When he graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law 21 years ago, Richard Alembik traded his love of motorcycle racing for another kind of adrenaline rush in the courtroom. He built a litigation practice around commercial real estate development and title work.
All that changed five years ago when the economy -- starting with the real estate market -- crashed and burned. Now, only one of his big developer clients from the old days is still in business. "They had too many assets to declare bankruptcy, so I'm still representing them," he said somberly.
To survive, Alembik had to reinvent himself, turning from big clients and big deals in real estate to small clients in danger of losing their homes.
He talked about it over lunch at Farm Burger near his downtown Decatur, Ga., office.
"I retooled," he said. "Now I do foreclosure defense and consumer protection."
His business is smaller now. So is his firm, Richard S. Alembik, PC. (Alembik & Alembik was started by his uncle. His father, an estate and tax lawyer who passed away in 1992, had another firm with Alembik in the name.) Since the recession, he's scaled back from six employees to three. The firm once was himself, an associate and four support staffers. Now, it's only himself, a paralegal and an office administrator. Revenue is down, but so are expenses."My profitability is not based on exploiting an associate, but on providing a service that no one else can provide," he said.
In the process, Alembik has developed a body of knowledge in an area in which few lawyers have expertise, and those that do usually work for the other side -- the banks, mortgage companies and loan servicers who carry out foreclosures at the rate of thousands every month in metro Atlanta counties. Marietta, Ga., plaintiffs lawyer Matthew Flournoy said Alembik is one of the most knowledgeable lawyers in Atlanta in the area of foreclosure defense. "He's represented a lot of people against banks," Flournoy said.
Asked why he took this direction with his practice, Alembik replied, "I always wanted to represent the good guy."
"I don't want to sound shrill," he hastened to add, offering that he sometimes represents lenders on a small scale. "Sometimes the good guy can be the lender."
He has filed more than 100 wrongful foreclosure lawsuits around metro Atlanta during the past five years. All but one settled before making it to a jury. And he did win that one.