Philadelphia is the largest city in the state of Pennsylvania, and the sixth most populous city in the U.S. It is the county seat of Philadelphia County, which consists entirely of Philadelphia. Popular nicknames for Philadelphia include Philly and The City of Brotherly Love. Ben Franklin played a large role in Philadelphia’s early rise to prominence and the quest for American independence. Once the second-largest city in the British Empire (second only to London), it was also the birthplace of many of the ideas, and subsequent actions, that gave rise to the American Revolution. Several prominent Pennsylvania lawyers were involved in drafting revolutionary documents. Following the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, the city also served as the national capital from 1790 to 1800 while Washington, DC was under construction.
From a governmental perspective, Philadelphia County is a legal nullity, since the city assumed all county functions in 1952, and the two have been coterminous since 1854. There are several different courts where Pennsylvania lawyers practice their trade in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas (First Judicial District) is the felony-level trial court of general jurisdiction for Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Municipal Court takes care of matters of limited jurisdiction as well as landlord-tenant disputes, appeals from traffic court, preliminary hearings for felony-level offenses, and misdemeanor criminal trials. Traffic Court is a court of special jurisdiction that oversees violations of traffic laws.
Pennsylvania lawyers can also serve their clients in the three appellate courts that conduct sittings in Philadelphia. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the court of last resort in the state, regularly hears arguments in Philadelphia City Hall. Additionally, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania and the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania sit in Philadelphia several times a year.
What with its rich history as a hotbed of American government and law, it’s no surprise that several excellent Pennsylvania law schools are located in and around Philadelphia, including the Temple University School of Law, the University of Pennsylvania Law School, the Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University, and the Villanova University School of Law. Many of the graduates from these schools go on to practice as Pennsylvania lawyers in Philadelphia. Of course, the areas of law they specialize in are as varied as they are themselves.
Some of these Pennsylvania lawyers specialize in criminal law, meaning they represent clients who have been accused of committing some crime against the public for which the government prosecutes them. Others specialize in various areas of civil law (disputes between individuals or companies, rather than criminal prosecutions by the government), including personal injury law, family law, employment law, workers compensation law, immigration law, elder law, and medical malpractice law.
The burden of proof is much lower in a civil case. The plaintiff only needs to convince the jury that there is a reasonable chance the defendant is responsible. At that point, the burden shifts to the defendants and their Pennsylvania lawyers to prove their innocence. If the evidence shows there is more than a fifty percent probability the defendant is responsible, the jury can return a guilty verdict. The defendant will then be responsible for making reparations to the plaintiff.