Can you give us some basic background on the Forrest Firm?
James Forrest: I launched the firm in January 2011 after practicing for several years as a corporate attorney at two very large firms in Atlanta and the Raleigh-Durham area. The main reason I started my own firm was because I perceived a severe lack of customer service within the practice of law. Attorneys were generally qualitatively excellent, however, the unpredictable nature of billing was problematic. Legal work can be both expensive and unpredictable, especially when driven by the longstanding hourly pricing model. Time after time, I had clients give me less than stellar feedback around pricing.
So in 2011 I launched a firm based on predictable pricing, responsiveness, accessibility, and value add outside of legal. That focus, along with a real Golden Rule focus on how we treat people, saw us grow from a small handful of clients to more than 3,000 within our first eight years.
How has your firm sustained its growth?
JF: In 2016, while we were still quite small, with myself, two other full-time attorneys and a few of counsel attorneys working with us on certain projects, we fulfilled a long-term ambition of becoming a certified B corporation.
I became enamored with the idea of growing a firm of great purpose, one that was dedicated to a three-fold mission that still included our top-notch, client-centered focus and predictability, but also added a love of serving the communities where we live and work, as well as a real empathy for our fellow legal professionals — providing them with a haven that valued them as people. Our three-fold focus has seen our client roster nearly double again, and we have attracted over 50 of the most talented legal professionals in the state since landing our B Corp certification in April of 2016.
What brought the Forrest Firm to the Asheville area?
JF: We decided three years ago to go on an ambitious growth curve, adding people and markets. To be the business law firm of choice in North Carolina, you need to go where the entrepreneurs are. Last year, we found the right person, Martha Bradley, to launch our Asheville office at a very special place, the Collider, and we recently added Sonya Rikhye, a UNCA grad, to the team here. These women are doing a phenomenal job in building our presence here through great service to the startup ecosystem at places like the Chamber, MountainBizWorks, and the Collider, of course.
Sonya and Martha find personal value in supporting their local communities and have been active in local organizations. Both attorneys volunteered for the Momentum Summit conference recently.
Martha is President of the Rotary Club of Waynesville-Sunrise, serves on the Town of Waynesville Land Use Plan Steering Committee, and is an active member of both the Young Professionals of Haywood and the Young Professionals of Asheville. She’s an active member of Grace Church in the Mountains of Waynesville, and she has served as a member of the Board of Directors for the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce and Haywood Habitat for Humanity.
Sonya is a member of the Woman Up Committee with the Chamber of Commerce, is Vice President of the Buncombe County Bar, and is a volunteer advocate with Our Voice.
Sonya and Martha continue to search for new ways to engage with the community and look forward to connecting with other Chamber members at community or chamber events.
We think that the continued diversification of the mountain economy into markets like craft beer and the outdoor industry, as well as the amazing culinary scene is building a real economic engine in the mountains on that longstanding foundation of hospitality and healthcare. Our number one job is to help entrepreneurs grow their companies while mitigating risk, and there’s a great role for us to play here.
Why did you decide to join the Forrest Firm? What makes it different than other firms?
Martha Bradley: Forrest Firm offers a truly unique opportunity to merge professional ambition with a sense of purpose. Our culture is grounded in a focus on clients, culture, and community. Because of that, I can incorporate an awareness of social impact into building our brand and book of business. We’re encouraged to invest in the community with the belief that the quality of those relationships will yield benefits to us in the future. I think the pace of our growth demonstrates the truth of that philosophy.
Who are the Forrest Firm’s key partners?
JF: We enjoy partnering with entities that have a passion for assisting entrepreneurs. We often find great synergy with other professional service providers and community hubs that share our passion.
MB: Perhaps the best example is the Collider, our Asheville home. What an amazing organization the Collider is — pulling together so much talent from the private sector and academia, creating the Climate City phenomenon from scratch. We’re also committed to investing in local organizations that foster entrepreneurship, including Mountain BizWorks, Hatch, the Small Business Centers at AB-Tech and at Haywood Community College.
What does the word “community” mean to the Forrest Firm?
JF: You can see from our focus on the places where we live and work that community is everything to us. It means that we may share office space at a hub where people are committed to working for a higher purpose, whether that’s promoting minority entrepreneurship or other social change.
We also have what we think is a radical pro bono and community service policy, where we incentivize our people to give boldly and freely of their time for volunteer service and service on boards of directors.
For us, community is literally a missional element. We always tried to lead by example, but when you articulate the promise in your actual mission, you find yourself devoting time each day to fulfilling that promise. And I’m very humbled that more than 50 like-minded, big-hearted people have joined me on this journey to build a better law firm that will be missed if we magically disappeared from any of the communities in which we currently have a presence.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs in WNC?
MB: Find partners you can trust at an early stage whose strengths make up for your weaknesses. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
I think entrepreneurs (being independent, free-thinking people) believe they have to do it all on their own, but that’s not true. If you’re not great with numbers, find a solid bookkeeper who will work within your budget to help you keep your books in order. The same goes for legal work, branding, marketing, or anything else you know is outside your skillset. A small investment early can have huge returns later on, because often, especially with legal documents, repairing flawed work is much more expensive than setting it up correctly from the start.