Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Law Librarian Research Hack: Survey Says!

Hack #6: Using 50-State or Multi-State Surveys

A little girl looks at a map of the United States
Photo credit: @loney_planet on Unsplash

50-State or Multi-State Surveys are compilations of state statutes or regulations on a particular topic. They can be incredibly valuable when you need to quickly track down laws from multiple jurisdictions.

As an illustration of just how useful they can be, imagine yourself in this scenario: It's 4:00 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. A partner in your firm just asked you to pull the law on adverse possession for each state in the Ninth and Tenth Circuits before you go home for the weekend. You were hoping to leave the office at 4:30 p.m. to beat traffic as you head out of town for your annual pilgrimage to Viking Fest in Poulsbo, Washington. Two alternate endings to this story are:

1. You Google each state and "adverse possession" and sort through the results hoping that one of them will lead you to the correct statutory citation. You compile the list, fret about whether or not it is accurate, submit it to the partner at 6:00 p.m., get in your car, and eventually make it to Poulsbo (after sitting in some brutal traffic). Throughout the weekend, you are worried about the quality of your work and, as a result, are too nervous to participate in the annual donut eating contest.

2. You pull up the 50-State survey on adverse possession in Westlaw's 50 State Statutory Surveys or through the National Survey of State Laws on HeinOnline. You quickly gather the information for the states in question, consolidate it into a memo to the partner, review the actual statutes to verify the information is accurate and up-to-date, send it off, and hit the road by 4:45 p.m. The partner is impressed with the quick turn-around and your relaxed mindset allows you to handily win the lutefisk eating contest.

Clearly we'd all prefer the latter scenario (perhaps minus the lutefisk), and you can see how 50-State or Multi-Jurisdiction surveys can make your research more efficient.

There are a number of places where you can track down these surveys and many of the available resources are outlined for you in the Gallagher Law Library's 50-State & Multi-Jurisdiction Surveys research guide. By far the most comprehensive listing of available state surveys is the Subject Compilations of State Laws by our very own Cheryl Nyberg. This publication outlines available topical surveys from a number of different sources, including Westlaw, Lexis, law review articles, court opinions or briefs, relevant organizations, and more! You can either browse by topic or (if using the electronic version available through HeinOnline) run a keyword search,

As a practical matter, always be sure to note the date the survey was created and verify that the citations listed are accurate by actually reviewing the statute.

Practice exercise!

Using the Subject Compilation of State Laws on HeinOnline, locate a survey containing state voter ID laws and identify the citation for your home state. Use Westlaw, Lexis, or your state legislature's website to confirm the citation is accurate.

No comments: