Spotlight on Heikki Ilvessalo: A lawyer-innovator who builds products and communities

In our Spotlight series, we introduce interesting individuals from the legal profession. This time the spotlight is on Heikki Ilvessalo, former Development Director at Castrén & Snellman and current CEO at Ilves Solutions.

Some people see their future career path at an early age. Heikki Ilvessalo is one of those people: his father is a lawyer, and already as a teenager, Heikki knew that he would become one, too.

When he started his law degree at the University of Helsinki, the world felt a lot smaller and less international than today. The university courses were mostly in Finnish and focused on national practices and legislation. Heikki imagined working for a Finnish company, in Finnish, with Finnish colleagues and clients.

The truth hit Heikki immediately when he started as a Legal Trainee at Castrén & Snellman: much of the work was conducted in English and the company’s clients operated on an international landscape.

During his studies, Heikki focused on environmental law, which also became his focus area when he started as an Associate Lawyer at Castrén & Snellman.

“Back then, everyone worked on pretty much everything, allowing individuals to gain a wide range of experience. On top of environmental matters, I worked on mergers and acquisitions, administrative and property law and so on – it was a good learning experience for a young lawyer.”

Heikki Ilvessalo

Heikki Ilvessalo, home album

Little did he know that his time as a full-time lawyer was soon coming to an end.

“I became the first development manager with a legal training for a law firm in Finland.”

Heikki soon discovered that he was fascinated by many aspects of a growing business in the legal industry. He started participating in more and more internal development activities, which soon led to less and less customer work.

Business development wasn’t a completely new thing: Heikki had been active in Pykälä, the association for law students at the University of Helsinki, and drove the development of Paragraaffi, a company owned by the association. He helped turn a small offset printing service into the specialized recruitment agency the company is today.

Eventually, Heikki was appointed as a full-time Development Manager at Castrén & Snellman – the very first development manager with a law degree in Finland. This position also earned Heikki a position at the bigger tables: he eventually joined the firm’s management group as Development Director and acted as the secretary for the firm’s Board of Directors.

Over the next 15 years, Heikki was involved in launching and leading numerous company functions and development activities, such as setting up IT, marketing, CRM, knowledge management and service development.

“I got to work with an excellent team and learned the ins and outs of a growth-driven company.”

During his last years at Castrén & Snellman, Heikki was responsible for running and executing the firm’s strategy process. During his time at Castrén & Snellman, the company grew from 40 persons to over 250 people.

“I had a great time at Cassu. At times, the job felt heavy, as you were doing things that were never done before. However, having a fantastic team and being in an ambitious, growth-hungry company made up for everything.”

“I’m that kind of person who gets easily excited and tries to inspire others, too. My job was to bring the right people together, get things started and help others to try out new things.”

“At Ilves Solutions, I get to do what I’m passionate about: solve problems through product development and promote making legal data more valuable.”

After 21 years at Castrén & Snellman, Heikki Ilvessalo decided to join Ilves Solutions, a family business that provides business-to-business data solutions and applications to various organizations and businesses, including the legal field.

“I wanted to run a business of our own and apply my know-how and experience to help other companies leverage data and technology. Our mission is to help our customers succeed by leveraging data.”

The company provides a suite of products and services evolving around data: an enterprise search solution, a time tracker, dashboards, and easy integration services that keep the data flowing between various systems.

Heikki Ilvessalo

Heikki (left) with Lasse Ilvessalo, Ilves Solutions ltd.

“Service development is hard work. It takes discipline and vision, and the ability to listen to your environment without prejudice. It’s about thinking ahead and enabling the future – this is something that we’ve done with our Generative AI Lab, a new innovation as a service that allows our customers to stay ahead with the secure utilization of generative AI capabilities today and tomorrow.”

“I had no idea that a small get-together would turn into a network of hundreds of professionals.”

On top of his positions at Castrén & Snellman and Ilves Solutions, Heikki has a special flare for building communities: he’s the co-founder of the Finnish Legal Tech Network and co-organizer of the Nordic Legal Tech Day in Helsinki.

“I had a long-running idea of inviting like-minded people together over a cup of warm drink to exchange thoughts. That’s why we in 2019 launched Legal Tech Glögit – a meeting of a dozen seasoned legal techies that over time has evolved into a network of 200 professionals.”

Even though the theme of the networking meetings has been legal technology, in practice the participants have discussed a much wider range of holistic topics, ranging from customer experience to legal design and the working culture.

“If you want a 360-degree look at legal technology, Nordic Legal Tech Day is your go-to event.”

In addition to the network events, Heikki, along with Jorma Vartia from Laissa, felt that there was a need for an annual international legal tech event in Finland that would serve as a forum for collaboration and learning. This idea led to the Nordic Legal Tech Day event organized in Helsinki.

“The idea behind the Nordic Legal Tech Day is to accelerate the development of the entire legal technology ecosystem. Legal tech companies get to show what they have, engage in dialog with their customers, in-house lawyers and legal service providers, and everyone has the opportunity to learn from each other.”

“We are building the legal sector ecosystem together – buyers and sellers must talk with each other.”

With experience both as a service buyer and provider, Heikki strongly believes that a strong Nordic ecosystem is in everybody’s best interest. Having local providers for legal technology solutions and products benefits companies in many ways.

“Local legal tech service providers understand your company culture better and are eager to listen to your development ideas and feedback.”

“I encourage all companies to give local companies a chance. We have extremely good technology and design know-how right here. In the big picture, building a booming, international legal technology cluster in the Nordics is in everybody’s best interest.”

“Making the most out of data is the top priority in the future.”

Peering into his crystal ball, Heikki sees making strategies and decisions based on reliable, readily available organizational and external data is essential for all companies in the legal field.

“The data is there, we just need to make sure it flows securely but freely and is available for those who need it. Technically, this means systems that talk with each other through integrations, for example.”

Heikki also predicts that while technical solutions handle even more complex tasks, their users demand for ease of use and efficiency.

“With legal tech, some companies go for increased efficiency and better processes – something that modern services definitely provide. The other side of the coin is using technology to augment the capabilities of individual lawyers – making them smarter and more creative.”

As a prime example of augmenting technologies, Heikki mentions the rise of generative artificial intelligence. He sees that generative AI capabilities will be a part of all software solutions, and eventually become a part of legal professionals’ everyday workflows.

Legal Tech day

Nordic Legal Tech Day

Connect with Heikki Ilvessalo on LinkedIn.

Sign up for the next Nordic Legal Tech Day Helsinki event, held on 15 November 2023!

Want to know more about how technology and AI impact legal work? Listen to episode 47 of the Juristipodi podcast with Sanna Noki and Heikki Ilvessalo.

Interested in data integrations as a service or how Ilves’ Generative AI Lab can help you take the most out of secure generative AI capabilities? Check out Ilves Solutions’ website!

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