Each year, Jennifer Nassiri tries to clear her schedule for four days so she can attend the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges. Oftentimes that proves to be a difficult task, but she – and nearly 1,800 others – had no trouble finding time to attend this year’s conference in October.

“It was the busiest I’ve ever seen that conference,” said Nassiri, a partner in the bankruptcy practice at the Century City office of Venable. “More judges were able to go because they weren’t as busy.”

In fact, bankruptcy cases hit a seven-year low nationwide in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30. And in Los Angeles, the number of filings is down nearly 23 percent from last year.

Indeed, the improving economy this year did not bode well for many L.A. bankruptcy attorneys, evidenced by the closure of top bankruptcy litigation boutique Stutman Treister & Glatt in May and Peitzman Weg’s merger with Minneapolis law firm Robins Kaplan Miller & Ciresi shortly thereafter.

To stay afloat and avoid a similar outcome, bankruptcy lawyers have had to get creative to keep busy.

“Bankruptcy attorneys tend to learn how to metamorphosize into something else,” Nassiri said. “I can do bankruptcy litigation, so I can work on any litigation.”

When it opened its downtown L.A. office last month, Costa Mesa boutique law firm Smiley Wang-Ekvall expanded its practice areas beyond bankruptcy to include real estate.

Still, the growth isn’t easy to maintain, said partner Evan Smiley. He and his colleagues now travel across the country more often to broaden their client base beyond Southern California.

“It is a nationwide practice for us,” he said. “In the past year or so, I’ve had a lot of cases up in Northern California and one recently in Iowa.”

Real Estate Practice

Consumer and criminal defense attorneys Mark Geragos and Brian Kabateck continue to prove there is life outside the courtroom.

The pair, who formed a partnership to invest in real estate six years ago, have purchased the 155-room boutique Curve hotel in Palm Springs and said last week that they would renovate and rebrand the resort.

The property is the first investment outside Los Angeles County made by the pair’s joint real estate venture, Mark & Brian’s Enterprises.

Geragos said they plan to spend $25 million – including the purchase price and renovations – on the four-acre property. While detailed renovation plans are still in the works, the finished product will boast an “old Hollywood-meets-Coachella kind of ambiance.” Construction is slated for completion by this time next year.

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