50 State Surveys
Have you ever had to compare the laws of multiple states regarding a specific topic? Or the laws of all 50 states? If you’ve ever been faced with this task as part of a research assistant or summer associate position assignment, or because you needed the information for a research paper you were writing, you know how time-consuming it can be. With Lexis or Westlaw, you could always search across multiple jurisdictions for similar codes and regulations, but that type of search can be piecemeal at best because not all jurisdictions use the same terminology for similar legislation. There are, however, a number of sources you can turn to:
Both Lexis and Westlaw now have 50 State Survey databases that make it easy for you to find and compare the statutes from all 50 states on a particular topic. The "LexisNexis 50 State Surveys" database presents a list of topics and subtopics on a wide variety of substantive areas. You scroll through the list of topics until you find one that interests you, and when you click on the link, you get an Excel spreadsheet which contains citations and links to the full text of the relevant laws. The Westlaw "50 State Surveys" database allows you to either search for a topic, or browse a list of topics by clicking on the Table of Contents. Once you find the topic you want, click on the topic and you will get links to the statutes. Many of the surveys also include an attached PDF file containing state-by-state analysis tables comparing the commonalities and differences by state for key topics within the survey.
If the Lexis or Westlaw surveys don’t cover your topic, or if you don’t have access, there are a number of other sources you can try. The National Conference of State Legislatures offers a series of topical state law surveys, which include legislative and statutory databases, compilations, and state charts/maps. Subject Compilations of State Laws: An Annotated Bibliography, published annually in print, refers you to state surveys in other sources, including books, law reviews, and websites, and covers many topics in great detail. The National Survey of State Laws, a print publication on which Westlaw’s "50 State Surveys" database is partially based, provides surveys on many basic topics.