Legal Law

Finance Q&A: Nota’s Paul Garibian

Paul Garibian is the president of Nota, a digital solution that helps lawyers track and manage client funds within their IOLTA accounts. Nota is powered by M&T Bank, one of Forbes’ Best Banks in America, five years running.

Hear Paul discuss the purpose behind personalized software allowing lawyers to focus on practicing law and how it can benefit their practices, as well as his perspective/ideas on the future of legal tech.

Why don’t we start with a little about your background. I take it your professional experience is a little different from the folks I usually talk to for these pieces.

I actually studied computer engineering along with finance and entrepreneurship. 

Good for you. I’m sure most of my legal colleagues cannot relate at all to that educational background.

Thanks. It gave me a solid foundation to work for a variety of software startups in the insurance and banking domain. I worked with many global finance firms and insurance providers, and I was in product management building software for banks for the last 20 years. Being in startups has given me the opportunity to work with a lot of different companies and prior to joining Nota, I was at Finastra as Chief Operations Officer of Payments and Technology. 

How’d you wind up in your current role?

One of the companies I worked for got acquired and I got a really good opportunity to work directly with the customer. Up until that point, my work was predominantly to build software for my clients’ clients. The most appealing thing was the chance to work directly with the user. That is critical, if you are two or three layers removed from the customer, you are missing a lot of insights that can create a lot of value for your customers. It was a natural match. I was at a point in my career where it was exactly what I wanted to do, and I understood the structure and the policies I would be working with.

What exactly were you asked to do?

When I joined Nota, it was just a concept around the idea of trust accounting. This was late 2019. I was basically head of product, head of engineering, head of sales, all rolled into one.

It was building a startup, but with the resources of a Fortune 500 bank. We had a concept around helping lawyers track and manage client funds within their IOLTA accounts, and someone had to figure out how do we commercialize it, how do we actually do it?

We had some help from consultants and even worked directly with attorneys to be sure we were creating a meaningful tool. For the most part we were building things on our own from the ground up.

Did you have any trouble attracting talent?

We hired, and continue to hire, a lot of talent that banks are not traditionally able to attract. Banks are increasingly starting to think of themselves as technology firms.

Nota was operating under the stewardship of M&T Bank, but we wanted to attract people who were not just bankers. We had a lot of flexibility, and that helped us to attract a diverse group of employees.

We’d basically be told, here’s a capital allocation for 18 months, here’s what we’d like to see, and then we could figure out the best way to get there. It gave people the chance to be creative and get their ideas implemented.

What was it like working in that kind of environment under the strictures that come with being part of a big company?

It was great, actually. We got to behave like a startup but never raised capital, and we already had the accountability of a bank built in. At M&T the stewardship of capital is very important. They have 40-plus years of profitable quarters, they are a company with very strong values. I thought of it as having the regulatory oversight of a Fortune 500 company with the flexibility of a startup.

What kind of product were you actually making?

Our first product, that we have since improved upon, was a better IOLTA account for lawyers. We were approaching this from the perspective of a traditional IOLTA account being cumbersome, it provides anxiety, it’s not easy to use. We were asking ourselves, “How do we make this better?”

So we, for instance, enabled users to create subaccounts per client rather than just one bucket IOLTA bank account, where you then have to use other software systems or even spreadsheets to keep track of it.

We simplified the user experience. We wanted to make it easy to write checks, we wanted users to have the ability to integrate with other technologies, to use cloud technologies, for example. We were looking to create a financial platform exclusively for attorneys, and no one else is doing that.

The goal was to create a seamless experience for attorneys, particularly within the financial industry, and I think we have to a large degree accomplished that.

What’s next?

We have a great opportunity here to provide personalized banking products exclusively for attorneys. The legal industry is very fragmented, most lawyers don’t do $2 million plus in revenue, so there is a lot left to do in terms of outreach.

We’re always improving our original product, and an operating account exclusively for attorneys is what’s coming next. Consumer-style checking accounts will follow shortly thereafter.

It’s become almost obligatory for me to ask this now, but how has the pandemic affected your work?

While the pandemic has obviously been a national tragedy, COVID helped accelerate adoption of this technology by five years in my estimation. With everything going remote it’s been easier to get new users, and we’ve gotten very positive feedback from our community so far.

We work very closely with our users. We think of them as an extension of our team. It’s been helpful to see that level of user engagement.

Well, sounds like you’ve got a lot of exciting work underway. Thanks again for taking the time for this interview. Any parting thoughts you’d like to leave the readers with?

Just that we hope we can help increase your ability to make an impact on social justice in our country. We believe all attorneys can play a role in that.

Attorneys only spend 31 percent of their time working on clients’ cases. The rest of their time is spent on things that are work and have to get done but that don’t add value. We want to be a financial partner for all attorneys to help make them more efficient, so they are better able to make a difference in clients’ lives.

If we can help make attorneys more efficient, more profitable, more stable from a financial angle, that will hopefully help address social justice in this country.


Jonathan Wolf is a civil litigator and author of Your Debt-Free JD (affiliate link). He has taught legal writing, written for a wide variety of publications, and made it both his business and his pleasure to be financially and scientifically literate. Any views he expresses are probably pure gold, but are nonetheless solely his own and should not be attributed to any organization with which he is affiliated. He wouldn’t want to share the credit anyway. He can be reached at jon_wolf@hotmail.com.

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