Forbes, a director at Garlicke & Bousfield, is a self-declared thalassophile, a lover of the sea who is as comfortable in the ocean on a surfboard as he is slugging it out in court.
But, the cool, affable and neo-corporate vibe Forbes projects belies a solid legal foundation, an affinity for precision and 14 years of experience in law.
Twelve of those years have been spent at G&B in commercial law and litigation.
Forbes has a pragmatic approach to his job. Law is often combative and parties in conflict are often emotional. The sweet spot for Forbes is the strategic settlement of disputes.
“If you focus only on rights those things become entrenched and you have a rights-based conflict. Everyone has rights, but I find it best to look at the needs of both sides and avoid destructive confrontation wherever possible. You get some people who just want to litigate. You can try and convince them, but they want the vindication of a judgment. I would rather look at the needs of a client. Unfortunately, our profession is often fee-driven and some would say there is an incentive to write more fees. I like to say we aren’t in that camp.”
Lay people often regard the law as incomprehensible and inaccessible.
“Maybe people see it as being designed for a world where things were more predictable. We need a uniform set of rules to govern life, but the environment is rapidly changing. We are in the midst of an accelerating IT revolution, for one. We have to adapt and I do that by understanding a client’s business in combination with their legal instruction. If you understand how the disputes key into their world, then you can give advice that turns the cogs in their world which in turn makes the other cogs turn. I believe in being client-focused and having a needs-based approach. I have trained as a mediator and I encourage it. It is often a quick and cost-effective way to resolve a dispute.”
This approach to law might have been influenced by the fact that Forbes was a relatively late starter to law and is widely travelled. After leaving Rhodes University with an undergraduate degree in science and a bachelor of law, he travelled the US, Europe and Asia, working in the Rocky Mountains, on yachts in the Caribbean, and teaching English, all whilst broadening his horizons and immersing in other cultures.
“I would like people to connect with me for who I am, rather than the position I occupy. People often identify strongly with what they do and I love what I do. It is a range of things from environmental law to insurance and town planning and predominantly commercial litigation.”
Forbes joined G&B after months of doggedly pursuing a position at the firm, established in 1867 by Harry Escombe who went on to become Attorney General and later Prime Minister of the Colony of Natal.
“I went for interviews at a few firms where the directors didn’t seem to inspired by what they did, so I harassed the staff at G&B for an audience with their partners. My persistence paid off and there was an opening for me. I have learnt from some enormously skilled and dedicated people, including giants like David Pistorius who practiced into his nineties. The collective experience and legal knowledge G&B has in its fold is tough to compete with.”
Forbes says one of his strongest motivations is the collective notion of society and symbiosis, which is deeper than law, any profession or job. He also sits as a Trustee of a Conservation Trust for a portion of land adjacent to the Ohlanga River and on the SPCA Durban and Coastal Board. “It is my way of using the skill set I have to give back to the community I live in, and feel connected to.”
Forbes has grown with G&B and looks forward to what opportunities lie ahead. “We have a sense of identity at G&B – rooted in values I identify with. We look out for one another and we have a strong team focus. It is a great tribe to be part of. We want to provide an exemplary service and do the best for our clients. People may say they enjoy what they do but if it’s genuine, it shows – and they do it well.”