After graduating from high school in Ansbach in 1980, Hilgendorf entered the University of Tübingen where he studied several subjects including philosophy, modern history, religious studies, and law. He finished his BA/MA degree with concentrations in philosophy and history with the submission of his master’s thesis on the "History of the Parliamentary Freedom of Speech in Germany." After that, he finished his PhD thesis in Philosophy in 1990 with a study on "Argumentation in Jurisprudence," and was awarded his second PhD in the field of Law with his thesis entitled "Criminal Production Liability in the Society of Risk." In 1997 he finished his habilitation dissertation with the focuses of criminal law, criminal process, and legal philosophy with his book "On the Distinction of Factual Statements and Value Judgments in Criminal Law."
Following his habilitation, Hilgendorf worked as a professor of criminal law at the University of Konstanz from 1997 to 2001 and served there as Dean from 1999-2001. Since 2001 he has taught at the Julius-Maximillian University of Wurzburg and was given the Chair of the Department of Criminal Law, Criminal Justice, Legal Theory, Information and Computer Science Law. He served as Dean of the Law Faculty from October 2010 to September 2012.
Hilgendorf's main areas of concentration are medical law, computer- and Internet criminal law, law and technology and comparative law. He is also active in foundational legal research including work in the subfields of legal philosophy, legal theory, bioethics, history of legal thought, the history of criminal law, and human dignity. He belongs to the Pioneers of E-Learning in Jurisprudence and from 2005 to 2009 was a member of the Commission on Virtual Higher Education in Bavaria.
Among other distinctions, Hilgendorf is a member of the Association of Criminal Law Teachers and the European Society for Analytic Philosophy, a correspondent of the Hans Kelsen Society in Vienna, and a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Giordano Bruno Foundation. He has been called upon several times to give counsel to the German Parliament and Federal government on matters of criminal law, medical law, and Internet crime. Since 2014, Hilgendorf has been serving as co-editor of the renowned JuristenZeitung.
Professor Hilgendorf has also been a spokesman for Wurzburg's Center for Foundational Legal-Academic Research. He heads the University of Wurzburg’s project "Global Systems and Intercultural Competence" (GSIK), which focuses on teaching students of all faculties how to recognize, analyze, and solve intercultural conflicts. Under this program are a number of projects focusing on international comparative law. He was one of the organizers of an international team of researchers at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZIF) in Bielefeld, Germany.
He is involved in the field of legal development through his partnerships with universities in Turkey, the Caucasus (mainly Azerbaijan), and East Asia (China, Korea and Japan), for example forming cooperative relations with Peking University Law School. In 2010, he and Professor Genlin Liang of the Peking University of China founded the Chinese-German Federation of Criminal Law Professors (CDSV), whose goal it is to promote the academic exchange between the two countries.
In 2013, Hilgendorf was appointed visiting professor at the Law Faculty of the Peking University. He was given the title of honorary professor. In 2014, he was a guest professor at Hebrew University, Jerusalem. He thought a course on human dignity.
In 2010, Hilgendorf founded the "Forschungsstelle Robotrecht", a well-known research centre addressing legal issues related to autonomous systems in industrial processes, transport and private life. Regarding autonomous automobiles, this involves questions of civil and criminal liability, protection of privacy and matters of registration for road traffic. Since 2013, he is head of the pan-European legal research group of AdaptIVe, an EU-funded research project on the development of autonomous vehicles. In 2016, he was appointed by Federal Minister of Transport and Digital Infrastructure Alexander Dobrindt to serve on the German government’s Ethics Commission on Autonomous Driving.
Hilgendorf is also the chairperson of the Juristen ALUMNI Würzburg, the University of Würzburg Law Faculty's alumni relations program.
Hilgendorf is the author of multiple books, essays, and annotations. Among them are (with English translation):Argumentation in der Jurisprudenz. Zur Rezeption von analytischer Philosophie und kritischer Theorie in der Grundlagenforschung der Jurisprudenz (Argumentation in Jurisprudence: On the Reception of Analytical Philosophy and Critical Theory in the Basic Research of Jurisprudence), Tübingen, Univ., Diss., 1990
Die Entwicklungsgeschichte der parlamentarischen Redefreiheit in Deutschland (Historical Development of the Parliamentary Freedom of Speech in Germany), Lang, Frankfurt am Main 1991
Hans Albert zur Einführung (Hans Albert: an Introduction), Junius, Hamburg 1997 (Zur Einführung, 143)
Wissenschaftlicher Humanismus. Texte zur Moral- und Rechtsphilosophie des frühen logischen Empirismus (Scientific Humanism: Essays on the Moral- and Legal-philosophy of early logical Empiricism), Haufe Verlag, Freiburg 1998 (Haufe-Schriftenreihe zur rechtswissenschaftlichen Grundlagenforschung, Bd. 12)
Fallsammlung zum Strafrecht. Allgemeiner und Besonderer Teil (Casebook on Criminal Law: General and Specific Sections), 5. Ed., Beck, Munich 2008
dtv - Atlas Recht Bd. 1. Grundlagen, Staatsrecht, Strafrecht (dtv - Atlas of Law Vol. 1. Foundations of Constitutional and Criminal Law), Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag, Munich 2003, 2. Ed. 2008
dtv - Atlas Recht Bd. 2 Verwaltungsrecht, Zivilrecht (dtv – Atlas of Law Vol. 2 Administrative Law, Civil Law), Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag, Munich 2008
Strafrecht Besonderer Teil (Criminal Law Specific Part), Gieseking Verlag, 2. Ed. Bielefeld 2009 (together with authors Gunter Arzt, Ulrich Weber and Bernd Heinrich)
Die deutschsprachige Strafrechtswissenschaft in Selbstdarstellungen (The German Criminal-Law Science in Self-Representation), 2010 (Editor)
Ostasiatisches Strafrecht (Eastasian Criminal Law), 2010 (Editor)