experienced by the majority of citizens on a day-to-day basis) consists primarily of state law, which can and does vary greatly from one state to the next.

At both the federal and state levels, the law of the United States was originally largely derived from the common law system of English law, which was in force at the time of the Revolutionary War. However, U.S. law has diverged greatly from its English ancestor both in terms of substance and procedure, and has incorporated a number of civil law innovations.

General overview

Sources of law

In the United States, the law is derived from five sources: constitutional law, statutory law, treaties, administrative regulations, and the common law (which includes case law).


Where Congress enacts a statute that conflicts with the Constitution, the Supreme Court may find that law unconstitutional and declare it invalid.

Notably, a statute does not disappear automatically merely because it has been found unconstitutional; it must be deleted by a subsequent statute. Many federal and state statutes have remained on the books for decades after they were ruled to be unconstitutional. However, under the principle of stare decisis, no sensible lower court will enforce an unconstitutional statute, and any court that does so will be reversed by the Supreme Court. Conversely, any court that refuses to enforce a constitutional statute (where such constitutionality has been expressly established in prior cases) will risk reversal by the Supreme Court.

American common law

The United States and most Commonwealth countries are heirs to the common law legal tradition of English law. Certain practices traditionally allowed under English common law were expressly outlawed by the Constitution, such as bills of attainder and general search warrants.

As common law courts, U.S. courts have inherited the principle of stare decisis. American judges, like common law judges elsewhere, not only apply the law, they also make the law, to the extent that their decisions in the cases before them become precedent for decisions in future cases.

The actual substance of English law was formally "received" into the United States in several ways. First, all U.S. states except Louisiana have enacted "reception statutes" which generally state that the common law of England (particularly judge-made law) is the law of the state to the extent that it is not repugnant to domestic law or indigenous conditions. Some reception statutes impose a specific cutoff date for reception, such as the date of a colony's founding, while others are deliberately vague. Thus, contemporary U.S. courts often cite pre-Revolution cases when discussing the evolution of an ancient judge-made common law principle into its modern form, such as the heightened duty of care traditionally imposed upon common carriers.

Second, a small number of important British statutes in effect at the time of the Revolution have been independently reenacted by U.S. states. Two examples that many lawyers will recognize are the Statute of Frauds (still widely known in the U.S. by that name) and the Statute of 13 Elizabeth (the ancestor of the Uniform Fraudulent Transfers Act). Such English statutes are still regularly cited in contemporary American cases interpreting their modern American descendants.

However, it is important to understand that despite the presence of reception statutes, much of contemporary American common law has diverged significantly from English common law. The reason is that although the courts of the various Commonwealth nations are often influenced by each other's rulings, American courts rarely follow post-Revolution Commonwealth rulings unless there is no American ruling on point, the facts and law at issue are nearly identical, and the reasoning is strongly persuasive.

Early on, American courts, even after the Revolution, often did cite contemporary English cases. This was because appellate decisions from many American courts were not regularly reported until the mid-19th century; lawyers and judges, as creatures of habit, used English legal materials to fill the gap. But citations to English decisions gradually disappeared during the 19th century as American courts developed their own principles to resolve the legal problems of the American people. The number of published volumes of American reports soared from eighteen in 1810 to over 8,000 by 1910. By 1879 one of the delegates to the California constitutional convention was already complaining: "Now, when we require them to state the reasons for a decision, we do not mean they shall write a hundred pages of detail. We do not mean that they shall include the small cases, and impose on the country all this fine judicial literature, for the Lord knows we have got enough of that already."

Today, in the words of Stanford law professor Lawrence Friedman: "American cases rarely cite foreign materials. Courts occasionally cite a British classic or two, a famous old case, or a nod to Blackstone; but current British law almost never gets any mention." Foreign law has never been cited as binding precedent, but as a reflection of the shared values of Anglo-American civilization or even Western civilization in general.

Levels of law

Federal law

Federal law originates with the Constitution, which gives Congress the power to enact statutes for certain limited purposes like regulating interstate commerce. Nearly all statutes have been codified in the United States Code. Many statutes give executive branch agencies the power to create regulations, which are published in the Federal Register and codified into the Code of Federal Regulations. Regulations generally also carry the force of law under the Chevron doctrine. Many lawsuits turn on the meaning of a federal statute or regulation, and judicial interpretations of such meaning carry legal force under the principle of stare decisis.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, federal law traditionally focused on areas where there was an express grant of power to the federal government in the federal Constitution, like the military, money, foreign affairs (especially international treaties), tariffs, intellectual property (specifically patents and copyrights), and mail. Since the start of the 20th century, broad interpretations of the Commerce and Spending Clauses of the Constitution have enabled federal law to expand into areas like aviation, telecommunications, railroads, pharmaceuticals, antitrust, and trademarks. In some areas, like aviation and railroads, the federal government has developed a comprehensive scheme that preempts virtually all state law, while in others, like family law, a relatively small number of federal statutes (generally covering interstate and international situations) interacts with a much larger body of state law. In areas like antitrust, trademark, and employment law, there are powerful laws at both the federal and state levels that coexist with each other. In a handful of areas like insurance, Congress has enacted laws expressly refusing to regulate them as long as the states have laws regulating them (see, e.g., the McCarran-Ferguson Act).

Under the doctrine of Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins (1938), there is no general federal common law. Although federal courts can create federal common law in the form of case law, such law must be linked one way or another to the interpretation of a particular federal constitutional provision, statute, or regulation (which in turn was enacted as part of the Constitution or after). Federal courts lack the plenary power possessed by state courts to simply make up law, which the latter are able to do in the absence of constitutional or statutory provisions replacing the common law. Only in a few narrow limited areas, like maritime law, has the Constitution expressly authorized the continuation of English common law at the federal level (meaning that in those areas federal courts can continue to make law as they see fit, subject to the limitations of stare decisis).

The other major implication of the Erie doctrine is that federal courts cannot dictate the content of state law when there is no federal issue (and thus no federal supremacy issue) in a case. When hearing claims under state law pursuant to diversity jurisdiction, federal trial courts must apply the statutory and decisional law of the state in which they sit, as if they were a court of that state, even if they believe that the relevant state law is irrational or just bad public policy. And under Erie, deference is one-way only: state courts are not bound by federal interpretations of state law.

If this was not confusing enough, although judicial interpretations of federal law from the federal district and intermediate appellate courts hold great persuasive weight, state courts are not bound to follow those interpretations. There is only one federal court that binds all state courts as to the interpretation of federal law and the federal Constitution: the U.S. Supreme Court itself.

State law

The fifty American states are separate sovereigns with their own state constitutions, state governments, and state courts (including state supreme courts). They retain plenary power to make laws covering anything not preempted by the federal Constitution, federal statutes, or international treaties ratified by the federal Senate. Normally, state supreme courts are the final interpreters of state constitutions and state law, unless their interpretation itself presents a federal issue, in which case a decision may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by way of a petition for writ of certiorari.

Most cases are litigated in state courts and involve claims and defense

Most cases are litigated in state courts and involve claims and defenses under state laws. Each year, only about 280,000 civil and criminal cases are heard in federal courts, as opposed to 27.5 million civil and criminal cases in state courts (these numbers exclude 858,000 federal bankruptcy cases, and in state courts, 4.5 million domestic, 1.7 million juvenile, and 55 million traffic cases).

All states have a legislative branch which enacts state statutes, an executive branch that promulgates state regulations pursuant to statutory authorization, and a judicial branch that applies, interprets, and occasionally overturns both state statutes and regulations, as well as local ordinances.

The law of most of the states is based on the common law of England; the notable exception is Louisiana, whose civil law is largely based upon French and Spanish law. The passage of time has led to state courts and legislatures expanding, overruling, or modifying the common law; as a result, the laws of any given state invariably differ from the laws of its sister states. Thus, with regard to the vast majority of areas of the law that are traditionally managed by the states, the United States cannot be regarded as one legal system, but must be regarded as 50 separate systems of tort law, family law, property law, contract law, criminal law, and so on. (In addition, the District of Columbia and the federal territories also have their own separate legal systems analogous to state legal systems, although they do not enjoy state sovereignty.)

A typical example of the diversity of contemporary state law is the legal test for finding a duty of care, the first element required to proceed with a lawsuit for negligence (the basis for most personal injury lawsuits). A 2011 article found that 43 states use a multifactor balancing test usually consisting of four to eight factors, but there are 23 various incarnations because so few states use exactly the same test, and consolidating those into a single list results in 42 unique factors. Naturally, the laws of different states frequently come into conflict with each other, which has given rise to a huge body of law regulating the conflict of laws in the United States.

The diversity of U.S. state law first became a notable problem during the late 19th century era known as the Gilded Age, when interstate commerce was nurtured by new technologies like the telegraph, the telephone, and the railroad. Many lawyers during the Gilded Age complained about how the diversity and volume of state law hampered interstate trade and introduced complexity and inconvenience into virtually any interstate transaction (commercial or otherwise). There have been three major reactions to this problem, none of which were completely successful: codification, uniform laws, and the Restatements.

The first reaction, codification, was an attempt to simplify the basic task of identifying the current state law that was (1) relevant to a particular legal question and (2) currently in force. Today, all states but Pennsylvania have completed the process of codifying all of their general statutory law into legal codes. Codification was an idea borrowed from the civil law through the efforts of American lawyer David Dudley Field. Field, in turn, was building upon early (but wholly unsuccessful) foundational work by the English legal philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who actually coined the verb "to codify" for the process of drafting a legal code.

Naturally, there is much diversity in the structure of the state codes, reflecting the diversity of the statutory law on which they were built. New York's codes are known as "Laws." California and Texas simply call them "Codes." Other states use terms such as "Code of ", "Revised Statutes", or "Compiled Statutes" for their compilations. California, New York, and Texas use separate subject-specific codes; Maryland's code has, as of 2013, mostly been recodified from numbered articles into named articles; virtually all other states and the federal government use a single code divided into numbered titles or other top-level divisions. Louisiana is a unique hybrid in that it has five subject-specific codes and a set of Revised Statutes for everything else. A poorly drafted 1864 anti-corruption amendment to Pennsylvania's constitution prevented its legislature from starting comprehensive codification until 1970 (after the state constitution was finally amended to add the necessary exception in 1967).

In some states, codification is often treated as a mere restatement of the common law, to the extent that the subject matter of the particular statute at issue was covered by some judge-made principle at common law. Judges are free to liberally interpret the codes unless and until their interpretations are specifically overridden by the legislature. In other states, there is a tradition of strict adherence to the plain text of the codes.

The advantage of codification is that once the state legislature becomes accustomed to writing new laws as amendments to an existing code, the code will usually reflect democratic sentiment as to what the current law is (though the entire state of the law must always be ascertained by reviewing case law to determine how judges have interpreted a particular codified statute).

In contrast, in jurisdictions with uncodified statutes, like the United Kingdom, determining what the law is can be a more difficult process. One has to trace back to the earliest relevant Act of Parliament, and then identify all later Acts which amended the earlier Act, or which directly overrode it. For example, when the UK decided to create a Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, lawmakers had to identify every single Act referring to the House of Lords that was still good law, and then amend all of those laws to refer to the Supreme Court.

In most U.S. states, certain areas of the law, especially the law of contracts and torts, continue to exist primarily in the form of case law, subject only to limited statutory modifications and refinements. Thus, for example, there is no statute in most states which one can consult for answers on basic issues like the essential elements of a contract. Rather, one must consult case law, with all the complexity and difficulty that implies.

Major exceptions include the states of California, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota as well as the territory of Guam, all of which largely enacted Field's proposed civil code even though it was repeatedly rejected and never enacted by his home state of New York. Idaho partially enacted Field's civil code but omitted some of the contract and tort sections. Georgia initiated its own full codification separate from Field (its proponents and Field were unaware of the other's work due to the breakdown in communications that preceded the American Civil War), which resulted in the enactment of the oldest ancestor of the modern Official Code of Georgia Annotated in 1861.

Attempts at "uniform" laws

The second and third reactions to the diversity of state law were attempts to reduce that diversity on both the legislative side (in the form of uniform laws) and on the judicial side (in the form of "Restatements" of the common law).

Efforts by various organizations to create "uniform" state laws have been only partially successful. The two leading organizations are the American Law Institute (ALI) and the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL). The most successful and influential uniform laws are the Uniform Commercial Code (a joint ALI-NCCUSL project) and the Model Penal Code (from ALI).

Apart from model codes, the American Law Institute has also created Restatements of the Law which are widely used by lawyers and judges to simplify the task of identifying and summarizing the current status of the common law. Instead of listing long, tedious citations of old cases that may not fit very well together (in order to invoke the long-established principles supposedly contained in those cases), or citing a treatise which may reflect the view of only one or two authors, they can simply cite a Restatement section (which is supposed to reflect the consensus of the American legal community) to refer to a particular common law principle.

Local law

States have delegated lawmaking powers to thousands of agencies, townships, counties, cities, and special districts. And all the state constitutions, statutes and regulations (as well as all the ordinances and regulations promulgated by local entities) are subject to judicial interpretation like their federal counterparts.

It is common for residents of major U.S. metropolitan areas to live under six or more layers of special districts as well as a town or city, and a county or township (in addition to the federal and state governments). Thus, at any given time, the average American citizen is subject to the rules and regulations of several dozen different agencies at the federal, state, and local levels, depending upon one's current location and behavior.

Types of law

Procedural law

Traditionally, lawyers distinguish between procedural law (which controls the procedure followed by courts and parties to legal cases) and substantive law (which is what most people think of as law). In turn, procedural law is divided into criminal procedure and civil procedure.

Criminal procedure

The law of criminal procedure in the United States consists of a massive overlay of federal constitutional case law interwoven with the federal and state statutes that actually provide the foundation for the creation and operation of law enforcement agencies and prison systems as well as the proceedings in criminal trials. Due to the perennial inability of legislatures in the U.S. to enact statutes that would actually force law enforcement officers to respect the constitutional rights of criminal suspects and convicts, the federal judiciary gradually developed the exclusionary rule as a method to enforce such rights. In turn, the exclusionary rule spawned a family of judge-made remedies for the abuse of law enforcement powers, of which the most famous is the Miranda warning. The writ of habeas corpus is often used by suspects and convicts to challenge their detention, while the Civil Rights Act of 1871 and Bivens actions are used by suspects to recover tort damages for police brutality.

Civil procedure

The law of civil procedure governs process in all judicial proceedings involving lawsuits between private parties. Traditional common law pleading was replaced by code pleading in 24 states after New York enacted the Field Code in 1850 and code pleading in turn was subsequently replaced again in most states by modern notice pleading during the 20th century. The old English division between common law and equity courts was abolished in the federal courts by the adoption of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in 1938; it has also been independently abolished by legislative acts in nearly all states. The Delaware Court of Chancery is the most prominent of the small number of remaining equity courts.

Thirty-five states have adopted rules of civil procedure closely modeled after the FRCP (including rule numbers). However, in doing so, they had to make some modifications to account for the fact that state courts have broad general jurisdiction while federal courts have relatively limited jurisdiction.

New York, Illinois, and California are the most significant states that have not adopted the FRCP. Furthermore, all three states continue to maintain most of their civil procedure laws in the form of codified statutes enacted by the state legislature, as opposed to court rules promulgated by the state supreme court, on the ground that the latter are undemocratic. But certain key portions of their civil procedure laws have been modified by their legislatures to bring them closer to federal civil procedure.

Generally, American civil procedure has several notable features, including extensive pretrial discovery, heavy reliance on live testimony obtained at deposition or elicited in front of a jury, and aggressive pretrial "law and motion" practice designed to result in a pretrial disposition (that is, summary judgment) or a settlement. U.S. courts pioneered the concept of the opt-out class action, by which the burden falls on class members to notify the court that they do not wish to be bound by the judgment, as opposed to opt-in class actions, where class members must join into the class. Another unique feature is the so-called American Rule under which parties generally bear their own attorneys' fees (as opposed to the English Rule of "loser pays"), though American legislators and courts have carved out numerous exceptions.

Substantive law

Substantive law comprises the actual "substance" of the law; that is, the law that defines legally enforceable rights and duties, and what wrongful acts amount to violations of those rights and duties. Because substantive law by definition is enormous, the following summary briefly covers only a few highlights of each of the major components of American substantive law.

Criminal law

Criminal law involves the prosecution by the state of wrongful acts which are considered to be so serious that they are a breach of the sovereign's peace (and cannot be deterred or remedied by mere lawsuits between private parties). Generally, crimes can result in incarceration, but torts (see below) cannot. The majority of the crimes committed in the United States are prosecuted and punished at the state level. Federal criminal law focuses on areas specifically relevant to the federal government like evading payment of federal income tax, mail theft, or physical attacks on federal officials, as well as interstate crimes like drug trafficking and wire fraud.

All states have somewhat similar laws in regard to "higher crimes" (or felonies), such as murder and rape, although penalties for these crimes may vary from state to state. Capital punishment is permitted in some states but not others. Three strikes laws in certain states impose harsh penalties on repeat offenders.

Some states distinguish between two levels: felonies and misdemeanors (minor crimes). Generally, most felony convictions result in lengthy prison sentences as well as subsequent probation, large fines, and orders to pay restitution directly to victims; while misdemeanors may lead to a year or less in jail and a substantial fine. To simplify the prosecution of traffic violations and other relatively minor crimes, some states have added a third level, infractions. These may result in fines and sometimes the loss of one's driver's license, but no jail time.

For public welfare offenses where the state is punishing merely risky (as opposed to injurious) behavior, there is significant diversity across the various states. For example, punishments for drunk driving varied greatly prior to 1990. State laws dealing with drug crimes still vary widely, with some states treating possession of small amounts of drugs as a misdemeanor offense or as a medical issue and others categorizing the same offense as a serious felony.

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