Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed December 31, 2020
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When people think about the law, some of the first things that come to mind might be the Constitution or the Supreme Court. However, the fact is that most of our interactions with legal issues and the law actually involve matters of state and local laws.
State vs. Federal Laws
The relationship between state and federal law is a bit similar to that between state and the federal governments. When the United States of America was founded, one of the guiding principles behind the government’s design was the idea that each state would remain a sovereign entity, with its own government separate from those of the other states and the federal government.
Similarly, while a few areas of law are covered by federal law, it is state laws which address the vast majority of legal issues and cases that arise in this nation. Specifically, the U.S. Congress has created a few sets of legislation covering entire areas of law, such as immigration. Also, a few others have been reserved for the federal government by the Constitution, such as bankruptcy and patent laws. But with limited exceptions, each of the 50 states has its own laws that address the large majority of issues its residents, visitors, and businesses face.
State Laws in Everyday Life
States create laws that affect almost every aspect of our daily lives. The most common example is that for those who drive a car, ride a motorcycle, or operate a truck, each state has its own license requirements and traffic laws that must be followed.
In addition to infractions and traffic tickets, each state has its own set of laws addressing criminal conduct. What is a crime in one state may or may not be a crime in another, and these actions may also be punished completely differently.
Similarly, each state has a multitude of civil laws dealing with everything from taxes and business laws, to health codes and family laws. FindLaw's State Laws collection features state-specific laws across dozens of the most popular legal topics. Our state law materials include user-friendly summaries of laws as well as citations and links to relevant sections of official online statutes.
Attorneys Usually Specialize in State Law
Attorneys almost always focus on one state’s laws, and often practice in one particular area of law. To be allowed to practice law in a given state, an attorney must typically pass an examination that covers various types of laws, as well as a background check. However, when practicing law, attorneys usually stick to their specialty, which might be criminal law or employment law, for example. These same attorneys may also be qualified to practice in federal courts, as well.
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