For years, lawyers known as ambulance-chasers have raced the sirens and flashing police lights to the scene of traffic accidents in hopes of representing the victim in a lucrative personal injury case.
Today, the same entrepreneurial spirit thrives at the opposite end of the legal big-money spectrum: traffic tickets. But in this growing new market, it's the speeders and drunk drivers who are chasing the lawyers to represent them.
Ads for traffic lawyers seem to pop up daily on rock radio stations, highway billboards and the Internet in major urban areas. And if you're unfortunate enough to get ticketed, you might well see one to three dozen solicitations show up in your mailbox within the next week to 10 days.
They have names such as
The Ticket Clinic (Miami),
Remove Tickets (Dallas/Ft. Worth),
TixNix (Los Angeles) and
Traffic Lawyer (New York).
For less than the cost of a business lunch, a traffic attorney will take your speeding ticket to court on your behalf. We're not talking about having your family attorney go to traffic court for you -- these traffic ticket lawyers often devote their entire practice to traffic tickets, sometimes handling hundreds per day. Some even offer a money-back guarantee if they fail to get your fine reduced or keep the ticket off your record.
"We take whomever we want, and it's just built into the system that if there are errors on the ticket, it gets dismissed," says Mitchell Frank, who has been a
traffic ticket attorney in Plantation, Fla., for a decade. "If there are no mistakes, then it's not going to be dismissed but they still might get out of the points and the school and get a reduced fine, like a reward for a good record."
But do traffic lawyers deliver the goods?
"Can they get the tickets dismissed? Yes, because they know the technicalities," says Brenda DiIoia, chief traffic magistrate for Broward County Courts in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "They also know which ones they can't get dismissed. When the ticket is perfect, nobody is going to be able to do anything for you, so they plea (bargain) those. The attorneys are great if you don't have time to go to court or if your driving record isn't great."
So how do they do it? How can they afford to do it?
We'll ask a couple of them. But first, the new realities of traffic court.
The ticket trap
You probably aren't aware of it, but when you receive a moving violation, you enter the complex machinery of your local municipal or county traffic court where negotiation is more the rule than the exception. They don't tell you that, of course; that's why nine in 10 traffic offenders simply pay the ticket rather than fight it in court.