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Although the District of Columbia is technically not one of the 50 states, its court system is similar to most of the state court systems. As a resident of D.C., you may at some point find yourself dealing with an issue requiring legal resolution so it's important to understand the structure and functionality of the District of Columbia court system.
The traditional state court system hierarchy employs a three tier system. The first tier is the trial court, where almost all cases are first filed and heard. Next, the party who loses at trial can appeal the decision to the appellate courts, which have discretion whether to hear the case. The last tier, often referred to as the court of last resort, is the state Supreme Court. In contrast to this, D.C.'s court system features only two tiers. At the trial court level is the Superior Court of the District of Columbia which hears all local trial matters where it has original jurisdiction, including civil, criminal, family court, probate, tax, landlord-tenant, small claims, and traffic.
The lack of a two-tier appellate system in D.C. means that decisions appealed from the Superior Court go straight to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, which serves as the highest court for the District of Columbia. D.C.'s Court of Appeals is functionally the "supreme court" of the District.
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals, which handles appeals of cases local to D.C., should not be confused with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which is one of the 13 circuit court of appeals of the federal court system. Uniquely, because the District of Columbia is not a state, the judiciary in the District of Columbia derives its authority from the United States Congress as an Article I tribunal, rather than from the Tenth Amendment.
When faced with a legal issue, contacting an experienced attorney is always highly recommended. At LawInfo you can search for a skilled, Lead Counsel Rated District of Columbia attorney by location and practice area. We have District of Columbia attorneys who dedicate their practice to specific areas of the law, allowing you to find a knowledgeable attorney who can help you with your particular legal issue.
LawInfo offers free District of Columbia legal forms and documents to potentially help resolve many of your issues on your own. Whether you need a power of attorney or wish to complete your will, we have you covered. You can click on our most popular forms located in the right column of this page. A user account is required to use the service, but it's completely free.
Three of our most popular self-help forms are the Residential Lease Agreement, Last Will and Testament, and the Power of Attorney form. These forms can prove to be powerful tools to protect yourself in specific situations.
A comprehensive, properly drafted rental lease agreement, for instance, helps protect the interests of both tenant and landlord during the rental period and is a critical precaution to take for both parties. The lease agreement creates points of mutual understanding between landlord and tenant, including rules, duration of the lease, costs, and other details to prevent future misunderstandings and disputes. LawInfo provides a legally binding Residential Lease Agreement for the District of Columbia which you can download for free so you can be confident in your landlord/tenant rental agreement.
Another essential document is the Last Will and Testament form for the District of Columbia, which is also available for free download on LawInfo. Having a legally binding will is important to ensure that your estate, which includes your property and possessions, is divided up and passed on to your heirs according to your wishes. If you die without a will in D.C., you leave the fate of your estate up to the Probate Division of the District of Columbia Superior Court.
The future is always uncertain and sometimes unforeseen accidents or emergencies may occur. In order to protect your best interests, you can designate a person to make legal, medical, and financial decisions on your behalf in the event you are physically and/or mentally incapable of doing so. Granting this designation is to give that person "power of attorney." LawInfo provides free District of Columbia Power of Attorney forms available for you to download. You have the right to revoke this general power of attorney at any time.
The District of Columbia provides resources and training for entrepreneurs and those who are interested in becoming small business owners through their Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Small Business Resource Center. In addition, partnerships like the District of Columbia Small Business Development Center provide new and existing businesses with access to advice, consultations, and information resources at every stage of the business life cycle. If you're interested in starting a business in the District of Columbia, the Department of Small and Local Business Development's Business Toolkit provides steps to starting a business, registering and licensing your business, and links to resources and business development assistance.
Though it may be best known as the nation's political capital, Washington D.C. and the surrounding metropolitan area is home to many businesses that contribute to its vibrant economy. In 2016, there were 68,236 small businesses in the District of Columbia, employing 233,821 employees. Small businesses in D.C. comprise a whopping 92% of all businesses in the District. The federal government remains the largest single employer in D.C. Many of the largest and most important companies in the United States are also headquartered in the D.C. area. As of 2017, there are 15 D.C.-area companies on Forbes' Fortune 500 list. These include Verizon Communications (VZ), which is the parent company of Verizon Wireless and AOL; Marriott International Inc. (MAR), which operates the Marriott family of hotel chains; the defense contractors, Northrop Grumman (NOC) and Lockheed Martin (LMT); and Fannie Mae (FNMA), the infamous government funded mortgage lending company at the heart of scandal during the 2008 housing crisis.