Editor: Would each of you summarize for our readers your career experience?
Ruthizer: I have been practicing immigration law since the mid-1970s. I started with a small boutique firm that specialized in business immigration. In the late 1980s I moved on to become the first full-time immigration partner at a major New York firm which eventually merged into Winston & Strawn. From there I went to Bryan Cave and then joined Kramer Levin with Mark Koestler and our group a year ago.
Over the years the practice has evolved into a specialization within the immigration field. Our practice is predominately concerned with the business immigration issues that confront a variety of corporate clients. I also work with some high net worth individuals, something that distinguishes this practice from that of most practitioners in the area. I am a past president of the American Immigration Lawyers' Association and have served as the organization's general counsel. For the past 11 years I have been an adjunct professor of immigration law at Columbia Law School.
Koestler: I joined Ted in 1993 and have been practicing immigration law since that time. A year ago I followed him to Kramer Levin. My practice is almost entirely in the business immigration area, and I have sub-specialty in immigration work for entertainers. I have been chapter chair of the New York chapter of the AILA.
I was a partner at Bryan Cave and am a partner at Kramer Levin.
Editor: Would you share with us the benefits that a large general practice platform such as Kramer Levin's affords a specialized practice?
Ruthizer: The support services of the firm are extraordinary, and we are able to call upon, for example, research capabilities that only a few firms possess. In addition, much of what we do in our practice extends beyond the boundaries of business immigration law. We call upon a variety of corporate disciplines, tax, employment and labor law, even estate planning, in serving our clients. What occurs is one-stop shopping for them. For us, Kramer Levin is a full-service operation that enables us to meet many, if not all, of the needs of many of our clients.
Koestler: Let me say, in addition, that the presence of a large and solid support department allows us to focus on the practice of law.
Editor: It has been a year since we spoke, and at that point your business immigration practice was new to Kramer Levin. Would you tell us about what has taken place over the past year?
Koestler: We have been integrated into the firm over the past year and now work closely with other practice groups. The employment and labor group is particularly important to our practice. In light of our entire group having made the transition to Kramer Levin, we have been able to continue to serve our existing clients without missing a beat. We have also been able to bring in a few new clients, and the Kramer Levin name, which is instantly recognized, has been very helpful in that regard. It provides an extra margin of confidence and a sense of security in our clients, and, as a consequence, we have even added new staff to handle the increase in our workload.
Editor: Speaking of clients, how have your clients been integrated into the firm's client base?
Ruthizer: We have a national practice heavily centered in the New York area, but the clients outside New York include major media companies and enterprises from the banking, publishing and entertainment industries. Within our New York client base are a number of advertising agencies and a varied group of foreign corporations with operations in New York. All of these organizations have business immigration needs, but they also require attention from a wide array of legal disciplines and practice groups. Kramer Levin is in a position to meet just about all of those needs, and a number of our business immigration clients are beginning to see the value of having all their legal needs met under one roof.
That said, in this day and age many large corporations continue to utilize different firms for different services. We share clients with other firms, and we have excellent relationships with them. Certainly law firms are not going to refer projects to you if their interests are going to be compromised. Newer clients, and particularly those who are establishing their operations in the U.S. for the first time, come to us for their business immigration needs and then look for guidance from us to meet a variety of other needs. This gives us an opportunity to cross-sell the expertise of Kramer Levin. And, of course, long-standing Kramer Levin clients, who had to go elsewhere for their business immigration needs in the past, are now being introduced by the firm to our practice. That, of course, only strengthens their bonds with the firm.
Editor: Your particular specialty has gone from being something of an esoteric specialty - as you noted in our last interview - to being at the center of globalization. What is driving this development?
Ruthizer: Recently we received a call from a large German company that was in the process of selling a major U.S. operation to an American company. On the eve of closing, they recognized that the senior person in the U.S. operation was a foreign national who had a visa status tying him to the German company. The purchaser would not go forward without this person. We were called in and worked through the night to devise a strategy. We made contact with the appropriate authorities and made arrangements for the transaction to proceed. The lesson, of course, is that globalization is with us and, indeed, it is accelerating. There are few large enterprises that operate within one country alone. For the enterprise to achieve its goals, it must have the ability to move people across borders in an efficient and timely manner. This is what our practice is all about, and I think that the fact that we are busier all the time is a reflection of the increasing pace of globalization.
Editor: Since the events of September 11, security issues have had a major impact on business immigration law. How is this affecting your practice?
Koestler: It is affecting it in a number of different ways. One of the most important is that it has forced corporations to do a great deal of forward planning. The days of getting a visa within two days are a thing of the past. Today the attention given to certain nationalities by the authorities is considerable, and delays can be very long. The only way to address this situation is to engage in advanced preparation for future needs. One must anticipate what those needs are going to be well before they become urgent.
Editor: Are security considerations going to trump the increasing integration of the world's economy, or are we going to move past the current sense of crisis?
Ruthizer: I think security considerations are going to be with us for years to come, maybe permanently. The State Department and the Department of Homeland Security are still trying to find the proper balance between keeping the wrong people out and, in recognition of the national interest, allowing the right people in. By way of example, an enterprise located in the Midwest but largely staffed by Israeli nationals recently contacted us in connection with their CEO. He had been a scientist in the Soviet Union prior to emigrating to Israel, and that background entails an extensive security check prior to obtaining a U.S. visa. That had taken place, the visa had been issued and he had led the company for some time. The visa was now up, however, and he was required to wait in Israel for a new visa while they conducted the same security check again. This, of course, is a very frustrating state of affairs for our client and, I submit, an inappropriate use of governmental resources. It is also the current reality of this aspect of our practice.
Editor: Would you share with us your thoughts on addressing client needs in this area at a time when security is both a national and an international issue. Quite simply, how do you go about getting the job done?
Ruthizer: Sometimes mistakes are made. We had a case of an executive who was listed on the immigration database as having overstayed his visit. This was not true. His passport had been stolen, and the documentation evidencing his departure had not been entered into the database, which meant, as far as the authorities were concerned, he had never left. It took us considerable time and effort to maneuver our way through the bureaucracy until we found a sympathetic ear. Eventually we managed to have his record corrected. We try, in this regard, to counsel our clients to anticipate when they are going to have needs that must be met because the system can be very unforgiving so far as such needs are concerned.
Koestler: As I said previously, forward planning is more important today than it ever was in the past.
Editor: In your practice, the contacts you have developed with governmental agencies over many years must be extremely valuable.
Ruthizer: Such relationships are valuable, but I do not wish to oversell them to clients. In today's climate, a complicated background check is going to take a long time, and there is not much that we can do to expedite it. However, from time to time mistakes are made, and it is helpful to know the right people and to have access to them in righting a wrong. To that extent, these relationships are very important.
Editor: Having been with the firm for more than a year, you have developed a sense of direction for your practice. Where do you see the opportunities over, say, the next five years?
Ruthizer: Kramer Levin has been very supportive in terms of meeting the needs we have identified in terms of logistical support, the hiring of staff, marketing initiatives, programs and seminars directed at potential clients, publications, and so on. As a consequence the practice has grown, We are never going to be a department with hundreds of practitioners, but we are a known quantity at the firm, and among the clients in need of our services - and this includes both present clients and those considering us - we are known to have a high caliber of expertise, a select practice and a culture that entails careful lawyer attention to the cases we handle. On the latter, our practice tends to be lawyer-heavy, and I think that is one of the things that distinguishes us from other firms. All of these factors lead me to anticipate growth for our practice in the coming years.
Koestler: The growth that Ted refers to includes both attracting clients to Kramer Levin because of our particular expertise and reputation and, at the same time, attracting existing clients of the firm in need of our services. We are very conscious of the image we project, both within the firm and to the outside world. The firm is a unique home for a specialized practice such as ours, and I think the future looks bright for both our practice and the firm's as a whole.
Published October 1, 2005.