50 state surveys compile citations to statutes across states on a particular subject, eliminating the need to search each state’s laws individually. Conducting a multistate survey of state laws can be time-consuming, in part because state codes do not typically use the same terminology for similar issues. These surveys often include state-by-state analysis tables to facilitate comparisons of commonalities and differences. If you can find a survey on point, then most of your work should be double checking its currency.
NB: There are also 50 state surveys of regulations available on Lexis and Westlaw.
You may need a 50 state survey to persuade a court to your client's side by demonstrating a legal consensus on an issue. A survey can also help deepen your understanding of the law in your own jurisdiction.
Useful sources include:
If you cannot find a survey, one alternative is to look at WestlawNext, Statutes > Topical that shows the major titles involved state by state for a given area of law. This helps narrow it down somewhat. For more ideas, check out Harvard Law Library's Comparing State Laws and Constitutions guide.
A related topic is researching initiative and referendum laws in the mainly Western states that allow law by popular vote. For guides to the different states, see Legal Reference Services Quarterly's volume 26, issues 3-4 (2008).
Strengths and Weaknesses by Source: