US firm Fragomen, founded more than 50 years ago, launched an office in London in August 2003, when London managing partner Alex Paterson joined the firm from Andersen, where she was a ­senior solicitor in the immigration team. She was tasked with building up the ­London base.

Alex Paterson
Alex Paterson

Managing partner: Alex Paterson
Turnover: £13.5m (London)
Number of partners: Four
Number of lawyers: 16
Number of fee-earners: 72
Number of offices: 35
Locations: 15 countries
Main practice areas: ­Business immigration
Key clients: Fortune 100 and FTSE100 companies, small and medium ­enterprises and private clients

After kicking off the City outpost with just two lawyers, eight years later the headcount reaches almost 100. London operates as the hub for the firm’s Emea work, as well as operating as a standalone UK office. The client base includes Fortune 100 and FTSE100 ­companies, small and medium enterprises and a significant private client ­roster.

“London is still a key location for businesses to send international assignees to,” says Paterson. “Also, immigration law has become much more complex since the introduction of the points-based system. Far more companies are seeking advice.”
Fragomen splits its business into transactions such as securing work permits and advisory work that is primarily compliance.
“These days, we have more interaction with general counsel and compliance officers,” says Paterson. “Immigration is slowly going up the risk agenda.”

The penalties can be serious if businesses do not get it right under the points-based system for ­migration to the UK, which was introduced in November 2008.

“There are civil penalties and criminal sanctions, individuals can be removed and now, with the licence concept, the UK Border Agency has the power to take away non-nationals – that’s hanging over companies,” says Paterson. “On the other hand, from a lawyer’s point of view it’s been an exciting period.”

Strategically, Fragomen wants to keep growing in London, particularly on the advisory side.

“There’s intense demand on the compliance side,” she says. “Also, we expect to see the private client side, where we act for investors and ­entrepreneurs, keep growing.”