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Legal Research Tips for Your Summer Work: State Surveys of Legal Topics

State Surveys of Legal Topics Overview

Many newer legal researchers are unfamiliar with surveys of state legal topics. These surveys gather state laws on specific topics, for example, medical consent laws for minors. The surveys usually include a citation and summary for each state that legislates or regulates the legal topic. Surveys are conducted by a number of entities and authors, and they cover both legislative and regulatory topics. 

If you have been tasked with finding states with laws or regulations on a particular topic you should start with a survey. Even an older survey is an excellent starting point. You can use the older information, particularly citations, and update the research. Citations can also provide you with an idea of which states legislate or regulate that legal topic and a general idea of where the law or regulation can be found in the code.

Unlike some other types of resources (e.g., cases, statutes) that are consistent across databases like Lexis and Westlaw, 50 state surveys are compilations created by editors and will vary by database. For example, Lexis may have a 50 state survey on medical consent by minors and Westlaw will not. You may need to check multiple sources to find a relevant survey. 

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Video Tutorials

The Maloney Library maintains an extensive collection of video tutorials on many of the topics covered in this guide. 

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Hein Online

Always start your 50 state surveys research with a look at Hein Online's Subject Compilation of State Laws. This resource is an index meaning it does not contain the surveys, but instead lists available 50 state surveys. It is a quick way to search across resources including articles, books, government documents, and Internet sites to locate where a 50 state survey on a particular legal topic can be located. For example, below you can see that there is an Art Law 50 state survey on Lexis and on NCSL (both discussed below). Now you can take this information (e.g., database, title, etc.) and locate the 50 state survey.

 

National Conference of State Legislatures

For more than 75 years, NCSL has compiled information from states, territories, and commonwealths of the United States. NCSL is an undervalued resource for collections of state laws. There 50-state surveys cover a broad range of topics. It is always worth searching the NCSL website if you are looking to for statutes from multiple jurisdictions.

Here is a sample document providing the state laws related to pretrial release:

Lexis

Lexis maintains their 50 state surveys in a resource called LexisNexis 50 State Surveys: Statues and Regs. The quickest method for accessing the resources is to begin typing it in the search box and select it from the autofill options that appear beneath the search bar. Once you select the 50 State Surveys resource, you will see a table of contents listing practice areas from administrative law to worker's compensation. 

Westlaw

Westlaw offers 50 state surveys of both statutes and regulations. The easiest method for locating the 50 state surveys resources on Westlaw is to type "50 state surveys" (omit quotations) into the search bar and select from the Content Pages the appear in the autofill options. Once you select a 50 state surveys resource, you will see a list of legal topics with 50 state surveys. 

 

In addition to traditional 50 state surveys, Westlaw offers Jurisdictional Surveys that are customizable and rely on searching keyword indexes of state laws. This resource can be found under the Tools on the main webpage. While you may be tempted to start here, the results can be overly broad and unruly unless the topic is very narrow and specific. I recommend searching for a curated 50 state survey 50 State Survey resources highlighted in the previous paragraph.