Features - A Review of Hein-On-Line

James W. Shelar is the Director of Library Services for Arnold & Porter.
He received his MSLS from Case Western Reserve University and his JD from Catholic University School of Law.

The newest winner of the AALL New Product Award, Hein-On-Line is a collaborative project of the William S. Hein Co., Inc., Cornell Information Technologies and the Cornell University Law Library.  The goal of Hein-On-Line is to provide electronic, searchable access to the huge hardcopy file of older law reviews, most of which are not available electronically elsewhere. And it’s unique in that, unlike LEXIS & Westlaw, an exact image of the original article is presented to the user.

Though Hein admits that the product is intended and geared towards academic and court libraries, the Arnold & Porter library subscribed to the Hein-on-Line law review service in August of 2000. I was delighted to learn about this product and excited about its potential use here. Why?

First, like most law firms, we are always concerned about lack of space. I believe that many serial publications, e.g., case reporters and law reviews, are prime candidates to be replaced by electronic services. In contrast to treatises and even statutes, there is less need to browse these materials. Our law review collection is larger than those of most law firm libraries, and I am guessing that is true for other Washington firms as we have no lending bar library in the District of Columbia. Law firms must depend on each other, local law schools and government law libraries for law reviews. In the past, we found it cost-effective to subscribe to and bind a large number of law reviews, though with the coverage of law reviews on Westlaw and Lexis-Nexis, we have felt less need to bind.

However, availability through the major legal online services has its limitations. Coverage prior to the early 1990s is minimal. Even given the availability of law reviews online, we find that many people here prefer the “real thing” rather than a printout.

During one of our remodeling phases, we put our entire law review collection in storage for about a year. During that time we had to retrieve law reviews from storage frequently, primarily because that was less expensive than interlibrary loan. Even when the law review appeared online in full- text, our patrons preferred the print.[1] I agree with those who think it is much easier to read and digest a law review article when the footnotes are on the same page where they are cited. Another reason for patron insistence on the hard copy was the presence of tabular or graphic information not provided by the online services.

When I learned about the Hein-on-Line service, I saw an opportunity to solve a part of our space problem and give our patrons the format they prefer. Hein has taken a novel approach to their service. They begin with volume one, number one and move forward. They scan the full-text, cover to cover. Though Hein Online was originally developed as an archive of older issues not available electronically elsewhere, I understand that most of the law schools they are working with have required that they put the whole run of the school’s law review online, up to current issues. The articles are provided as a PDF of the original law review article.

The mechanics of the system are very straightforward. Our subscription is firm-wide in all offices and uses IP recognition instead of passwords. The interface is very clean. Hein promptly acted on my early suggestion that the screen be enhanced to make it more obvious how to print a complete law review article. The result is ease of use for the end-user.

The speed of printing an article depends, I believe, on the hardware in use. We typically have HPSi  level network printers with network printers. Quality of the resulting product can vary depending on the age of the material scanned. But our experience is that the copies are as least as good as a photocopy.

The cost of a yearly subscription may be a barrier for some law firms, but if there were a client-billing mechanism, it could be less expensive and definitely faster than interlibrary loan. I have also suggested that it would be a great enhancement to have a mechanism to enter multiple citations and send the request through for printing. I am not sure if there are any plans for “standalone” printing, but that would be a welcome enhancement as well.

Hein has been very receptive to my suggestions for additional materials. Here is an example. We no longer keep the official U.S. Reports. Instead we depend on the star-paged West Supreme Court Reporter. Since that set started its coverage of the U.S. Reports with volume 106, we have volumes 1 – 106 on the shelf. While its only about 15 feet, in an environment where every foot of shelf space is needed, having the U.S. Reports in facsimile format would be terrific. It is a prime candidate for Hein’s service, which is not intended to be limited to law reviews.

The searching capability of Hein-on-Line is somewhat limited, but there are plans for full Boolean searching at some point. Even so, we typically are working with a known citation, and this service beats interlibrary loan hands down. Enhanced searching for the older body of law reviews would be a very welcome development, especially to those of us who know the difficulty of using the Index to Legal Periodicals for those early years.

How commonplace this product is fast becoming was brought home to me this summer. One of our summer associates asked for a copy of a law review we do not have. When told it would have to be borrowed on interlibrary loan, he emailed us back to say that he had gotten it from Hein-on-Line. He didn’t think twice about whether we subscribed or not. But from his desktop terminal he logged on, IP recognition got him to the site, and he got what he needed. Nothing works like success.

I believe Hein’s product very much deserves the awards and accolades it has received. We are counting on its continued development and success here at Arnold & Porter.


[1] We have a flat-rate contract with Westlaw so the cost of printing a law review article was not a factor.