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Law Firm With Trump Ties Now Owns Wilmington Practice

By Scott Nunn, posted Jan 6, 2022
The Forrest Firm, located on Grace Street in downtown Wilmington, was acquired on Jan. 1 by the national business law firm, Michael Best & Friedrich. (Photo by Scott Nunn)

A national business-law firm with several attorneys close to the former Trump Administration – including chief of staff Reince Priebus – is expanding into North Carolina, adding 23 new lawyers to its lineup, including three in its Wilmington office, 105 Grace St., Suite 101.  

Michael Best & Friedrich, a Milwaukee-based firm with 260 attorneys, has announced its acquisition of the Forrest Firm, founded in 2011 in Raleigh by attorney James R. Forrest. 

The company said the move is intended to shore up its presence in North Carolina – the nation’s ninth largest state and one of the fastest growing – where it already has a Raleigh office. With the acquisition, the full-service business law firm added seven new North Carolina locations. According to a news release, it now has more than 60 legal professionals in the state, focusing on corporate transactions, intellectual property, litigation, labor and employment and venture capital. 

According to the Reuters news service, the Michael Best firm is well known for its ties to the former president. Priebus, the firm’s president and chief strategist, was Trump’s first White House chief of staff, serving just six months before he resigned in late July 2017. He also served as chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) from 2011 to 2017. Priebus also chairs the board of Michael Best Strategies, the firm’s lobbying arm. 

In addition to Priebus, Stefan Passantino, a former Trump White House deputy counsel, leads the firm's political law practice; Justin Clark, a former Trump deputy campaign manager who represented the former president in trying to shield White House documents from Congress, is a partner. 

According to Reuters, Michael Best has been expanding nationwide since 2013 and opened a Raleigh office in 2017. According to ALM Media, which tracks law firm finances, the Michael Best firm had gross revenue of nearly $157 million in 2021. 

In addition to its Raleigh and Wilmington offices, the firm will have offices in Asheville, Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro, Greenville and Winston-Salem. 

According to the news release, the addition of the Forrest Firm will add legal firepower to its Venture Best division, which helps high-growth businesses with financial, organizational and regulatory needs, as well as investment fund formation, private equity investments, venture capital and growth capital financing, and forming and growing start-ups. 

"Combining with Forrest Firm is the ideal match for Michael Best, as they share our vision and goals, with a clients-first focus," said David Krutz, managing partner. "We will immediately become a market leader for providing legal services, market intelligence, and strategic advice to high-growth businesses and entrepreneurs across the state and across industries in the Southeast." 

"We were drawn to Michael Best because of their rich history of success, along with their focus on client service, innovation, growth, and community service," said James Forrest. "They are committed to many of the same things we have been committed to during the history of Forrest Firm, but on a much larger scale." 

After launching its Raleigh office in 2017, Michael Best had 260 attorneys in 12 U.S. cities. 

The Raleigh office added six attorneys in 2021 and, with the Forrest acquisition, the firm now has 60 legal and technical professionals across North Carolina and nearly 400 nationwide. 

"We’re impressed by Michael Best’s clear, intentional, and strategic vision for growing its presence in North Carolina, with a culture that reflects our state’s own spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation," said Andy Jones (pictured right), previously president of Forrest Firm and now one of two managing partners for Michael Bests' expanded North Carolina division.

The acquisition was completed Jan. 1. 

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