Nir Golan is General Counsel and Head of Global Legal Operations for attenti. He is a frequent voice in the legal innovation world and brings a unique perspective focused on bringing humanity back to the practice of law.
Tell me a little about your legal background. What drew you to practicing law?
I loved the creativity that comes with being a lawyer. You accumulate all this knowledge and now it is up to you to take this knowledge and apply it creatively. There’s lots of room for interpretation and flexibility. I like grey areas. And you get to interact and negotiate with people all over the world from different cultures which was very appealing to me given my somewhat international upbringing (I grew up in Brussels, Belgium and attended an international school with people from all over the globe). I also thought law (commercial/corporate law which was the field I was drawn to) could provide a good foundation for business should I desire to make that move one day. I also liked the fact that the practice of law meant working with people, meeting with people, helping people with their needs and problems.
You focus a lot on bringing the human element back into the practice of law. How would you define humanizing the practice of law and how we can help our fellow lawyers do this?
Humanizing the practice of law has many different sides. One aspect is cultural, such as bringing empathy, compassion, and kindness into the culture of law and to our interactions with customers and colleagues. Coming from BigLaw, I found that this was something that was significantly lacking culture wise. Being more approachable, accessible, open, collaborative, more human, putting more emphasis on connecting with customers and colleagues. Creating that trust which is the basis to collaboration and creating solutions with our customers. Solutions that our customers need and want. Human connection and collaboration is the key to our evolution and transformation. Another aspect of this is finding ways to make legal knowledge/legal materials more human-centered and tailored to its readers and users and not to us lawyers. Designing legal knowledge/tools/products in a way that can be more easily understood and applied by the customers/users. I like to call this #makinglegalhuman. Making law about the customers/users we serve and not about the lawyers. Making legal human-centric. So that legal would be an industry that I would want my kids to join and be part of one day. And not be the inhuman, detached, uncollaborative, and uncompassionate industry it is today.
What’s your view of legal technology? Do you use any in your current practice and, if so, why or why not?
I think that legal technology or just technology as I like to refer to it is a great thing so long as it solves real needs that we have and not just cool to have as is the case with a lot of the tech we see today. I’m a tech lawyer. I’ve been representing tech companies and startups for the last 14 years so I’m very excited about tech and an avid user of tech. But, tech needs to be part of a well designed solution that meets the users’ needs and is easy and intuitive to use. It has to work well as part of our daily lives with a big emphasis on user experience. Otherwise, people won’t use it. At work, we work with tech that works well with our problems and processes. We spend a lot of time thinking about and redesigning processes so that the people, process, and tech will work in sync. One thing I feel very strongly about is only integrating the tech element once the people and process part is clear. I’ve spent the last few months doing that. Understanding our problems, needs, and processes. The first question that our team (which includes our IT team) asks when it comes to tech is what is the problem we are trying to solve? Do we need tech to solve it? And if tech is needed to help and save us time, we will definitely use it. We are a very tech-oriented company. The IT team and I were meeting with a tech vendor the other day (for our legal processes) and the first question that we asked the vendor is “Why do we need this? What does your product do that our existing suite of products/tech does not do?” Tech is a means to solve problems and is not the end. Otherwise what you get is “innovation theatre”.
What are some of the biggest differences in how one practices law in Israel from practicing law in the US?
I’m actually not sure. I’ve never practiced law in the US. I’ve worked on deals/transactions with many US teams. I think the main difference I’ve seen is that US legal teams are very keen on processes and tend to be somewhat less flexible and on how they work with customers and in their communications/interactions with customers they tend to be very very legal using very complex legalese and I’ve been on quite a few calls where the US firm’s customers did not understand their lawyers and this created some friction and disconnection between the lawyer and the customers. In Israel I think we come with a more collaborative flexible approach. I think it has a lot to do with our more informal culture.
To a new lawyer just entering the profession, what be your one piece of advice?
I would say spend time listening to your customers, speaking with them, interacting with them, understanding what their needs are and what are their challenges which they need help with. This will allow you to really empathize and collaborate with your customer and together find solutions for the customer’s problems. To anyone entering the legal industry or about to enter the legal industry, I would recommend finding a part time customer-facing job so that you can learn to work with people, listening to people, and understanding people/needs. As a law student, I spent time in customer service, where we were trained to provide an emotional service- this involved speaking with people all day and understanding what they need. If you learn to empathize and focus on customer’s needs, you’ll be a great lawyer and a great problem solver. This will also allow you to build a special connection and relationship with your customer. This is what evolution/innovation is all about- understanding people and needs, collaborating with them and together finding and creating ways to meet these needs.