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Practicing Transportation Law

Increased international trade and the growing global economy have brought transportation law to the forefront in recent years. Transportation Law focuses on the legal issues affecting the aviation, railroad, motor carrier, and water industries. Attorneys practicing in this field assist providers and users of logistics and transportation services with a variety of issues, including commercial litigation; cargo claims for goods lost, damaged or delayed in transit; security issues; regulatory compliance gaps; insurance; and tax audits. Attorneys practicing in this field also represent either the plaintiffs or defendants in cases involving personal injury, property damage, or death resulting from airline crashes or accidents related to commercial trucking or railroads.
Types of Firms Practicing Transportation Law
Transportation law is practiced by a variety of firms and companies. As our economy grows nationally and globally, every market segment is increasingly under pressure to have at least a basic knowledge of transportation law concerns.
Transportation attorneys in the small law sector may be sole practitioners or small firms that represent “mom and pop” companies with their own truck or that ship their goods via a national carrier. They may also be “boutique” firms that specialize in transportation law and represent larger clients. Large law firms typically represent shippers and their trade associations, carriers, brokers and freight forwarders, users of logistics providers, or insurance companies in all aspects of their business.Shippers and their trade associations, carriers, brokers and freight forwarders, insurance companies often require in-house counsel. In addition, government agencies including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), United States Department of Transportation (DOT), Surface Transportation Board (STB), Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA), Maritime Administration (MARAD), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and state or local transportation agencies are also involved in Transportation Law.
Typical Tasks Performed by Transportation Law Attorneys
A typical day for an attorney practicing Transportation Law might include any of the following:
  • Maintaining compliance with local, state, and federal transportation law and regulations;
  • Maintaining compliance with hazardous materials law and regulations;
  • Drafting carrier agreements, bills of lading, circulars and service contracts;
  • Preparing documentation relating to cargo security compliance and/or violation;
  • Processing freight loss and damage claims;
  • Collecting freight charges, undercharge claims;
  • Handling cargo insurance issues;
  • Importing and exporting issues; compliance with international laws and treaties;
  • Representing clients in dealings with the various agencies of the U.S. government; ICC Termination Act, FRA, STB, FMC, FMCSA, and DOT cases (e.g., applications, protests, highway use tax reassessments, economic and safety concern);
  • Negotiating and managing 3PLs (transactional outsourcing, tactical outsourcing, and strategic outsourcing);
  • Personal injury or wrongful death litigation involving airline crashes or accidents related to commercial trucking or railroads.
Transportation Law Terms of Art
3PLs: Third-party logistics providers are firms that provide outsourced logistics services to companies for portions of their supply chain management function, and the industry has seen strong growth as businesses increase their global scope.
4PLs: Integrators that assemble the resources, capabilities, and/or technology of their individual organizations and other organizations to design, build and run comprehensive supply chain solutions.
Bill of Lading, Air Waybill: Contracts for the shipment of cargo; terminology may vary depending on the mode of transport (e.g., sea waybills, air waybills, contract of carriage).
Carrier: An owner or charterer who enters in a contract of carriage with a shipper; liability varies depending on the type of carrier.
Transportation Agencies: Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and its’ sub-agencies U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), United States Coast Guard (USCG), Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 
Transportation Law Acronyms
3PL                             Third-Party Logistics
CAB                            Civil Aeronautics Board
CMI                             Comite Maritime Internationale
COGSA                      Carriage of Goods by Sea Act
DHS                            Department of Homeland Security
DOT                            Department of Transportation
FAA                             Federal Aviation Administration
FHWA                         Federal Highway Administration
FMC                            Federal Maritime Commission
FMCSA                       Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
FRA                             Federal Railroad Administration
FTA                              Federal Transit Administration
ICC or ICCTA             ICC Termination Act of 1995
ISTEA                          Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991
MARAD                       Maritime Administration
NHTSA                        National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
NVOCC                       Nonvessel Operating Common Carrier
OSRA                          Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 1998
SAFETEA-LU             Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act
STB                             Surface Transportation Board
TEA-21                       Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century
TIRRA                         Trucking Industry Regulatory Reform Act of 1994
TSA                             Transportation Security Administration
Key Organizations for Transportation Law Attorneys