A 50-State survey is a compilation of state laws on a narrow topic gathered for the purpose of comparison. Scholars use these surveys to analyze and understand the law. Corporations use them to make business decisions such as determining where to expand or shift their operations or to ensure they are in compliance with differing state requirements. Surveys usually focus on state statutory law or regulations. State surveys often include all 50 states but may be limited in focus to a handful of relevant states. Either way, they can take a lot of time to put together.
The good news is there are tools that can help. The old-fashioned–but still useful–way is to locate a survey already compiled by someone else. Here are a few resources you can use:
- National Survey of State Laws edited by Richard A. Leiter. This book containing a narrow selection of surveys on commonly requested topics is available in our reference collection, call # KF 386 .N38 2019 (the 2022 edition will be on the shelf soon). This book is also available in HeinOnline in its various editions, including the current 2022 9th edition and older editions through the 2005 5th edition. The availability of the older editions makes it easy to compare changes to the law over time. Click here to access the National Survey of State Laws on HeinOnline.
- HeinOnline also publishes Cheryl Nyberg’s Subject Compilations of State Laws series, now published as a database and in book format. The searchable database has a collection of citations to hundreds of state law surveys published in articles, books, government documents, and more. Click here to access the Subject Compilations of State Laws database. This is a valuable resource because these surveys can be hard to locate otherwise.
- LexisNexis publishes a compilation of state surveys organized by topic that is available on Lexis+. This resource is called LexisNexis 50-State Surveys, Statutes & Regulations and is updated regularly. Click here to access.
Some of these compilations may be out of date. It’s always important to check when the survey was created. You can also find surveys in other places, such as in some treatises. For example, Bromberg & Ribstein on Limited Liability Partnerships, The Revised Uniform Partnership Act, and The Uniform Limited Partnership Act (currently edited by Dean Gordon Smith and Christine Hurt and available on VitalLaw and in our print collection) has an extensive appendix surveying state laws regulating LLPs.
Another really useful tool that avoids the updating problem is a digital tool that generates a chart for you with links to state statutes on a specific topic. These tools have different names depending on the research platform:
- VitalLaw: Smart Charts
- Bloomberg Law: Chart Builders
- Westlaw: Quick Compare Charts in Practical Law
- Lexis+: State Law Comparison Tool in Practical Guidance
The benefit of these dynamic chart builders is that they are pretty current (I haven’t ever had trouble with them but I never trust anything completely), link directly to state statutes (helpful for verification), and can be customized to show only the states you want to see. The big drawback is they focus only on specific legal topics that have been selected by editors. Still, the research platforms add new charts occasionally. Lately they have been adding state abortion law charts to track the changes occurring in the wake of Dobbs. If you can’t find the topic you need on one platform, try one of the others.
If you can find a recent state survey on your topic, the work will basically have already been done for you. Even starting with an older chart and updating it yourself can be significantly faster than generating a survey yourself completely from scratch.