Russ: Hi I’m Russ Capper and this is BusinessMakers USA, brought to you by Insperity, inspiring business performance. Checking in today from the Research Triangle – we’re talking about North Carolina, specifically Raleigh Durham area – and I’m very pleased to have as my guest James Forrest of Forrest Firm. James welcome to the show.
James: How ya doing Russ?
Russ: Doing great.
James: Good to see you, thanks for having me.
Russ: You bet. Tell us about the Forrest Firm, even what’s different about it than a standard law firm.
James: Forrest Firm is a full service corporate business law firm. We are headquartered in Raleigh Durham. We have offices across the state; we’re visible in Charlotte, Winston, Greensboro, Raleigh Durham and Wilmington. We’re a full service corporate law firm; we focus on corporate transactional work, litigation, commercial real estate, intellectual property, estate planning and employment law.
Russ: Okay. So you kind of come across as being young to me for having your own law firm set up.
James: I appreciate you saying that. I’m holding on to 39 very tightly.
Russ: It also brings back memories of what my last law firm experience was. I haven’t done anything in probably 8 or 9 years but I was still unimpressed with how low-tech they seemed; it was important and you had to have good lawyers, but just the business operation seemed different. I assume you coming across as being young it might be different there.
James: Technology is an interesting thing, you can be ahead of it one day and behind it the next and I’d like to say that we’re ahead of it, but it’s always changing and it’s really hard to keep up with. I think what sets us apart a little bit more than technology would be just our general approach to how we approach the practice of business law. I would say, as humbly as possible, that our profession really lacks in the area of customer service, professional services generally, certainly corporate lawyers.
What we do is sophisticated work and I think because of that there’s a long line of folks that stand out and wait for us to do what we’re going to do. And it creates this market dynamic where we don’t have to be customer service oriented, we don’t have to pick up the phone necessarily. There’s a long line of people willing to pay us exorbitant hourly rates to do the work that we do and so we’ve gotten a little bit lazy over the years. But I think one of the things that we do well is really try to treat people the way that we’d want to be treated. And that plays itself out in a lot of different ways but I would say that’s the one thing that maybe sets us apart in terms of how we approach our clients.
One other thing that’s really important to me is how we treat our people. If you look at the legal profession generally folks that are in large law firms or a solo firm, just in our profession generally you’ll see some statistics around alcoholism, suicide rates, depression rates that are fairly alarming and I’m not sure why that is, but one of the things that we’re really focused on is creating healthy, sustainable environments for our people and that’s compensation, that’s work from anywhere for our lawyers, market-leading benefits. The same lens that we apply to clients of treating them the way that we want to be treated if we were in their shoes – I’ve been in a couple different law firms, I understand what that’s like, there’s definitely pros and cons, but how do we flip that on its head and do it better and different.
Russ: Okay, so how many lawyers do you have in your firm today?
James: We’ve got 27 lawyers in our firm, 33 people total. We’ve has a pretty rapid growth, we’ve grown from 4 to 33 people in the last 2.5 years and I think it’s because of the market reacting positively to the client centric approach.
Russ: I guess that’s a big part of who you allow or choose to join you and I would assume that they feel the same way you do or they wouldn’t be at the Forrest Firm.
James: There are a lot of really great lawyers out there; folks that are well-intentioned, involved in their community, really good at what they do, smart, smart folks. I think we do have to look a little bit more closely at the folks that we hire in terms of their ability to think differently. It’s a different skill to be a great lawyer, much different to look at a situation and say how would I want to be treated in this situation? How can I put myself in the client’s shoes? How do I make my legal budget predictable? How do I make sure I get a call back quickly? How do I make sure my lawyer doesn’t slow down my deal? Those types of things – that’s a different skillset and we’ve found that applying that customer service level thinking to the traditional lawyer client relationship is a good thing.
Russ: Well I would agree with that. To me in my experience a lot of it was exactly adverse to that; they didn’t care how much the bill was at the end and it was always more than you thought. I don’t know how you address that.
James: Well to stick up for our profession a little bit – and I do get a reputation for knocking our profession regularly, but we are disrupting in some ways. What we do is sophisticated and it’s complex and it’s unpredictable. You go into an M&A transaction, that’s really unpredictable how that’s going to go. You get sued, that’s really unpredictable how that’s going to go. It depends on the legal leverage of both sides, the temperament of the parties, the temperament of the lawyers; it’s extremely unpredictable to predict and so therefor we have the billable hour. We bill by the hour and it’s expensive.
At the same time there is a proactive step that I think the lawyer should take in each phase of that process where they’re keeping you informed as the client about your spend. I can’t think of really another context where I go into something not knowing what I’m going to spend in advance. So it’s not rocket science, it’s just basic customer service applied to what we do. So back to my example, in the litigation matter perhaps, let’s say you want to sue somebody – we can’t tell you hey for this dollar amount we’ll go sue this party for you and chase it down to fruition, but what we can do is say for this price we’ll write a demand letter for you. If that doesn’t resolve the problem, for this amount of money we’ll draft a complaint for you. And then the person responds with an answer and then you’re in discovery and there’s different, unpredictable phases. At a macro level it’s unpredictable but we can break those phases down into something that‘s digestible and predictable for you as the client so you’re not surprised by your bill.
Russ: Wow, sounds reasonable, I like it. Let’s shift gears a little bit, so here we are in the Research Triangle, you have a big business practice, this seems like a happening place man.
James: It’s a great place to do what we’re doing.
Russ: I’m sure it is. Tell us about the whole innovation, entrepreneur ecosystem here.
James: Sure. So I’m a double Tar Heel grad; UNC for undergrad and for law. I grew up in Rowan County in Western North Carolina and so I’ve been here a while. I am very bullish on the Triangle, I’ve chose to live here and work here and so life here. From the economic perspective the kind of trifecta of healthcare, technology and all the education hubs – all the wonderful universities we have here in the Triangle – it’s pretty tough to not do well here. This economy compared to the national economy is doing very, very well and it covers over a lot of ills I would say in that when you have those macro-economic factors playing over all these different variables, again it’s very difficult to do poorly here.
With the three key cogs of the local economy here being healthcare institutions – world-renowned healthcare institutions – world renowned educational university systems and then the Research Triangle Park emphasis on technology, we have a ton of human capital here, a ton of talent and a ton of dollars and it’s a great place to be. And you can play golf 11 months out of the year so that’s not a bad deal.
Russ: Well you can kind of feel all of that in the air here big time. Do you actually in your practice – how early of an early-stage company might you get involved?
James: So we’re involved in every stage of the lifecycle of a company, we are not a boutique startup firm. We do have startup clients and we do that well, formation, capital raises, securities compliance, day to day contract negotiations, kind of getting the business up and off the ground and complaint. But we also have a healthy amount of what I would call middle to larger privately held companies here in the Triangle, and across the state for that matter, where we get into more of the day to day contract negotiation, HR compliance issues, going out and acquiring a company helping them with day to day legal matters.
Russ: Do you ever reach beyond North Carolina?
James: So we believe there’s a market opportunity to be the go-to North Carolina law firm and not go beyond North Carolina. I’m from North Carolina, it’s a good story, it makes sense. There’s not a law firm in our opinion that’s really done that well; to be meaningfully visible and active in all of those different communities that we described earlier.
Russ: James I really appreciate you sharing your story with us, congratulations on your success and your enthusiasm for North Carolina.
James: Thank you very much.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with James Forrest of the Forrest Firm and this is BusinessMakers USA.
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