Friday, May 30, 2014

Saving Time with 50-State Surveys

Legal researchers often have good reason to locate and compare legislation or regulations from multiple jurisdictions. For example, over the last three years, about a dozen states have enacted laws to prevent employers from demanding access to employees' personal social media accounts. The most recent example, Louisiana's Personal Online Account Privacy Protection Act, was signed into law by Governor Bobby Jindal last week. Researchers in a state which has not yet passed a law on the same issue may wish to compile these various state laws in order to present a comparative perspective in a legal filing, or to aid in the drafting of model legislation for their own jurisdiction.

Unfortunately for legal researchers, the process of searching for similar statutes from a variety of jurisdictions can be time-consuming. Thankfully, publications known as 50-state surveys provide quick access to various jurisdictions' statutes and/or regulations on a particular subject. Although there won't always be a survey available on your specific research topic, it's always worth a check before you attempt to compile the information yourself. Here are some possible places to begin your search for comparative surveys:
  • Duke Law maintains a subscription to HeinOnline's Subject Compilations of State Laws database. Based on a book series (available in the library's Reference Collection), this resource is searchable by keyword or browseable by topic, and indexes multi-state surveys from premium databases, footnotes and appendices to law review articles, and non-governmental organization websites. In this case, a search of the database for social media and employers returns two results, both 2013 law review articles which include footnotes and tables charting the six states which had enacted similar laws by that time.
  • Premium legal research services like Bloomberg, Lexis and Westlaw also offer 50-state survey publications. The Subject Compilations database will frequently point to surveys available on these services, but because of publication delays it can be useful to search these premium databases separately for more recent materials. These premium surveys are usually available as Excel or PDF downloads, with convenient hyperlinks to the relevant state code sections in the research database:
    • Lexis Advance has recently added LexisNexis 50 State Surveys, Legislation & Regulations, which was previously available only within the interface.To reach it, Browse Sources and type surveys into the "Search Sources" box at the left side of the screen. You can add the database to your search box, or view the table of contents to browse available surveys. The Labor & Employment Law section includes a few surveys on Employee Privacy, but not yet anything specific to social media passwords.
    • On WestlawNext, type survey into the search bar to view available databases of statutory and regulatory surveys. Subtopics within these databases, including employment law, can be browsed or searched. In this case, Westlaw offers several dozen surveys related to employment law, including drug testing, minimum wage laws, credit checks for applicants, and disability leave, but nothing on this relatively new area of social media access by potential employers.
    • On Bloomberg, published multistate surveys are most likely to be found in the Legal Analysis & News > Books & Treatises section, particularly under Bloomberg BNA. State-by-State Survey titles are particularly strong in the area of labor and employment law.
  • For newer and still-emerging areas of legislation like this one, a quick web search can also be an effective research strategy for locating free 50-state surveys which may not yet be indexed by the Subject Compilations of State Laws. The National Conference of State Legislatures has been compiling reports of social media password access legislation since 2012, and is a good free source to search for any other topic of state legislation. News articles available online, such as the coverage of the Louisiana law, may also provide helpful leads for locating additional laws.
For help with locating 50-state surveys on any topic, be sure to Ask a Librarian.