Editor: Would each of you gentlemen tell our readers something about your background and experience?
Ruthizer: We recently joined Kramer Levin with our entire business immigration group. I have been practicing business immigration law, a somewhat esoteric specialty, for over 25 years. For the past ten years I have taught immigration law at Columbia Law School, which is something I enjoy very much. At one point I was a name partner in a boutique firm, then I became head of the immigration groups of two major law firms. I am very active in immigration bar activities and have served as both president and general counsel of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Koestler: I joined Ted's practice some ten years ago, and I have also been active in the American Immigration Lawyers Association. I just finished my term as chair of the organization's New York chapter. And I'd like to note that the other members of the group also have solid backgrounds in immigration law.
Special Counsel Naomi Schorr is a widely read and quoted immigration law author and has almost 20 years of experience in the field. Senior associate Matthew Dunn is the current chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association New York Chapter and is a former INS Assistant District Counsel. Jennifer Raiola Danzo has practiced in the field of business immigration for more than ten years, and Andrew Blau, a second year associate, rounds out the group.
Editor: Ted, you mentioned immigration law as an esoteric specialty. How did you come to it?
Ruthizer: I really fell into immigration law by chance. In the mid-1970s I was engaged in appellate work. I joined a small firm that handled labor law matters and, in addition, an unusual specialty involving business immigration matters. Very few firms did this kind of work. My initial interest was in the employment law part of the practice, but as time went on, I became increasingly drawn to the immigration work. I found it both fascinating and challenging. It also provided me with an opportunity to help people in a very direct way. I found the personal interaction very rewarding. I think I was someone who found himself in the right place at the right time.
Koestler: By the time I came along, business immigration law was a specialty that was already well recognized and growing in importance. Ted gave me the opportunity to join him in this area, and we have worked together ever since.
Editor: You have both been engaged in this practice for a considerable time. Will you tell us how it has evolved over the years? Have the issues you have addressed changed?
Ruthizer: Over the years I have seen several major changes. One concerns the way in which the immigration laws are administered. When I began, almost everything was done at the local level. Most cases were handled at local Immigration Service offices scattered across the country, and to a very large extent who you knew at those offices was as important as what you knew about the law. Fortunately, this has changed dramatically.
Virtually all of the business immigration cases that we handle are adjudicated at one of four remote regional service centers. The agency, now renamed U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services, has a higher degree of professionalism than it had in the past, and this makes a business immigration lawyer's knowledge of the law paramount. The other major developments have been sweeping changes in the law over the past 10 years, an increasing restrictiveness by immigration officials in granting benefits, and the challenge of interpreting the meaning of these statutory and policy changes. The increasing complexity of the field has made the practice of immigration law a minefield for the unwary and the uninformed. Another major change, of course, has been the security controls that have been put into place since September 11, making it far more difficult for foreign nationals to obtain visas and to be admitted to the United States.
Editor: Where is this particular practice concentrated? In the large global firms? In boutiques? What is the ideal platform for this type of practice?
Koestler: There was a time when business immigration law was concentrated, for the most part, in boutiques. Today the most effective platform for this type of practice is the large general practice firm, one with expertise across many different practice areas. Business immigration law interfaces with a great many other areas in the law, and an ability to draw upon the resources of a large, sophisticated general practice firm such as Kramer Levin is a great advantage.
Editor: You are bringing a very experienced practice group to Kramer Levin. How did you choose Kramer Levin as the new home for the group?
Ruthizer: We identified Kramer Levin as being the best fit for the nature of our practice because Kramer Levin has such a strong employment law practice, as well as many other practice areas that are supportive of what our group does. As Mark indicates, the synergies are there, and not only with the employment law practice, but also with an entire battery of disciplines that contribute to an effective business immigration practice, including corporate, tax, employee benefits, and other areas that interface with our practice. And not only is Kramer Levin a very strong presence here in New York, it has an international dimension through its Paris office, and its strong affiliations with two prominent U.K. and Italian law firms that will help our practice grow. It is the right platform for us, and we believe we will flourish here.
Editor: Please tell us about the work of the practice group. For starters, does the group have its own client base or is it providing a service to the firm's clients?
Koestler: We bring a terrific client base of our own to Kramer Levin, and we have already begun servicing Kramer Levin clients, who previously had to go elsewhere for this work. The group's clients include a number of major communications and media companies, many of the country's leading advertising agencies, and a wide range of financial services, manufacturing, publishing, and consumer products companies. The entertainment business is also well represented. The client base is quite varied, and we expect to add to it, both new clients and new types of clients, as we move into the Kramer Levin fold.
Editor: How big is the group and how does it operate?
Ruthizer: We are twelve people altogether, with six lawyers. With Kramer Levin's reputation and resources, we certainly expect the group to continue to grow. Every lawyer in the group is a business immigration lawyer, and every lawyer is closely involved with each case we do. We reject the idea that immigration work can be handled by paralegals with only minimal lawyer involvement. That is a recipe for disaster. And that is the one thing that really distinguishes us from other immigration practices. We are also very selective of the kinds of matters we undertake. We concentrate exclusively on business immigration, and that concentration and our style of practice enable us to provide the best possible representation to our clients.
Editor: You are dealing with a number of governmental agencies on an ongoing basis. Are these relationships part of the value your group brings to its clients?
Ruthizer: We deal with a number of governmental agencies - the USCIS, the State Department, and the Labor Department - and it is simply a fact of life that being able to get to the right person to review a decision we believe is incorrect or to reexamine a policy that violates the spirit or language of a statute or regulation is important to our clients. We are a known quantity in governmental circles, enjoying a reputation for high quality work and for our knowledge of the law and of the policy and decision-making processes. We believe strongly in engaging in a wide variety of activities, such as lecturing and writing, participating in meetings with key governmental officials, and being active in the leading professional associations, that contribute to our having credibility with the governmental agencies involved in the immigration process.
Editor: Would you tell us about the challenges that your group faces? I am thinking, in particular, of the post-September 11 climate.
Koestler: Since September 11, security background checks are much tighter. That means that lengthy governmental delays are now the order of the day. And this requires us to do much more advance planning and to make our clients understand that the days when someone could drop into a U.S. consulate without an appointment and walk out a few minutes later with a visa are long gone.
Ruthizer: As a consequence of tighter security following September 11, we are dealing with issues of people who might have run afoul of the law in some minor way decades ago - and with a record now in the immigration database - finding their ability to enter the United States challenged. A senior business executive who was arrested for a very minor charge 25 years earlier will now find himself denied entry and literally turned away at the airport. These are things that simply did not happen in the past. The post-September 11 climate has made the need for skilled immigration counsel that much more critical.
Editor: And the opportunities? In a world in which globalization appears to be accelerating, your practice is only going to become more important over time.
Ruthizer: Talent is found all over the world, and the search for talent is only going to intensify with globalization. In order to compete effectively, companies need to recruit and retain that talent, wherever it originates. It is that talent that drives the engine of the global economy. But at the same time, globalization of the workforce is a hard concept to sell to Congress. And business immigration remains a stepchild, abandoned by politicians who blame unemployment on the hiring of a modest number of highly qualified foreign national professionals, executives, and managers. Our practice group is well positioned to help companies compete in this challenging environment.