Not long after Atlanta attorney Jay Latzak joined the Powell Goldstein law firm in 2007, the economy slid into a full recession, and the real estate market bottomed out. Latzak, a real estate attorney, saw his career come to a screeching halt.
"All of a sudden I went from doing a lot of real estate lending and real estate transactions, sales and acquisitions to nothing. Zero. I mean it went down to absolutely zero," he recalls. "The question is what do you do? What do you do at that point? You've got no work on your plate and nothing to do."
Faced with the possibility of being laid off and with no work in sight, Latzak decided to reinvent himself. He quickly began learning foreclosure law and became what he calls a "foreclosure nerd." Latzak says, "I read everything I could. I read every case that came out. I read every old case, and then I taught a continuing legal education class."
The strategy worked for Latzak. Not only did he save his job and career, but more recently, he was named a partner in the firm, now Bryan Cave, which merged with Powell Goldstein in 2009.
"There's no question in my mind that if I hadn't reinvented myself and been very creative, I would not be at the firm because so many people got laid off," says Latzak.
It's that creativity that also helped make him a partner this year.
"They saw me becoming a foreclosure person; they saw me teaching CLE classes. I was able to do more work, of course, because every foreclosure that came into the firm kind of got funneled down to me," he says.
The shift in the economy is just one of the reasons many attorneys, particularly partners, have had to become more creative in the way they practice law in recent years. For some, relying on their inherent creativity is an easier leap than for others.
Douglas Yarn, a law professor at Georgia State University who teaches conflict resolution, says it used to be that an associate could make partner in a large firm by simply working hard and producing billable hours, but now that's changed. "Generally, the economy made it really difficult for a lot of law firms to sustain the kind of economic model that they had. It forces them to be more creative," he says.