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Thomas Hegelund

 

Aria Safar sat down with E-STET’s new CEO, Thomas Hegelund, to learn about the differences between lawyers in Europe and the US, how the healthcare and legal industries are similar, and how he’s getting one step closer to his childhood idol.

 

 

How did you end up in the legal industry?

Originally I started my career in technology and joined Thomson Reuters’ legal business (Westlaw) in the early 2000s because I thought Thomson Reuters was facing some interesting and transformative business and technology challenges. They were a publishing company that  realized that if they didn’t change their business model, they wouldn’t survive.

 

While there were big challenges moving into digital, there was also huge opportunity. You can make information interactive, and let the user provide input into the service.

That sounds like quite a challenge!

While there were big challenges moving into digital, there was also huge opportunity. You can make information interactive, and let the user provide input into the service, whereas a print publication has a one-sided flow of information. For example, we had the “Time Travel” feature that would let us look to see what the same law looked like in the past. Also, there was the ability to create a digital trace of what you had researched in the past. This was really helpful to a lot of legal researchers, especially early on in their careers.

 

Was there a major culture shift from print to digital?

This may have been the biggest challenge. Thomson Reuters was used to traditional print for decades, and some of these products dated back to the 18th century.  Transforming the company into a high tech one required changing internal culture and branding. Luckily, the leadership was very thoughtful and strategic.

 

You moved from working in the legal industry to a healthcare product of Thomson Reuters. How has your experience in healthcare influenced your approach to legal tech?

Both industries solve very essential and critical problems in our society and both date back a long time. Also, working directly with doctors and lawyers is similar. They are both analytical and highly trained. There is a very high bar to selling products and services to them, so it's all about demonstrating your own expertise and ability to create value and save time. It’s always intellectually challenging to work with people in these two professions.

Both, legal and healthcare industries are characterized by great complexity, which makes it challenging and very interesting.

Now that you’re back in the legal industry, what are the biggest differences among the legal industries in the U.S. and in the markets in Europe you worked in?

Despite the fact that the US legal system is based on common law and continental Europe is civil code based, I have observed a lot of commonalities in terms of the way law firms and legal departments operate and the overall challenges they are facing. It feels very similar to call your lawyer in Denmark or in the U.S. Their personality, thought processes, and work ethic are very similar.

There are some differences, though. The contracts in the US are five times longer than the ones in Europe! When I first started reading customer contracts in the US, I was floored. In Europe, customer contracts were 2-4 pages, even with the largest of clients. In the US, big deals can be thirty or forty pages.

 

One common thread throughout your entire career has been technology. As a technology buff, what type of technology did you think would be commonplace by now, but isn’t?

Being someone who spends a lot of time in aircrafts, it still baffles me that they look and perform exactly as they did 35 years ago. I had thought that speed (and comfort!) would have at least tripled by now.   

 

What amazes you most about today’s technology that you could never have imagined as youngster?

I still think the navigation apps that we now all take for granted are pretty amazing and beyond anything I would have imagined when I grew up. How can it send information and somehow know where I am, and use it for all kinds of things--it’s pretty amazing.

 

How do you think technology will change legal services in the next ten years?

A Danish writer once wrote, "It’s hard to predict - especially about the future." But if I had to predict, I think there will be greater automation of collecting and gathering information very quickly, which can allow for more proactively mitigating compliance risks. Imagine if you had all your company’s data at your fingertips, and you could easily watch out for risks.

I think technology will continue to offer exciting new products and services aimed at making the practice of law more efficient and enabling legal professionals to focus their time and effort on what’s most important--crafting novel legal strategies that best serve their clients.    

 

Growing up what was your favorite piece of technology?

The hottest gadgets you could get your hands on back then were digital watches. Now I have an Apple Watch, so I guess this has been a piece of technology I’ve always liked.

 

The Apple Watch is pretty powerful for navigation, too! What else do you use it for?

Staying healthy is so important for me. I really love my morning jogs, and Myfitnesspal is really good at tracking my exercise and nutrition goals.

 

How are you liking the move to LA?

Growing up, I loved the idea of becoming a lead guitarist in a famous rock band. I loved the band Toto, and remember thinking Steve Lukather (of Toto) was the coolest guy on earth. He took electrical guitar playing to the next level. I was just so impressed. Now, I’m living in the same city as him!

 

I also see that you and your family are quite good at tennis! How did you get into tennis?

I played high school tennis when I was a kid, and I was a bit inspired by Bjorn Borg. I wanted to share the love of that sport with my wife and kids. We in fact played family doubles at the Denver Open. Turns out my kids are quite good! They both played for the University of New Mexico team.