Areas of Law

The following definitions are meant to clarify the different areas of law practiced by attorneys who participate in the Lawyer Referral Service of the Westmoreland Bar Association. Choose the first letter of the word you are seeking.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


Adoption: An option couples or individuals choose to provide a new family for a child. People choose adoptions when they cannot have children of their own, or if they wish to provide a loving home environment for children who need a home.

Appeals: An appeal is an action to try to overturn the trial court's decision based on legal or procedural error.

Bankruptcy (Business): Statutes and judicial proceedings involving a business that cannot pay debts and seeking the assistance of court in getting a fresh start.

Bankruptcy (Consumer): Statutes and judicial proceedings involving a person who cannot pay debts and seek assistance of court in getting a fresh start.

Boundary Dispute: Adjoining landowners can find themselves in disputes over fences, overhanging branches, water rights, subjacent and lateral support and party walls.

Buy/Sell Agreements: A buy/sell agreement is an agreement between partners of a partnership or between a shareholder and a corporation whereby the parties agree to the terms and conditions of a future sale of the partners or shareholder's interest.

Childrens' Bureau: The mission of the Westmoreland County Children's Bureau is to protect children from abuse and neglect, preserve families wherever possible and ensure that every child under our care and supervision has a safe, stable and permanent home in which to grow.

Civil Rights: Examples of civil rights are freedom of speech, press, assembly, the right to vote, freedom from involuntary servitude, and the right to equality in public places.

Collections: The Pennsylvania's Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act seeks to protect consumers from certain unfair or deceptive debt collection practices.

Commercial Leases: A commercial lease is a detailed written agreement for the rental by a tenant of commercial property owned by the landlord. Commercial property differs from residential property in that the property's primary or only use is commercial (business oriented), rather than serving as a residence.

Commercial Litigation: Commercial litigation generally involves two or more businesses in a dispute over money or other property.

Condominium Associations: The main function of most associations is the repair and maintenance of common areas and building exteriors. The maintenance responsibility for an association is established in the declaration or bylaws.

Construction: Applies to owners, architects, contractors, engineers, insurance companies and anyone in the construction industry.

Contracts: Legal commitments that the law will enforce.

Corporations/Partnerships: A corporation allows for stocks and has a smaller board of directors who make decisions.

Custody: The rights and responsibilities that one parent carries towards a child.

Disability Insurance: An insurance policy that covers a portion of your work income when you are disabled due to an injury or illness.

Discrimination: Laws seeking to prevent discrimination based on race, sex, religion, national origin, physical disability, and age by employers.

District Judges: Magisterial District Court is the first level of judicial authority in Pennsylvania and is the court where most people experience the judicial system for the first time. Magisterial District Judges handle all traffic cases, other minor criminal cases and civil cases involving amounts up to $8,000. District Justices also set bail and conduct preliminary hearings in misdemeanor and felony criminal cases to determine if the cases should be dismissed or transferred to the Court of Common Pleas for further proceedings.

Divorce: A court order that terminates a marriage.

Drug Offenses: Federal and state drug possession laws make it a crime to willfully possess illegal controlled substances.

DUI (Driving Under the Influence): Refers to people who drive while under a level of intoxication.

Eminent Domain: Power of the government to take private property for public use, after paying the owner reasonable compensation.

Estates/Trusts: Estate planning is a strategic plan that coordinates the distribution of everything you own before and after you die. Trusts are legal entities that hold property for another and are often used in the estate planning process.

Fair Debt Collection: The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is a federal statute aimed at curbing abusive practices in debt collection.

Federal Law: In the United States, a federal crime or federal offense is a crime that is either made illegal by U.S. federal legislation or a crime that occurs on U.S. federal property.

Felonies: Felonies generally include violent crimes such as murder, robbery, sex offenses, gun charges, drug charges, property destruction, smuggling or money laundering.

Foreclosures: A court proceeding upon default in a mortgage to vest title in the mortgagee.

Guardianship: Legal right given to a person to care for an individual or his/her property when that individual is deemed incapable of doing so for him/herself.

Juvenile Law: Involves juveniles (persons under the age of 18) who are responsible for criminal acts.

Landlord/Tenant Issues: The landlord is the owner of the property that is leased or rented to the tenant.

Life Insurance: A contract between an insurance company and an insured or policyholder or someone who buys the policy.

Liquor Law: Liquor law is regulated at both the state and federal levels and applies to establishments such as bars, restaurants, distributors and small businesses.

Mechanics Liens: By virtue of express statutes in most states, mechanics and material men or persons who furnish materials for the erection of houses or other buildings, are entitled to a lien or preference in the payment of debts out of the houses and buildings so erected and to the land, to a greater or lesser extent, on which they are erected. It is used to enforce payment in order to clear the title to the property, because property with a lien on it cannot be easily sold until the lien is satisfied (paid off).

Medicaid: Medicaid is a medical assistance program jointly funded by state and federal governments for low-income individuals.

Medical Malpractice: Committed by a negligent professional health care provider.

Mental Health: The determination of a person's legal competency to enter into a binding contract, transfer assets, or participate in a legal proceeding.

Military Law: Regulations governing the conduct of men and women in the armed services in relation to their military (not civilian) activities.

Misdemeanors: Criminal offenses generally punishable by fine or limited local jail term, but not by imprisonment in a penitentiary.

Municipal Law: A mixture of ordinances, regulations, bylaws and decisions that govern a municipality.

Nonprofit Corporations: A corporation formed to carry out a charitable, educational, religious, literary or scientific purpose.

Nursing Homes: Nursing home litigation can help a person seek compensation for losses suffered as a result of nursing home malpractice. Nursing home malpractice is neglect or abuse perpetrated by a facility or member of staff against a nursing home resident. It can include acts of neglect resulting from understaffing or poorly trained staff that fails to deliver proper and adequate care, inadequate patient supervision, failure to treat a patient's ailments, failure to accommodate a resident's needs, and much more. In other cases, nursing home litigation may involve a facility or staff's intentional actions that do harm to a resident.

Other Torts: Torts are civil wrongs, as opposed to criminal offenses, for which there is a legal remedy for harm caused.

Parental Termination: The severing of the parent-child relationship by the state.

Paternity: Refers to the legal father of a child.

Personal Injury: Covers all aspects of personal injuries that come about due to the negligence or wrongdoing of another party.

PFA (Protection from Abuse): An order that protects a person from physical injury or threat of injury.

Power of Attorney: Legal authorization for one person to act on behalf of another individual.

Privacy/Defamation: An act of communication that causes someone to be shamed, ridiculed, held in contempt, lowered in the estimation of the community, or to lose employment status or earnings or otherwise suffer a damaged reputation.

Product Liability: The law that holds manufacturers, retailers, suppliers and other makers of a product responsible for injuries caused by that product.

Professional Malpractice: Includes many types of professional malpractice. Professionals such as lawyers, engineers, pharmacists, accountants, architects, therapists and other professionals have a code of conduct that they are required to provide their clients with.

Property/Casualty: Covers damages caused by fire, smoke, hail, wind, vandalism, or other events.

Refinancing: Taking out a new mortgage to pay off the present loan on a house.

Sexual Harassment: Occurs when a person is subject to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature to such an extent that it alters the conditions of the person's employment and creates an abusive working environment.

Social Security: The Social Security Administration wants to be sure that every decision made about a Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claim is correct. All information is carefully considered before a decision that affects eligibility or benefit amount. If you do not agree with the decision, you can appeal, that is, ask the Social Security Administration to look at your case again.

Summary Offenses: A summary offense is any minor crime, initially heard and decided by a district judge. Summary offenses include disorderly conduct, underage drinking, harassment, criminal mischief and first offense shoplifting.

Tax Sales: An auction sale of a taxpayer's property conducted by the federal government.

Tax-Free Exchanges: A 1031 tax deferred property exchange is an exchange in which capital gains tax deferral is available to real estate owners who sell their investment, rental, business or vacation real estate, and reinvest the net proceeds in other real estate.

Traffic Offenses (other than DUI): Speeding; Driving without a License/with a Suspended License; Driving Without Insurance/with Insufficient Insurance; Illegal U-turn; Leaving the Scene of an Accident/Hit and Run; Mechanical Violations; Reckless Driving; Running a Red Light/Stop Sign; Seat Belt/Child Restraint Violations; Unlawful Vehicle Modifications

Will Contest: A legal action that challenges the entrance of a will to probate.

Wills/Living Trusts: A will is a legal document that allows you to choose who receives the rights to your belongings after you die. A living trust is a trust you create while you are alive, rather than one that is created at your death under the terms of your will.

Wrongful Death: A civil action which charges another with being liable for injury resulting in another's death by reason of negligent actions or a failure to act which could foreseeably result in death.

Wrongful Discharge: A term that generally refers to a person being fired illegally.

Zoning: A system of developing a city or county plan in which various geographic areas (zones) are restricted to certain uses and development.


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