The Differences between Federal, State, and Local Laws

Read this in: Spanish / Español
Authored By: Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York


There are different types of laws.  Federal laws apply to everyone in the United States.  State and local laws apply to people who live or work in a particular state, commonwealth, territory, county, city, municipality, town, township or village.


What are Federal laws?

Federal laws are rules that apply throughout the United States.  These laws apply in every state, such as:

  • Immigration law
  • Bankruptcy law
  • Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) laws
  • Federal anti-discrimination and civil rights laws that protect against racial, age, gender and disability discrimination
  • Patent and copyright laws
  • Federal criminal laws such as laws against tax fraud and the counterfeiting of money


What are state laws?

There are 50 states and several commonwealths and territories within the United States.  Each has its own system of laws and courts that handle:

  • Criminal matters
  • Divorce and family matters
  • Welfare, public assistance or Medicaid matters
  • Wills, inheritances and estates
  • Real estate and other property
  • Business contracts
  • Personal injuries such as from a car accident or medical malpractice
  • Workers compensation for injuries at work


What are local laws? 

There are different counties, cities, municipalities, towns, townships and villages in each state, commonwealth or territory.  Some of them have their own system of laws and courts that handle:

  • Rent laws
  • Zoning
  • Local safety 


For More Information

Looking for more information on this topic? Visit and select your state to find other self-help resources and information about free and low-cost legal aid providers in your area.

About this Guide

This guide was created by the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York in partnership with the New York LawHelp Consortium and Pro Bono Net, with support from the Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiative Grant program.

To read all of the guides in this series, visit or


This guide was prepared for general information purposes only. The information it contains is not legal advice. Legal advice is dependent upon the specific circumstances of each situation. Also, the law may vary from state to state. Some information in this guide may not be correct for your state. To find local resources, visit and select your state.

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