Robert Adams Likes the Challenge of Difficult Situations

05.08.14 | Permalink

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With more than 30 years representing clients in commercial bankruptcy and litigation matters in federal and state courts, Robert Adams, a partner in the Birmingham office, shares what he enjoys about his work, his insights about commercial bankruptcy and litigation cases and how he spends his time away from the office.

At an early age, I worked primarily as a litigator, both civil and commercial. At my first firm, I represented bank and mortgage lenders and began working bankruptcy cases for them. My practice grew more and more towards bankruptcy and commercial litigation for lenders. While the majority of my work is on the creditors’ side representing lenders, I also work on the company side from time to time.

Whether I am working with a creditor or a debtor, my satisfaction comes from making the very best of a difficult situation. Bankruptcy is hard for both sides and whichever side I’m working on, the goal is really the same—to make it the least painful it can be for everyone. When a borrower is in a bankruptcy or having trouble, it’s a lot like having a patient on the table. You’re doing everything you can to save them as well as lessen the hit on the lender’s portfolio. And, when working for a company, the answer is really the same. For example, I represented a steel company in Birmingham where the principals in the company had guaranteed the debt. They were deeply entwined in the success or failure of the company. The recession hit the company hard and while we had to liquidate the company, we were able to pay secured creditors in full as well as a dividend to unsecured creditors. The people who owned the company had their personal assets on the line and we worked to lessen the blow as much as we could. In the end, it did not affect their personal lives as it could have. So whichever side I’m working for, it’s triage all the time. We are always working to stop the bleeding and make the best of a bad situation.

My practice is very cyclical. It’s really like a roller coaster where you ride the hill up and then again back down. It’s really never a plateau in this practice area. Over the years, I have seen many dips in the economy, but this recession was a big one, no doubt. The largest lender I represent loans predominantly to farmers, particularly large poultry farmers. The recession was very hard on this industry and we had to foreclose on many poultry farms in Alabama.

Because of the recession, lending was on hold and there was not a lot of building or new business, so as a result, commercial bankruptcy filings have been down. As the economy expands and grows, banks will do more lending again and, as a natural part of the business cycle, there will be bad times for those businesses that do not make it.

One case that really stands out is when I took over representation of a group of bondholders that held a mortgage on a hotel that filed Chapter 11. I came on board after the clients had their mortgage loan crammed down to the tune of several million dollars. As I undertook a review of what went wrong, I found that the Debtor had made side deals with other creditors in the case to get favorable votes to confirm their “cramdown plan”. This, of course, was not disclosed to the Bankruptcy Court. I filed an action to have the confirmation set aside for fraud on the Court and my clients. We won the case at trial and ultimately at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. That was a good ending to a really bad start for my clients.

Many people get involved in teaching as a way to market themselves and showcase their expertise, but for me, I personally have found that I enjoy learning from the experience. When I taught law school courses at Birmingham School of Law, I walked away learning as much, if not more than, the students. Teaching a course requires an immense amount of preparation and research. That experience only helped me to serve my clients better. I also firmly believe that teachers are the greatest people in this country. Without our teachers, none of us would be where we are, and for me, it was a way of giving back a little bit. Somebody helped me along my path and I wanted to be sure and do the same for someone else. While I am not currently teaching courses, I do continue to teach others through my speaking engagements and through continuing education courses on bankruptcy law and related courses.

When I’m out of the office, I play golf, read, watch movies and spend time with my wife and children. I play golf as much as I can and you will find me out on the golf course most weekends. When I’m not playing golf, I spend time reading, mostly Robert Ludlum and other espionage, thriller novels. I also enjoy watching movies. I like dramas and the Bourne Identity movies since they are a product of Ludlum, but you might be surprised to learn my favorite movie to watch is a Lee Marvin/Clint Eastwood comedy film, Paint Your Wagon.

Above all else, I enjoy spending time with my family. Our three oldest children are out of school and working and our youngest just graduated from nursing school, so whenever we can get the whole family together, it’s a real treat and a lot of fun.

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