Jeremy Fudge on Deloitte UK Alliance with BAL
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Here are some highlights of my interview with Jeremy Fudge:
Deloitte is a huge on stewardship. They use that word a lot and I love that word. Just culturally, it felt like a really good mesh right from the very first conversation.
Deloitte in the UK is a law firm, so it was a law firm talking to a law firm.
We had about 170 people outside the US that were part of the transaction, so as Deloitte put it, hearts and minds were as much on the scale as the business side.
My mission is to serve and to steward all these different people that are putting their trust and their careers in our hands.
A company’s global mobility program includes tax, expatriate tax, relocation and immigration. We’re one-third of that for a company. Clients or potential clients want to tie together those three branches.
I think certainly having really good advisors along the way was critical, both legal and non-legal. Don’t try to row your own boat. You need that input.
We look at Amazon for example and say, “What are they doing? How are they making the service better? How does the app work?” In our technology, we have a mobile app. What’s that experience look like?
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Links referred to in this episode:
ABA Journal article Deloitte UK forms alliance with immigration law firm and buys its business outside the US
The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Principles for Creating Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company by Joseph Michelli
What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become More Successful by Goldsmith & Reiter
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Hi listeners, this is Chris Batz, your host of the Law Firm Leadership podcast. Today I had the pleasure of speaking with the managing partner of the prestigious immigration law firm that made global waves this past summer by spinning off their non-US assets and operations to one of the four largest CPA firms in the world.
Just a reminder the PDF transcript of this audio is available to download. Go to LionGroupRecruiting.com/podcast.
As many of you know, we interview corporate defense, law firm leaders, partners, general counsels, and legal consultants. You’re listening to episode twenty-seven of the Law Firm Leadership podcast.
Chris: Welcome to the Law Firm Leadership podcast. I’m your host, Chris Batz, with the Lion Group. Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Jeremy Fudge, managing partner of Berry, Appleman and Leiden. Jeremy provides both leadership and operations for a nationally and globally ranked immigration law firm. They have 140 attorneys and over 800 additional professionals with 9 US offices.
He recently just completed a first of its kind strategic alliance with Deloitte UK and sold its non-US operations and assets to Deloitte Global. Prior to BAL, he was an associate at what was the Dallas based Jenkens & Gilchrist. Jeremy calls the Dallas Metro home and received his JD from the University of Texas School of Law. Welcome Jeremy to the Law Firm Leadership podcast. It’s great to have you on the show.
Jeremy: Thanks Chris, glad to be here with you.
The First-of-Its-Kind Transaction
Chris: Jeremy, the thing that’s definitely hit the press wire over the past five months has been this dynamic with your firm with Deloitte. Can you give us some background in how this happened?
Jeremy: I think both Deloitte UK and BAL were both looking at the same things in the marketplace, what clients were wanting more and more of, why we were winning or losing our fees, that sort of thing and reaching really the same kind of conclusions, albeit coming from different vantage points obviously and with different goals in mind for it.
Corporate immigration, which is what we specialize in, is fairly unique practice within law. Our client is a corporate client, Fortune 500 company, who is typically signing a contract with us for several years. In that time period we will handle any nationals who are needing to relocate from one country to another, expatriate assignments, business travel, things of that nature. Within that scope, we see a lot of the global mobility side of things at a company. That typically includes tax, expatriate tax, relocation and immigration. We’re one-third of that global mobility program for a company.
Within that context we see more and more companies where the clients or potential clients wanting to tie together those three branches. We certainly saw the fact that all four of the big four were getting into immigration and had set up practices in Canada to deal with the US market. We had a handful of offices covering regional broad-based touches to it, but to think through the strategy of what does it look like to open 20 – 60 more offices around the world, that’s fairly daunting to think about it as a mid-size law firm like ourselves. It made a lot of sense looking at what the market’s doing, where do we need to go, what do we need to be competitive.
I think the other big piece of it is clients more and more are wanting the strategic, the higher value kind of advice and work. The transactional part of our practice, which is filing the applications with the various government agencies, that’s kind of table stakes almost at this point. Deloitte or the big four, they have tremendous experience and depth already built around consulting advisory, the broader mobility services, etcetera. All of what we were seeing in the market, it made sense to look at this and consider it.
Chris: Who approached who?
Jeremy: They actually reached out to us initially and started the conversations.
Chris: Did other big accounting firms get involved in this? Did you guys talk to any of the other big shops?
Jeremy: Over the course of the last few years, we’ve talked to several folks. We’ve had a sense of the marketplace and who we would want to do something with or not do something with and sort of our own value, etcetera.
Chris: Why did you land with Deloitte?
Jeremy: Well, it starts first and foremost I think with people. We felt really aligned both in terms of how we think about the market and how we think about this practice of immigration, but also just as far as how we look at people and our own organization and what we’re trying to do. Deloitte is a huge on stewardship. They use that word a lot and I love that word. Just culturally, it felt like a really good mesh right from the very first conversation. That only blossomed and developed further.
Chris: How has it been to do this transaction, to do the dance of due diligence and exploring this process and then looking at taking critical employees and operations and give them away to another professional service firm?
Jeremy: We spent probably equal amounts of time on all of the business side of it all and the contracts, and the due diligence, and the negotiation and everything else that goes with that as we did on the people side. That was really important from the very beginning to both of us. We had about 170 people outside the US that were part of the transaction, so as Deloitte put it, hearts and minds were as much on the scale as the business side. The whole thing was well over a year of planning and preparation.
We, BAL, really looked at how will those 170 people fare in all of this. Are we putting them in as good or better position than they would have been or are with BAL? We felt like that answer was strongly yes, it is good and in most cases better. When we got to the point of telling our employees both in the US and abroad about the deal and what’s to come, we felt really good about it. We had basically every single one of those 170 join. Everyone’s thriving in their new environment now.
Chris: Is it safe to say that the equity owners of BAL had a payoff?
Jeremy: Well, I think that for us it was never really about a payoff or any of that. We were really focused more on the future. The future revenue streams far outweigh our consideration in the current present reality of it all.
Chris: Sure, so I would assume that answer is yes, that there was some financial incentive for you guys that was beneficial?
Jeremy: Well, we didn’t give it away, so yeah.
Chris: Fair enough. Was there ever a point for you and your team to say, “Nah, we’re going to just do this our self,” or did you guys go into this knowing this was going to work out?
Jeremy: We certainly didn’t go into it knowing it was going to work out. No one’s done anything like this really to my knowledge. There was a lot of complexity. We were in Brazil, South Africa, Mozambique, England, UAE, Singapore, China, Australia. That’s a lot of different jurisdictions to be figuring out employment law, figuring out corporate law, figuring out all the ins and outs of asset purchase and so forth and so on. There were many times I think when we sort of all – not pushing away from the table per se – but just kind of scratching our heads and going, can we accomplish all of this, can we get all of it done and get it done timely.
We had such good relationships and interactions just right out of the gate with those that we were involved with. There was just a lot of energy and excitement frankly from both sides about what this could be, where it could go, what we felt like the market was really just crying out for in our particular space, which may not be the same for other areas of law, but certainly for ours it is.
Advice for Parties Considering Similar Transactions
Chris: What advice would you give law firm executives and acquiring groups that maybe are non-law related?
It’s a good question. I don’t know if I’ve had enough time to even reflect on that answer yet. I certainly think – historically, lots of times law firms, lawyers have tried to do the business side of law. We aren’t necessarily all skilled at that. I think certainly for us having really good advisors along the way was critical, both within legal as well as in the non-legal aspects of it. Don’t try to row your own boat. You need that input. You need that counsel wisdom.
I think every transaction is obviously going to be different. The international flair to this certainly made it complex. You would want to certainly go into it knowing that this is going to take some time if you’re doing something international like ours.
The other big part of it to me is just understanding where your particular practice fits within the broader scheme of things, meaning there’s a lot of headlines out there about big four and that sort of thing right now. That may be true for some practice areas, but for some it may not be. For us, that certainly was the case that there wasn’t quite the same concern about the takeover or the moving into our space kind of concepts that are out there right now. It was really more about people who do similar work. Deloitte in the UK is a law firm, so it was a law firm talking to a law firm. That made sense for our practice area.
I think it’s easy to kind of discount ideas sometimes because they seem too hard or they seem too maybe controversial, but I think if you take the time to really understand yourself and your own practice and your own firm, you can make wise decisions.
The Goal of the Alliance with Deloitte UK
Chris: You now have an alliance with Deloitte. What are you guys hoping to achieve with that?
Jeremy: We feel like we are already in just a handful of months really redefining the industry and the market for our services. The way it works is a client company will come to us and they’ll need the whole world serviced as part of their mobility program. If it is someone who’s needing US immigration services, then we’re going to handle that. If it’s somewhere outside of the US, then Deloitte’s going to handle that.
We’re working in a common technology system, which is our own proprietary system, so the client is able to have their entire program in one system, know what’s going on, see what’s happening on each case, and run reports. That was always the goal was how do we make this simple for the market and we feel like we really achieved that. I think the market’s reacting very positively.
Chris: Was that in the cards at the same time as the acquisition occurred or was it a secondary kind of point?
Jeremy: Yeah, 100%. We wouldn’t have done one without the other. That was the key strategy to it all.
Opening an Office in New York with 60
Chris: BAL picked up a very large team in New York, was that because of momentum or has that been in the works as well as you’ve been entertaining and opening an office in New York?
Jeremy: It was right in between the line there. We had been looking at New York and thinking about New York for a number of years. It was a matter of finding what we felt like were the right group of people. That certainly dovetailed really nicely though with this because Deloitte UK has a number of financial service clients in New York. Being able to be on the ground physically and be able take more work from those clients, it was really important to be there. It aligned really nicely and the timing was really good.
Chris: It’s a fairly large acquisition on that side. The integration and the opening of an office like that requires quite an undertaking.
Jeremy: Yeah, we’ve taxed and overtaxed our operations groups this year for sure in all of this. But yeah, it was a smaller group actually when we started by probably a dozen people and they’ve continue to enjoy success themselves at Epstein Becker, they kept adding and we were okay with that, so ended up at 61 or 62. Epstein Becker was really good and professional about the whole situation and a little bit unique. It was out in the open, how to we help each other, how do we work on this together, that kind of a deal. It was really, really positive in that sense.
Chris: Oh wow, so it’s collaboration with those departures almost?
Chris: Fascinating. You guys didn’t acquire them. I mean was it just a lateral move or was it more of a transaction?
Jeremy: Yeah, it was a lateral move. No transaction.
Landing in Dallas for Centralized Firm Operations
Chris: You announced the Center of Excellence in Richardson, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, and you’re looking to double the footprint there almost by people-wise. Tell me about that.
Jeremy: We did the normal kind of market study I think a lot of firms have done lately, looking at a number of cities all over the US and evaluating those kind of factors that are important particularly for us, which is hiring and what universities are in the area, what kind of transportation do we have, cost of living certainly, all those kind of things. Ran that whole test and we had three or four cities that were fairly close. One of them was Richardson, where we had a small sub-office from our main Dallas uptown area office. Because we had that base already built, the tiebreaker went to Richardson. We moved in in March with about 220 people. As of last Monday we were at 441 already. It’s going crazy.
Chris: Wow. I noticed that you guys were looking at Raleigh, North Carolina, Kansas City, Missouri, and then also Houston. Any color on those cities and why either you chose to do it or not to look at those?
Jeremy: They were all good options in different ways. Houston being in Texas, obviously fairly close in terms of a lot of those variables, but the particular space we ended up in we’re a stone throw literally from a major university, we’re just another stone throw from the airport, we’re right in the middle of a lot of people. We’re a mile probably or less from the new State Farm’s headquarters here and Raytheon headquarters. It was a really ideal spot just kind of physically that fit a lot of those other factors in.
Chris: Was access to a talent pool like a real driving factor?
Jeremy: Yeah, it was for sure. Our practice is fairly unique in law because we’re so paralegal driven, so we tend to have anywhere from three to five paralegals per attorney. Obviously then our workforce looks very different where we have, let’s call it 120 attorneys, we’ve got hundreds and hundreds of paralegals. A lot of our employees are being hired straight out of university, first jobs that sort of thing, so it’s unique in that sense compared to most law firms in the kind of people that are needing to hire.
Big Four Accounting Firm Competition
Chris: I want to go back to just what’s happening of the landscape of the big four accounting firms encroaching on big law. Can you give us some color on that?
Jeremy: I don’t know too much as far as speaking for them on behalf of their plans, but I can tell you I think we saw fairly quickly after our alliance one of our competitors did something similar albeit I would argue very different with another big four.
Competition to me has always been a good thing. It brings out the best in you. Where I saw Deloitte really getting into the immigration space, building out a practice globally, doing some really cool, exciting things in our space and bringing innovation to the forefront of it, to me that was not a threat, that was an opportunity to say, “Hey, let’s align on this stuff and let’s share our common views of where things could go in the future and all of that.” It drove us to be better and today even drives us to do better.
The Future of Law and Technology
Chris: What are you guys doing and what do you see for the future of law as it relates to technology and other things coming out?
Jeremy: We’re doing really cool stuff. Our practice is very transaction heavy, so you’re filling out lots of forms, lots of letters, they get filed with different government agencies. It’s an area that’s certainly ripe for bringing technology into it, finding efficiencies and delivering better quality and better service ultimately. We’ve done a lot in that area already in terms of robotics and automation.
Chris: You guys are using robots instead of human beings?
Jeremy: Robotics functions, yeah.
Chris: It’s a form of AI? Is that what you’re describing?
Jeremy: It’s a very paper practice still with the government, so they send you a receipt notice back in paper form, they send you an approval notice in paper form, etcetera. Looking at ways of automating that part of it using OCR and bringing the data into the system that way and so forth. Then you’ve got these other areas that are on our roadmap that we’re just starting to get into in terms of chat box and in terms of travel assessment tools and things like that. It’s embracing where we’re going as a society and trying to align that and keep that up.
The biggest thing I think too with our practice that’s a little unique from many others, which is we’re dealing with employees of those companies, so we’re going through a process. Their mindset in a lot of ways is no different than when they’re going on Amazon to order something. It’s an area that’s just ripe in that sense for keeping up with what’s happening in the world around us. We look at an Amazon for example and say, “What are they doing? How are they making the service experience better for someone when they’re purchasing something? How does the app work?” In our technology we have a mobile app. What’s that experience look like?
Chris: I’m assuming the technology you’re deploying, it’s custom made and you have programmers inside the company?
Jeremy: That’s correct. We started building our own systems in 1997 and have had our own proprietary system since then.
Chris: Oh wow, so everything you guys do is in house or do you have other outside contractors that work for you?
Jeremy: We do sub out some of the work to other programmers, but we do have in-house development team as well as all the other product management and quality assurance and other groups.
Shifting the Business of Immigration Law
Chris: Is it safe to say that some of the work that you guys are doing is kind of like an H&R Block approach to getting the stuff done? It’s very form filling and efficiencies and things like that that make the process easier?
Jeremy: The core practice since its inception has been about getting those forms completed. What I think has shifted more is we’re back to becoming almost table stakes to companies. “Yeah, anybody can fill out that form. What else can you do?” kind of mindset. I think that’s where it’s driven us to make a shift in two ways. One, how do we provide more strategic advisory consultant-type services, which is part of the Deloitte UK alliance. Then the other is because this is not considered the artful practice of law it used to be, to fill out this form, which admittedly it still is, how do we maximize that so it can’t eat up a huge chunk of our cost anymore.
Personal Mission and Law Firm Culture
Chris: Talk to us about people, culture, and the mission statement of BAL.
Jeremy: I am passionate. It’s a big reason why I do what I do. Our mission statement is to provide an experience that makes positive difference in people’s lives. We talk about that in three buckets. First one is the people, our own people. If we’re treating our people well, they’re going to give a great experience to our clients. From a business standpoint it makes a ton of sense. But for me personally, I feel like that is my mission is to serve and to steward all these different people that are putting their trust and their careers in our hands.
The second group of people are the corporate clients themselves. That’s an HR director usually or an immigration program manager, someone like that. We’re trying to be an extension of their team. We’re trying to be their trusted advisor, especially right now these are rocky times in immigration with the current administration, so it’s giving them confidence and a sense of calm in all of this.
The nationals themselves. You’ve got someone who’s moving from one place to another or they’re trying to pursue permanent residency in the US. You’ve got jobs and families at stake. It’s a serious business in that sense, so how do we provide them the same level of calm and take away their anxiety and make a positive difference in their lives.
Values from Dad
Chris: Would you share formative experiences or one experience in your life that led you to develop leadership within you?
Jeremy: I think there’s a number of things I could point to. Certainly the biggest one in a lot of ways I think is my own dad. He instilled in me through all of his journeys through life and different jobs a real sense of that people piece and that’s driven by our own Christian faith. But just really seeing it as stewardship. You’ve got opportunities. You’ve got talents. You’ve got people. You’ve got resources, how do you employ those widely and how do you be a good steward of those things.
The Pre BAL Years
Chris: That’s awesome. You were part of a firm that had been in the news and had dissolved back when you were in Dallas. Would you share a little about that story because you left that firm and became a part of Berry Appleman after that? Is that correct?
Jeremy: That’s correct. I actually started my career for almost two years at Jackson Walker. Then switched over to Jenkens, was there about five years, 2002 to 2007.
I was a senior associate at the time in 2007, so wasn’t privy to a whole lot of the information of what was happening, but I think the two partners of our practice area knew what was going on and saw the writing on the wall, so they started looking at other options back in 2006. Even at the time then BAL was a very innovative firm. Like I said, they had proprietary technology for ten years at that point, so cultural fit, all those other similar things, the Deloitte UK thing. Everything kind of lined up. We left Jenkens in February of 2007 with about 40 people in tow. I believe Jenkens ceased doing business in like May of that year.
Chris: Wow. To clarify for the audience, what sunk the firm was a tax structure fraud?
Jeremy: I don’t even know exactly the details. I do know it related to tax opinions and they were written out of I think Chicago office. Part of the settlement agreement I believe was effectively going out of business.
Roots and Family
Chris: Are you a Texas native?
Jeremy: Almost. I was born in Alabama. We lived there until I was almost seven and then moved to Texas. I grew up in Houston, went to Baylor, then went to UT, and then came to Dallas.
Chris: How do you and the family enjoy life away from work?
Jeremy: Well, I’ve got four daughters, ages 3 to 14 almost so that’s pretty much it outside of the office. We really enjoy our ties with Baylor, so we go to the football games, go to the basketball games, support Baylor in every way we can. Kids have a million activities, so we’re running around with those. When I get some alone time, certainly golf and music and other things like that.
Chris: Do you and your wife try to travel and get away?
Jeremy: We do. We try to steal some long weekends throughout the year and keep that relationship strong outside of the kids.
What’s on Jeremy’s Bookshelf?
Chris: Are you a reader?
Jeremy: I struggle to read, but I really do love to read and glean insights and knowledge out of reading.
Chris: Where do you glean insights and things to kind of keep you sharp?
Jeremy: I try to cover different areas. Some will be just business focused. Some will be customer service focused. I read a great book about the Ritz Carlton and what they do and how they do it. It has nothing to do obviously with law or immigration, but it was helpful to pull insights out of that. There’s a book we just read somewhat as a group called Extreme Ownership, which is two former Navy SEAL guys, who now are business consultants. They applied military lessons to the business world. It was a really fascinating read, both from the sort of war story side of it as well as the business principle side of it.
Chris: Great. Anything else you can suggest for my readers to pick up and follow on to?
Jeremy: The one I’ve been working through most recently and with my coach is What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. It’s that idea of you can be a great manager and now you’re in leadership and that can be different. The skills are different and how people view you is different. I think part of it is that sense of a 360 or an assessment of yourself and what are your blind spots. I went through that process with my coach and we did a 360 in the firm among partners and operations leaders and got their inputs.
Chris: Have you always had a coach?
Jeremy: Not always, but the last little handful of years I have. We, as a firm, started really focusing on strength finders a number of years ago. I want to improve and I want to be the best I can be at the things I do. A coach makes a lot of sense in that context.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. Here’s a fun question. Tell me something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Jeremy: Well, I would say probably that I’m funny. I think it’s true that I’m funny, but a lot of times people don’t see my humor.
Chris: This is another kind of fun spin. Room, desk and chair, which do you clean first?
Jeremy: Gosh, almost none of them. Probably chair if I had to pick. Definitely not desk.
Advice to Younger Law Graduate Self
Chris: What advice would you give yourself after graduating law school with what you know now?
Jeremy: I think in a lot of ways how I started ended up being a blessing in disguise. I started in litigation and dabbled in immigration through some funny circumstances. I’m grateful for how I ended up learning immigration the hard way myself by reading the books, but certainly I spent two years that I wouldn’t have otherwise had to spend if I knew in this. There’s so many different practice areas, so it’s critical as hard as you’re going to work in it to focus on an area that you really have a passion for and you love.
Certainly I didn’t know that initially being immigration, but that is the case now and so I think that’s what’s always kind of gotten me through the hard work and the long hours and long years and everything else that goes with law, which is really find what you love and be passionate about it and that can drive you through that.
Chris: Thank you Jeremy. Jeremy, it’s been an honor and a pleasure. Thank you for your time on the show today.
Jeremy: Yeah, it’s been great, appreciate it.
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