The Law School Magazine  ·  Fall 2009 :

5-Minute Classroom: HeinOnline

By - Fall 2009
Print | Email

HeinOnline, a product of William S. Hein & Co., is an increasingly popular legal database making headway into law firms across the country. HeinOnline began as a retrospective database of law journals, offering online access back to the first journal issue, such as the first volume of the Ohio State Law Journal from 1935 and the first volume of the Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution from 1985. Since law journals on Westlaw and Lexis go back to only the 1990s, HeinOnline’s retrospective collection fills a void in online access to legal information.

Given its popularity in law firms and academic law libraries, HeinOnline continues to expand its legal collections. Its core library now contains such standard federal legal sources as the official U.S. Reports, the United States Code, Code of Federal Regulations, and the Federal Register. Although the current versions of these sources can be accessed freely from GPO Access,, HeinOnline is unique in that it offers retrospective access (e.g., it contains all editions of the U.S. Code and the CFR and all issues of the Federal Register). This makes historic research of laws and regulations easier, perhaps sparing you a trek to the basement of a far-away law library to find the version of a regulation that affected your client when your client first built the factory or upgraded the facilities many years ago.

Another attractive feature of HeinOnline is it provides the original image of legal resources in a pdf format. Having an image-based document means that footnotes, charts, graphs, pictures, and page numbers appear exactly as they did in the original document.  The formatting of regulations and statutes is exactly as it is in the print version. Reading, understanding, and citing the content is often much easier. Judges will appreciate your providing a copy of an important law review on a new point of law in your motion memo when the law review has the footnotes at the bottom of each page, where they belong.

Although HeinOnline offers exceptional content, its searchability is not as sophisticated as others, such as Lexis and Westlaw. Although the databases can be searched, search options are limited. HeinOnline is at its best when you have a specific citation to a document, such as U.S. Code section or session law, that you need in a pdf format.

HeinOnline is taking steps to improve its usability. If your law firm subscribes to HeinOnline, you can set up a personalized MyHein account that allows you to create bookmarks, save searches, and export bookmarks to e-mail. It also has a blog, a wiki, a YouTube channel, and a presence on Twitter and Facebook, and also offers chat help, live web-based training, and webinars.

Even if your law firm doesn’t currently subscribe to HeinOnline, most academic law libraries do. If you need to do historical legal research and HeinOnline might help, contact the nearest academic law library to see if it subscribes.

HeinOnline continues to add new content (e.g., it has just recently added Federal Agency Decisions and U.N. Treaties). However, some of this content is priced as a la carte databases and may not be included in a standard subscription. For current content and pricing, visit