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Fragomen Taps New Co-Chairs to Succeed Founder After 50 Years

Sept. 21, 2022, 12:00 PM

Global immigration law firm Fragomen, Dey Rey, Bernsen & Loewy is preparing for a leadership change for the first time in 50-plus years.

Lance Kaplan and Enrique Gonzalez have been tapped to take over as co-chairs of the firm, effective Jan. 1, 2023, Fragomen announced Wednesday. Its founder and current chairman, Austin Fragomen, will transition to a chairman emeritus role.

The firm was founded in 1951 as Elmer Fried, a small boutique. It has since grown into a prominent global corporate immigration law firm with more than 6,000 employees across more than 60 offices, offering immigration services to clients in 170 countries.

The firm brought in $805 million in gross revenue last year and reported profits per equity partner reaching $2.76 million, according to figures reported by the American Lawyer. Its clients have included General Electric Co., IBM Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., and Bank of America Corp., among other large public companies.

The pair’s election to succeed Fragomen was years in the making as a succession group was convened to determine the number and respective roles of new leadership, Gonzalez said. The group selected the duo as co-chairs after a formal nomination process, he said.

“It’s always been my desire to lead,” said Gonzalez, a long-time Fragomen partner and managing partner in the firm’s Miami office.

Gonzalez has worked to create customized compliance programs for companies and institutions across industries and counseled entrepreneurs and high-net worth individuals on investment-based immigration, according to the firm.

In 2013, he served as special counsel on immigration and principal adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on immigration legislation. He previously served as the vice-mayor of West Miami for nearly a decade.

New Jersey-based Kaplan joined Fragomen in 2002, working as managing partner of the firm’s international practice group. Along with Austin Fragomen, he developed the firm’s international expansion strategy, opening offices across Europe, Central and South America and Australia.

“[It] naturally led to me looking to continue in a role which allows the firm to continue to evolve and grow and draw on my past experience as one of the architects and one of the individuals that has worked very closely with Austin in the evolution of the firm,” Kaplan said.

One Firm, Change Ahead

“Fragomen was founded on a strong belief that the most successful immigration policies result from a partnership between government and business, enabling countries to harness the full potential of a global workforce,” Austin Fragomen said in a statement.

The firm touts its commitment to diversity. Women account for 70% of its worldwide workforce, while more than half of Fragomen’s US employees self-identify as people of color, according to the firm.

Fragomen will continue to operate as a single firm, Kaplan said, noting that he and Gonzalez have worked closely over the years as members of the executive committee.

“You’re not going to have a US firm and an international firm,” he said. “The firm very much is going to be run as one cohesive organization with each of us focusing on our complementary strengths.”

Client experience remains the top priority as competition continues, Gonzalez said.

Like other firms navigating a post-pandemic world, employee recruitment and retention and related issues are also top of mind, he said, as is the digitization of the practice. The firm in 2017 launched a technology innovation lab in Pittsburgh to develop the firm’s software and cybersecurity tools.

“The firm is unique in the sense that it’s a very, very large boutique and when you look at the cross section of clients and industries that we service, the impact that we have, indirectly, on the approach of clients to the world really does have an impact,” Kaplan said.

“Stay tuned industry-wise because there’s a lot of change coming,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Meghan Tribe in New York at mtribe@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com