L-R: Joe Foltz, Marshall Martin, Halsey Knapp, Kevin Hudson
L-R: Joe Foltz moved to Womble Carlyle. Marshall Martin started Marshall Bagwell Luke. Halsey Knapp now is at Krevolin & Horst. Kevin Hudson started Hudson Parrott Walker. ()

After a 30-year run, the Foltz Martin firm has disbanded. The commercial real estate and litigation boutique ultimately grew to 26 lawyers, becoming Foltz Martin Hudson & Knapp, after starting with two lawyers in 1983. But that proved too large for the four name partners, who have a penchant for small firms.

All four—Joseph Foltz, Marshall Martin, Halsey Knapp Jr. and Kevin Hudson—expressed respect and affection for their former colleagues but said they had different visions for the future. Each has gone in a different direction with his respective team, with three joining or forming small firms where they enjoy the freedom to run their practices as they wish or even to hold a twice-weekly yoga class.

Only Foltz joined a large firm—Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice—when Foltz Martin disbanded at the end of 2013. He said he sought broader capabilities to support his business law practice focused on hoteliers, other real estate owners and investors. Foltz Martin partner Laura Hester joined him, along with S. Mark Burr as counsel, paralegals Linda Martin and Caitlin Dormon and secretary Cindy Landreau.

Martin, also a business and commercial real estate lawyer, started a new firm, Martin Bagwell Luke, with two younger Foltz Martin lawyers, Mitch Bagwell and Jimmy Luke II, plus support staff from his former firm.

Knapp, a commercial litigator, joined Krevolin & Horst as a partner along with his associate, Jenny Case, and paralegal Amy Fitzharris, giving that firm 14 lawyers. Their Foltz Martin colleague Jonathan Hawkins joined the business law boutique as a partner last July.

Other Foltz Martin lawyers had already moved on when its remaining eight lawyers disbanded on Dec. 31. The firm had been Foltz Martin Hudson & Knapp until Hudson left a year ago with four other lawyers to start Hudson Parrott Walker.

Hudson: ‘The size we want to be’

“The beauty of the [Foltz Martin] firm was that it had four strong entrepreneurs. But with a bunch of entrepreneurs, sometimes these things happen. For me, that played a role in me saying I wanted to have my own shop,” Hudson said. “I still value those guys as my friends. I was there almost 15 years and a partner most of the time.”

Hudson, who at 47 is the youngest of the four principals, said a small firm dedicated to construction, banking and general commercial litigation—his team’s practice—appealed to him.

Hudson Parrott Walker has grown to eight lawyers since Hudson launched it in February 2013 with partners Brad Parrott, Mary Lillian Walker and Damon Gunnels and associate Claire Williamson. Foltz Martin partner Herman Fussell, an éminence grise of the local construction bar, joined last summer, and the firm has added two associates, W. Charles Hayes and Zachary Hall.

“We don’t want to get a lot bigger. Tactically and strategically we are about the size we want to be,” Hudson said, explaining that after about 10 lawyers, a firm incurs fixed costs that require more expansion to stay profitable. He added that the smaller shop allows more rate flexibility.

Throughout his career, Hudson has chosen to work at small firms, starting out at Trotter Smith Jacobs until that firm was acquired by South Carolina-based Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough to establish an Atlanta office. He then went to work for the Georgia attorney general’s office. Martin recruited him to Foltz Martin in 1998 to add business litigation to the firm’s real estate practice.

Hudson said his team’s work defending bank directors and officers in FDIC cases after the collapse of numerous Georgia banks in the recession at times conflicted with Martin’s work representing developer-borrowers against banks in workouts, which Martin said has been a significant part of his practice for the last five years.

“The banking piece became an increasing problem. We don’t do workouts, and that is a big part of Marshall’s practice, so it created conflicts,” Hudson said.

Even if there were not actual conflicts, he said, it created confusion in trying to market the firm.

Hudson declined to name clients but said his firm represents mostly Georgia banks in the FDIC defense work. On the construction side, its clients are large contractors and commercial developers.

According to news reports, the firm represents Novare Group in a joint venture with three other Atlanta developers to build an office-condo-retail tower at 3630 Peachtree St. The firm also represents a national construction contractor, JE Dunn Construction Group.

Knapp: ‘Freedom to develop’

Knapp said his new firm, Krevolin & Horst, has a similar atmosphere to Foltz Martin. “It’s very professional with a mature practice,” he said.

“I love small firms—the relationship you have with clients and the freedom to develop your practice,” he said. That was why he joined Foltz Martin in 2000, which had eight lawyers at the time, attracted by the opportunity to build its commercial litigation practice.

Knapp had been a trial lawyer for 20 years at that point, first at Arnall Golden Gregory, then his own firm, Knapp & Street, developing a specialty in business divorces and real estate litigation.

“Working with young people in collaborative settings is very attractive to me, and I wanted to control my lifestyle—to be home for my kids and go to their lacrosse games,” he said. “The firm gave everybody the ability to develop clients, including associates.”

But the younger generation got restless, he said. “The second generation of lawyers developing books did not stick. Sometimes with growing pains, you don’t get it quite right.”

“How could I argue with that? I really didn’t want them to go,” Knapp continued, referring to the Hudson Parrott Walker lawyers, “but I’d done the same thing myself 15 years earlier. I remember the excitement—you’d wake up and take a shower with Brillo pads [to combat sleep-deprivation]. There is a certain adrenaline about starting your own firm.”

“I’m sorry Foltz Martin is not together. I enjoyed it. We’ll try again and keep on building,” he said.

Knapp said he’s known Jeffrey Horst for years from trying cases. “Jeff and I have always been on each other’s short rolodex.”

Knapp and Horst were on opposite sides of a long-running arbitration in front of M. Gino Brogdon—which Knapp would only say involved people arguing over who owned a valuable local company—that finally resolved in December, allowing Knapp to join his erstwhile opponent at Krevolin & Horst.

“We had an 11½ hour final argument on a Sunday—December 8. It was epic,” Knapp said, adding that it caused him to miss a dinner party his wife was giving that evening.

Foltz: Big firm has resources

Foltz’s move to Womble is the first time he’s worked at a large firm since leaving Troutman Sanders as a fourth-year associate in 1984 to form Rowe & Foltz with Robert Rowe (now a solo practitioner in Rome). It became Foltz & Martin after Martin joined from Long Aldridge & Norman (now McKenna Long & Aldridge), where he’d been an associate.

Foltz said the 550-lawyer regional firm has capabilities such as intellectual property, employment and international tax law to support his business law practice, which includes hoteliers, real estate owner-developers and a French cheese company.

He’s represented one client, hotel impresario Richard Kessler, for 23 years. After co-founding the Days Inn chain with Cecil Day, Kessler turned to boutique hotel development with The Kessler Collection. Another client is fiber-optics maker OFS Fitel, which owns the former Lucent Technology plant at Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Interstate 85 and seeks to create a mixed-used development on part of the 179-acre parcel.

Foltz said he’s already benefiting from Womble’s resources. He was negotiating a joint venture deal for the French cheese-maker when it learned that cheeses destined for a Napa Valley wine shop had been impounded in New Jersey. A Womble lawyer experienced in FDA negotiations liberated the cheese.

“It was a matter that is in a specialty area [food regulatory law] that Womble wants to develop, and so it was kismet. I am at a point in my career where I have client interests and tentacles reaching out in all directions,” Foltz said.

Martin: Yoga break at 3 p.m.

Martin, like Foltz, has a predominantly commercial real estate practice, but chose to go small instead of large.

“I have always enjoyed and had the most fun with smaller, more intimate groups,” he said. “The fact is, I started with three guys—and I’ve got three guys right now.”

Paralegals Audra Parker and Robin Williamson, administrative assistant Arlene Naranjo and controller Margaret Miller joined the three lawyers from their prior firm.

Martin expressed disappointment that Foltz Martin disbanded. Even so, he added, “I didn’t love it being as large as 25 lawyers.”

“We had an outstanding group of very good lawyers and very good people. I have no doubt that I will be very proud of all of them. They are all going to do well,” he said,

Martin said he represents three banks but 80 percent of his clients are real estate owners and developers, conducive to a small firm practice. Clients are primarily in Atlanta and include Connolly Development, Blue Ridge Capital, Columbia Properties, Concord Health Care and Georgia Commerce Bank.

The new firm is small enough to take a group yoga break twice a week, something Martin said he’d wanted to do for years. “We have a trainer come in at 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Everybody is invited,” he said.

Martin Bagwell Luke is still located in Foltz Martin’s former Buckhead office at 3525 Piedmont Road, but will move to The Pointe building in Dunwoody next month, at the intersection of Georgia 400 and Northridge Road.

Martin said he has no aspirations to build a larger firm. “But Mitch Bagwell and Jimmy Luke are very talented young lawyers,” he added. “My prediction is that in two years they are going to come in and say, ‘Marshall, we are way too busy, and we need to hire some people,’ and I’ll laugh.”

“It’s not my goal to have a 25-lawyer firm again, but if they want to do it, I will smile and help them along the way,” he said.