January 17 2020
Tips for Junior Lawyers - An Interview with Nir Golan
Legal Career Tips
An interview Nir Golan – GC and head of operations Attenti
Sophie Gould – Head of learning and development at F-lex spoke to Nir to get his insights into how a good lawyer behaves and how the legal profession needs to change and adapt to survive.
Tell us about you and your career to date
I am based in Israel, where I am general counsel and head of operations for Attenti, a global company specialising in electronic monitoring. Attenti operate in forty countries, mainly working with government agencies. I have been in this post for about a year.
Before that I worked in large law firms representing tech companies and start-ups, working on global corporate and tech transactions. Following that, I moved in-house, working for a tech company for five years until it was acquired. At that point, I started my own consulting business and provided legal services to tech start-ups and companies for about three years. After that, I realised that I wanted to work in a different way and the best way to drive change in our industry is from the buyer side.
In my current role I aim to work with law firms in new ways. This means collaborating with them to find new ways of working, co-creating solutions for our business problems, and helping junior lawyers to work differently, change the law firm-client conversation, make the relationship with law firms more human, create a work balance for the law firms I work with. Not everything has to be “crazy-urgent” - I am trying to drive the conversation from the buyer perspective.”
How do you think lawyers need to change the way they work?
I think lawyers need to behave “normally” with customers rather than being so “lawyerly”, as well as to be brave. The key skills on which everything else is based are collaboration and empathy.
As an example, I wanted someone from our external lawyers to telephone me to discuss an issue and rather than calling me, they send me a two-page email. They did not know what I wanted – the email was about what they thought I wanted. I don’t know how long they spent putting the email together, but they did not even speak to me. And in the end, that e-mail did not address what I needed from them.
So the basic thing for lawyers to learn is to pick up the phone and talk to their clients. Ask what they need, what is going on with their business right now, what are the pressures? One key question to ask is “what do you need from me”? I didn’t need a two-page email, I needed a five-minute call on a yes/no question.
So be human, pick up the phone, say hi and listen, and understand where the client is coming from and what we need. It is amazing what you learn when you just listen. So many opportunities for collaboration and innovation arise when we just listen.
As lawyers we do not invest enough time in building relationships. It is hard work and you have to leave your ego behind – there is no ego in business. Lawyers need to listen, and learn and empathise – you need to change from being a “know it all” to a “learn it all”.
It is seen as a weakness in lawyers if they do not know something. However, if you don’t know the answer, it is fine to say you don’t know and that you will go and check. If you fake it, you harm relationships. Build a relationship with honesty. Everyone has legal knowledge, it is how you convey that knowledge that matters. It’s not what you do but how you do it.
Legal functions tend to sit in their ivory towers thinking that they are special and that that will protect them in future, but in fact it is just the opposite. Lawyers have to blend in with the wider business, bring learnings from other industries and disciplines (such as service design) and join the rest of the world!
Understanding data is critical and makes for better decision-making than relying on instinct or on what WE think is needed..
Practical tips for what junior lawyers can do now
Junior lawyers need to learn how to speak to customers. If you are still at law school, find a customer-facing job where you actually have to speak to people. The skill of listening to people and understanding what they need is priceless, especially when giving good service and finding opportunities to innovate and collaborate. It is a skill and can be learned.
I worked all the way through law school in various customer service roles in a telecoms company. A big part of the training was what they called “emotional service” - learning how to interact with clients. I was in various roles for four years where I had to make demanding and difficult customers happy. It shaped my mindset and how I work with clients now.
Once someone has joined a law firm as a trainee or newly qualified lawyer there are plenty of opportunities to interact with different people even if you do not have much contact with external lawyers. Law firms are full of professionals from areas like business development, business services, innovation, technology and account management.
Go out for coffee or lunch with them and listen to what they have to say. They bring different skills, experience and mindsets and you can learn so much from them as a lawyer. And they are often better listeners and can offer one of the biggest sources of innovation in law firms. By talking to them and learning from them, junior lawyers can build and learn their new diverse skills.
Meet people in person wherever possible to aid collaboration. Sitting at your desk interacting by email is not collaborating. If I cannot see someone in person I use video calls where possible (although some law firms will refuse and say they only have landlines). In my current role I work closely with the design, sales and user experience teams and have also travelled widely to learn about the business, worked with the leadership team, met external customers. By doing that I am able to build trust and relationships as well as new processes and services and give more commercial and strategic advice than legal advice. Be curious. Get out of your room. Meet your clients. Connect with them. Build relationships with them. That’s how good strong long term collaboration starts.
An interesting fact about Nir
I am a fan of superheroes because on the one hand they are powerful and have super powers but at the same time they are care about and connect with people. They are strong and powerful but human and empathetic. I particularly admire Captain America because of his positive growth mindset and his I love his catchphrase :is “whatever it takes”, and Superman because he illustrates that you should not have to disguise who you are and law firms should embrace different people.