Kirk G. Forrest
Kirk G. Forrest has experienced life with the law as both inside and outside counsel, in the big city and the not-so-big city. But today, he’s happy enjoying a more fulfilling life working on the inside and living at a much slower pace.
Four years ago, Forrest gave up the ocean views of sunny San Francisco and his position as partner with the firm Carroll, Burdick & McDonough, to take a position in Tulsa, Oklahoma as General Counsel—Litigation for the then Fortune 500 energy company, MAPCO. For him and his wife, the move was more about quality of life than the job. “What we thought Tulsa would offer is more quality time with the family,” he says. “All I did [in San Francisco] was work, there was little time left for family.”
The notion of spending more time with his children made Tulsa all the more attractive to Forrest, a magna cum laude graduate of Cornell University and Harvard Law School. Now, he’s able to drive his daughter to school in the mornings and attend his son’s little league games in the evenings.
Currently, Forrest serves as Associate General Counsel of The Williams Companies, a diversified Fortune 250 energy and communications company, which acquired MAPCO shortly after he arrived in Tulsa. A New York City native, Forrest was accustomed to big-city living. He held senior positions on the legal staffs of International Paper Company in New York and the Xerox Corporation in Connecticut. But he says the slower pace of Tulsa affords him a quality of life he couldn’t get in the bigger cities. “[In Tulsa] the expectations of the marketplace are different. In New York, if you’re not lighting the candle at both ends, you’re not looked at as being successful,” he says. “And same is true up in the law firms and companies in San Francisco…Here, people enjoy life.”
Life in Tulsa means Forrest commutes 20 minutes to work instead of the hour it took him to catch the ferry to work in San Francisco. It means that if he has to work on the weekend, he doesn’t waste half the day just traveling. Forrest also enjoys a larger, more spacious home than any house he could have dreamed of in San Francisco or New York.
By the same token, leaving the big firm and returning to the world of inside counsel means the pace is not as hectic, and there is less of a need for Forrest to be in the office. At The Williams Companies, Forrest pays less than $100 per month for health benefits, which is a significant savings from the $800+ he paid per month working the firm in San Francisco.
So why aren’t more lawyers willing to take the inside track, and better still, why aren’t more lawyers heading for the smaller cities? Forrest says the popular beliefs that big firms and big cities garner higher prestige and provide more challenging work regimens are simply myths. “I don’t see any distinction in working in-house at Williams in Tulsa, or having worked in-house at Xerox in Connecticut…or International Paper in New York,” he says. “The litigation and the legal practice at The Williams Companies and the major law firms in town are just as exciting as the work at big city firms. We do cutting-edge stuff. We do our merger and acquisition deals in-house. My work is fulfilling.”
And the big-city wages? Forrest says a salary cut is to be expected when moving to a smaller city. But, when you consider the lower cost of living and the full compensation package, which often includes stock options, 401(k), and other benefits, the compensation is comparable and reasonable.
A founding member of the American Corporate Counsel Association, Forrest cites time management as a determining factor in making his move. Not only does he have more free time for his wife and children, but he can also focus his energy on things like improving the community and achieving diversity in the profession. “The Williams Companies has a very strong commitment to diversity. Not only are we making a strong push to identify and hire qualified minority candidates in-house, but outside counsel who are minorities as well. And I’m heading up that search.” In addition, The Williams Companies has contributed $10,000 in seed money to the American Bar Association’s scholarship fund for minorities. “We put our money up to support our words, but our actual hiring and utilization of minority counsel will speak loudest,” Forrest says.
While Forrest stays busy overseeing 16 people in the litigation department at The Williams Companies, which boasts annual revenues of $10 billion and an 822 percent increase in its stock since 1991, he still finds time to advise law school students and recent graduates about their opportunities in the profession. His advice is simple: “Please don’t forget about in-house corporate practice. The work is challenging. You get more responsibility faster. You can still have a life and a fair compensation package as well.”
Is Tulsa the end of the road for Forrest, or could he be tempted to make yet another move? He says he’s learned to never say never and still has aspirations of one day running a corporate legal department as general counsel. But for now, Forrest is happy with the work he’s doing and the life he’s made for himself and his family in Tulsa.
“Life is slower, but sometimes slow is good!”
From the September 2000 issue of Diversity & The Bar®