When real estate paralegal and mother of two Christina McComas decided to leave the large corporate law firm she had been with for 17 years to join The Forrest Firm she admits she was a bit nervous.
“It was definitely a leap of faith,” she said. Forrest Firm was unlike any law firm she had ever worked for. However, after meeting James Forrest, the firm’s founder, she knew it was the right decision.
“Forrest has an entirely different vision for what a law firm can be,” McComas says. “I can be there for my children. I’m happy, and I’ve never looked back.”
Forrest Firm is a full-service corporate and business law firm and certified B Corporation with a team of 45 people in eight offices across North Carolina. The firm has been growing consistently and has been recognized for creating a work environment that values the health, well-being, and happiness of their employees as much as it values the needs of their clients.
When Forrest launched the firm in 2011, he had a successful background in corporate law, but wanted to build a firm more closely aligned with his values. He started out working from home and kept an eye on overhead costs. As he grew, he attracted entrepreneurial attorneys who—like himself—wanted to work hard and be out meeting people, not necessarily sitting at a desk all day.
Forrest also wanted to create a family-friendly environment in his firm—an approach that is rare in the legal profession. Forrest Firm’s unique work-from-anywhere policy for attorneys and the family-friendly, flexible approach for staff grew organically from the vision he had for his team.
For attorney Leslie P. Lasher, who is pregnant with her second child, the set-up has been ideal. She works several days a week from home and heads into the office when necessary.
“The firm offers a truly supportive culture that starts with senior leadership,” says Lasher. “Our founder does a great job of modeling work-life balance. He prioritizes time with his family and encourages us to do the same.”
Attorneys can structure their days in different ways. For instance, some fence off blocks of time when they’re with their family and then pick work back up later in the evening once their children have gone to bed.
“I am definitely more productive because of how I can structure my day,” says Lasher. “If my child has a doctor’s appointment or a school event, I can be there, and it’s not a problem. It’s not a secret if we’re spending time
with our family.”
And, perhaps surprisingly for some, clients support the firm’s approach. “You’re not less of an attorney because you value your family,” says Lasher. “Our clients recognize that you can have a very sophisticated law firm that is structured differently. We respond within 24 hours, travel to meet our clients, and focus on their needs.”
Lasher has found that if she has an out of office message that lets people know she’s with her family on vacation or at an event, they’ll inquire.
“My clients actually ask. They want to know how the event went or how vacation was,” says Lasher. “Our approach is building and fostering a deeper relationship with our clients. I’m not just drafting a contract for them.”
Forrest Firm’s offices are staffed full-time during regular working hours by office managers and paralegals, and attorneys are free to work or meet
clients in one of the firm’s offices. To encourage connection, the firm uses cloud-based phone, computer, and chat platforms to communicate, and the full team meets in person from across the state periodically. In addition, a liberal travel policy encourages attorneys to visit other offices and get to know their colleagues across the state.
“We continue to think about ways to foster a team environment with people working remotely,” says Lasher. “For example, we’re very purposeful about discussing work and non-work issues via instant messaging to encourage community even if we’re not sitting right next to each other.”
McComas believes Forrest’s approach is an antidote to the physical, mental, and emotional demands that contribute to high turnover in the legal profession. “We all do our best to help the firm,” says McComas, “and we don’t have to sacrifice our families to do so. There is a lightness—a happiness—in our firm that I haven’t experienced elsewhere.”
Change is not easy, but Lasher is optimistic.
“You have to be brave to create change in an industry that is so steeped in tradition,” says Lasher. “It takes courage, but it’s possible. Get feedback from your employees on what they like and what they don’t. Don’t be afraid to try something different.”
Sample Benefits: Forrest Firm
- Major medical insurance; many options which are offered at no cost to the employee with both Flexible Savings and Health Savings Account options
- Dental and vision, which is covered at 100 percent for the employee and their families
- Paid time off for staff, which includes paid personal/vacation days, paid community service days, and paid holidays
- Flex time program for staff; work from anywhere and open time off policy for attorneys
- 401(K) with firm match
- Celebrations for work and life milestones