Meet the Officer: Henrik Hagberg

Tuesday 18 October 2022

Henrik Hagberg

Advokatfirmaet Thommessen AS, Norway

Senior Vice-Chair, Maritime and Transport Law Committee


1. How did you get into the law/your area of practice? Why did you become a lawyer?

After graduating from high school, my plan was to study to become a naval architect at the Norwegian Technical University in Trondheim in Norway. I was admitted but had to postpone for about two years because I had to do my national service in the Norwegian Navy.

During that time, I gradually changed my field of interest and towards the end of my period in the Navy, I was more inclined towards the fields of political science, macroeconomics and law. Eventually I had to make a choice and ended up studying law at the Faculty of Law at the University of Oslo.

When I started my law studies, I had no plans for what I would do with my law degree. Becoming a private practice lawyer was just one of many options. However, as a student I worked one year at the Scandinavian Institute of Maritime Law at the University of Oslo, where I also wrote my thesis. Upon graduation, it was therefore the natural next step to start working as a maritime lawyer in Oslo.

Although I cannot claim to have had a childhood dream of becoming a lawyer and although I could absolutely have ended up with something else, I have never regretted that I ended up with the law.

2. If you were not a lawyer, what would you do?

If I were not a lawyer, I would probably have studied macroeconomics, unless I had reverted to the idea of becoming a naval architect. Looking at what interests me now, almost 30 years later, I believe it would have been macroeconomics.

3. What advice would you give to someone new to being a lawyer?

Be curious, work hard and be diligent.

I believe it is very helpful to be curious and try to understand the industry you are working with. This helps you understand the clients' challenges and to provide legal advice that may be put to effective use by the clients.

Working as a lawyer is hard work. Often it takes a surprisingly long time to get to grips with the relevant facts and then apply the law correctly. The devil is in the details, as it is often said. Often clients contact you only when they have a problem, and that problem needs to be solved quickly. Important decisions are taken based on the advice rendered from lawyers, and it is important that nothing substantial is overlooked. This requires hard work. The good thing is that with experience, getting to the core of the problem and finding the solution goes quicker.

Working diligently is in my book a prerequisite to succeed, both to get trust and responsibility internally from your superiors and externally with trust from clients.

4. What area of your work do you enjoy the most/ the least?

One thing I like being a maritime lawyer is that the market to a certain extent dictates the nature of the work and brings about new challenges all the time. The shipping market is dynamic with rapid changes involving new challenges and a wide variety of work. In general, I enjoy the traditional advocacy role involving litigation and arbitration most.

For me (and probably about everyone else), certain parts of the necessary office administration such as time-recording and billing is the least enjoyable part of the practice.

5. What are the current challenges facing your area of practice?

I am not aware of any current challenges facing my area of practice specifically. I believe the challenges we as lawyers are facing today are more universal, related to the climate crisis, aggression between states both in Europe and in Southeast Asia and anti-democratic developments in a number of countries. In times where there is domestic or international unrest, we often see that professions such as journalists and lawyers etc are prevented from effectively doing their work, whether that is proper reporting or assisting clients with their need for legal assistance. Right now, there is so much tension in world politics that it overshadows any specific concerns I have about my area of practice.

6. What has been the biggest challenge of your career? How did you overcome it?

I believe my biggest challenge was went I went to Japan to work there as a lawyer at a relatively young age. My previous firm had an office in Kobe, Japan and I was asked to head the office for three years when I was only 29 years old. However, I truly enjoyed my stay in Japan, working with a number of the Japanese maritime lawyers and travelling all over Japan and other parts of Southeast Asia.

7. If you could put together a wish list of changes you would bring about in the profession, or to your area of practice, what would you include?

I do not have a particular wish list for changes I would like to bring about in my profession or my area of practice as a lawyer, but what I would want to see come through is a united effort by the maritime industry to combat the climate crisis and the increasing threat of global warming.

Following the Paris Agreement, which at least entails an appreciation of the risks related to  global warming, it is important that the industry and the regulators now work together to (at least) reach the targets of the Paris Agreement. There are, unfortunately, obvious signs that the IMO and regional legislators, such as the EU regulators, are not able to agree on the appropriate measures and we risk ending up with different regimes internationally and at regional or national levels. In order that the shipping industry can do its best to combat the climate crisis, it is important that an even playing field is established where all shipowners are subject to the same rules irrespective of domicile, flag state etc.

8. What do you do in your free time? How do you relax?

As all ‘good Norwegians’, I have a cabin up in the mountains. In the winter season we go there as often as possible. I am a keen skier – both cross-country and downhill and have spent a great deal of time trying to transfer this interest to my two children. We normally celebrate Christmas and New Year up in the mountains with family and friends visiting. However, this year we will in fact celebrate New Year in the Swiss Alps. During the summer, we normally travel abroad to the south of Europe where there is almost a ‘good weather guarantee’ compared to Norway, where you could end up with three weeks of rain and cloudy weather even during the month of July. I am a keen reader of books as well, but unfortunately, I have to admit that my reading rate has gone a bit down the last couple of years.