Since its founding in 1980, BAL has been committed to powering human achievement. Along the way, the firm has made a difference in lives, its clients’ businesses and the practice of immigration law.
“Jeff Appleman, Attorney at Law” and “David Berry, Attorney at Law” open for business in 1977 and 1978, respectively. On October 13, 1980, the one-man firms become a partnership. The decision to be named “Berry & Appleman” or “Appleman & Berry” comes down to a coin flip — David gets the name and Jeff gets the larger office. Their first office is in a quaint two-story brick building on the corner of Pacific and Montgomery, in the heart of San Francisco’s historic Barbary Coast. The Immigration Service is two blocks away, and many immigration firms operate within a few blocks of each other.
At the end of 1981, Jeff and David gamble by renovating a nearby three-story building on Pacific Avenue, taking the building down to the “rubble brick” (named for brick repurposed after the 1906 earthquake and fire). The landlord, himself from a family of Chinese immigrants, was born a U.S. citizen in the very room that becomes David’s office.
In the early years, BAL is a diverse immigration firm working on family, deportation, refugee and business matters. David and Jeff represent hundreds of religious refugees fleeing Iran as the Shah lost power. The firm is closely affiliated with the international education group NAFSA, and is considered an up-and-coming leader in business immigration. David represents many of the local hospitals and medical institutions.
David and Jeff provide pro bono representation at the Immigration Court to many deportation proceedings respondents. The firm litigates complex immigration and nationality matters before the immigration court, immigration services and federal court system.
In the courts, the firm is recognized for its expertise, creativity and forward-thinking approach to immigration law. For example, the firm provides pro bono immigration defense of Carl Hill, a homosexual man. Notwithstanding the statements of Mr. Hill that he is a practicing homosexual, the firm argues that the INS has no basis to exclude Mr. Hill without a Public Health Service finding of his “psychopathic personality.” Importantly, the Public Health Service has already agreed in their related lawsuit that it will not issue such a finding. Eventually, the matter winds its way through the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), federal district court and the Ninth Circuit. The case becomes a landmark for the more progressive approach that is now often taken for granted.
Jeff argues and wins the landmark case of “Mindseye v. INS” in District Court, which successfully secures expansion of the definition of “professionals” who qualify for H-1B status.
David and Lorena Villagran file the first “foreign visa” cases for Colombia, followed by cases for the U.K., Spain, Canada, Mexico, Jamaica and Brazil.
The first associate attorney of the firm is hired.
Oct 17, 1989
“The San Francisco earthquake hit just as everyone was leaving the office. When the building started shaking, we crowded into the hallway. A new employee who started that week had just moved to SF from the East Coast. When the quake started, she ran down the hall, grabbed onto me until it stopped and then ran right out the building. When the shaking stopped, we heard police on their bullhorns saying ‘all those of you in brick buildings, get out immediately!’ We had to make our way home through the city, which went pitch black as soon as the sun went down. The office survived with no structural damage.”
– as recounted by Lorena Villagran
Filing fee checks are handwritten, signed by Jeff or David, and recorded in a checkbook. Call-ups are tracked on index cards and kept in a box.
Dress is formal — coat and tie.
Each case is individually typed on an IBM Selectric Typewriter. Eventually word processors are introduced, which boot up each morning with a 5.25” floppy disk.
Carbon paper is used. Yellow, pink, green and blue liquid paper match the required colored paper filings (or else it is all typed again).
Warren Leiden joins the firm as a named partner after 14 years as the Executive Director of AILA. He brings additional business savvy to the firm and drives its expansion over much of the next two decades. He is rarely seen in anything other than sharp business attire and a hat.
With the change in names, BAL introduces its first logo featuring a world map — to emphasize the firm’s global practice — and the tagline “Leaders in Corporate Immigration.” By this point, the firm has narrowed its focus specifically to corporate immigration.
In 1997, responding to a request from one of its first major tech clients, the firm builds the first version of its proprietary case management system. Called ClientBase, it is a Microsoft Access-built database designed by Greg Walther, BAL’s IT guru and a practicing immigration attorney.
StatusChek is soon developed which allows foreign nationals the ability to log in to the system to check the status of their case.
StatusChek is groundbreaking as the first online database available for foreign nationals in the industry. Rollout of CBLink also begins, enabling data in ClientBase to merge into a template Word document (taking advantage of a recent move from WordPerfect to Word). The BALnet intranet site is developed to store the templates by case type.
50 employees in three San Francisco offices consolidate into one, new location at 353 Sacramento, where the firm is headquartered for the next 20 years.
BAL, led by Jeff, along with co-counsel, wins the case of “Chintakuntla v. INS,” a national class-action lawsuit in District Court that overturns the systematic denial of Employment-Based Second Preference (EB-2) immigrant visa petitions by the INS.
Phone messages are written on small, perforated slips of paper and placed in individual cubbies where employees retrieve them throughout the day. There are no direct phone numbers and no voicemail.
Legal assistants cut printed text with scissors and paste it using a glue stick to fit all the required info into the miniscule boxes on the forms.
Employees walk the AOS filings down the street to the INS building to file in person.
When a client number for a new case is needed, the foreign national’s name is written on an index card corresponding to the client company and kept in a small metal box. The new matter number is written on a sticker label that is then affixed to the file.
In 2000, after originally joining the firm as a paralegal, David Widmark changes career paths and develops ClientBase v2 with a SQL server back end. In 2001, he builds a new database — VB — to replace ClientBase. Although it retains some of the look and feel of the original ClientBase, it is rebuilt entirely with Visual Basic 6 and SQL, and includes an upgraded StatusChek.
Jeff leads the litigation on “Moulton v. Neufield,” a class action lawsuit in District Court that allows those in H-1B status to reclaim time spent outside of the U.S. The case is settled in favor of the plaintiffs.
In 2002, the firm launches CIMS (Corporate Immigration Management System), its web-based system for HR to see the status of their employees’ cases and run reports. CIMS is written in VB/ASP.NET and sets the technical template for other new web applications. The following years see the introduction of online questionnaires, VBForms, VBAdmin, EBill and GlobalChek. A few years later, Secure Message is launched.
Keeping pace with the “dot-com” boom, the firm rapidly grows to more than 200 employees and opens offices in San Jose, Calif., and McLean, Va.
In February 2007, 40 people from a large Texas multi-practice firm join BAL and establish BAL’s Dallas and Houston offices. This marks the firm’s largest expansion. Among those in the group is a senior associate attorney, Jeremy Fudge, who eventually takes over for Warren six years later.
The firm opens a government affairs office in Washington, D.C., led by Lynden Melmed, former Chief Counsel of USCIS.
The decade draws to a close with the launch of a new blue logo and website. The “global” emphasis foreshadows the firm’s global expansion strategy for the upcoming decade.
BAL launches its Austin, Texas, office. GlobalChek Plus also launches as a robust subscription-based assessment tool. It provides custom inputs and content-rich outputs based on which type of visa is needed for specific activities in a specific country. The Knowledge Management department is created by a paralegal with a vision. Just as with technology, BAL has always been known as a place where employees are empowered to develop new ideas and further their own career aspirations.
The firm rolls out an entirely new system called Cobalt® that replaces StatusChek and CIMS. The alternate name considered was a somewhat odd name: Archon. The system is written in C# using the ASP.NET MVC framework and provides a more updated user interface. Importantly, Cobalt lays the foundation for automation with emails sent upon the click of a milestone and an entire suite of documents and forms for a case created by DocGen at the click of a button. VB is still used in conjunction with Cobalt for several more years.
BAL, led by Clifford Chin, wins an en banc Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals (BALCA) decision in which the Board finds that job advertisements conducted as “additional recruitment” steps for a PERM labor certification application do not need to meet the advertising content requirements for mandatory recruitment steps under 20 CFR §656.17(f). This leads to the reversal of many denials on this issue.
Between December 2010 and August 2017, the firm opens 11 offices around the world, led by Managing Directors in each region. This is a period of tremendous growth and refinement of the firm’s global immigration services. The collaborative and harmonized approach to global immigration sets the firm apart and is the origin of the oneBAL concept in 2013.
The Boston office opens with one partner hired from a Texas firm and three local paralegals. The office grows rapidly and in three years relocates to a larger office.
BAL’s new brand, logo and website launch with a fresh, new yellow-and-gray color scheme and the tagline of “Pursue the Exceptional.” It is meant to be a reflection of the current BAL, which has become a global immigration powerhouse, with many new leaders, but with a continuing desire to always improve.
Cobalt V2 is launched as a completely overhauled online platform for BAL’s employees and its clients, replacing both Cobalt V1 and VB. The cloud-based digital platform — written in C# using the .NET Web API framework — is built to address the evolving security requirements of our clients, provide a much-improved user experience and lay the foundation for artificial intelligence and automation of the future. As pioneers once again in the industry, Cobalt V2 includes the world’s first immigration mobile app.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issues a policy memo adopting an Administrative Appeals Office victory by BAL in Matter of O-A-, Inc. The case addresses educational credentials of foreign individuals under the EB-2 category and clarifies how USCIS will calculate years of requisite post-baccalaureate experience, where the individual has earned a provisional certificate before receiving a formal diploma.
The firm opens its Center of Excellence in Richardson, Texas, to consolidate operations and drive excellence in the execution of casework. The New York office opens with approximately 40 members and the capabilities of a large multi-practice firm, making BAL accessible to new industries.
In 2018, BAL and Deloitte form an unprecedented alliance that ties the expertise of one of the most innovative U.S. immigration law firms with the global acumen and coverage of one of the largest international accounting and consulting firms. The launch of the alliance in 2018 sets up a decade of U.S. expansion, technology breakthroughs and seamless global operations.
Oct 13, 2020
BAL continues onward and upward with the launch of its Chicago office to meet the area’s need for a more innovative and forward-thinking law firm. Led by BAL Partner Maria DeLapp, the new Chicago office thrives in the local market through the addition of key local talent that deliver clients an exceptional experience.
BAL’s unique oneBAL structure enables the firm to bring all its resources together to serve clients. During the adjustment of status (AOS) crunch in 2020, the entire firm — across all offices, time zones and functions — pitches in to serve thousands of clients in a way no other firm possibly could at the time.
The phrase “that’s not my job” doesn’t exist. From immigration assistants to department heads, everyone is in the trenches working on filings to ensure every task is performed at the BAL standard of excellence. BAL leverages its talented team and industry-leading technology to overcome government backlogs and keep pace with these extraordinary shifts in USCIS processes for AOS filings.
The team utilizes its proprietary Cobalt technology and real-time data reporting to manage thousands of requests and expedite filings. Ultimately, the team’s efforts during the AOS crunch result in a resounding success across all fronts— client satisfaction, number of filings and employee morale.
BAL further expands with a new office in Denver led by Denver native and Partner Jeff Joseph, a prominent immigration attorney and AILA luminary with deep connections in the region. The new office serves as a springboard to grow the firm’s presence in the Rocky Mountain market.
BAL opens its Los Angeles office, led by Senior Associate Gabriel Castro, with a focus on sports and entertainment immigration. Building upon its representation of major league sports teams, international athletic organizations and leading entertainment studios, BAL delivers dedicated immigration solutions from its LA office.
Ashley Foret Dees joins BAL as a partner adding legal expertise in H-2A and H-2B temporary work visas. With the addition of this H-2A and H-2B specialty, BAL is the only immigration firm offering solutions for every aspect of corporate immigration.
Ashley is universally recognized as the most well-respected practitioner in the country related to H-2 visa program services. A member and former H-2 VisaChair on the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Department of Labor Liaison Committee, Ashley also founded and chaired the Louisiana State Bar Immigration Law Section.
The firm launches BAL Community, the industry’s first platform for global mobility professionals to connect, collaborate and grow together. BAL Community offers exclusive access to experts including influential policy makers, insights into corporate immigration best practices, immigration roundtable focus group sessions, benchmarking data and analysis.
Continuing the trend of forward-thinking, modern approaches to corporate immigration law, BAL launches its weekly “Immigration Report” podcast delivering the latest in U.S. and global immigration news and analysis.
The podcast is available on Apple, Spotify and Google Podcasts or on the BAL news site.
In a year of growth and progress, BAL continues the trend by naming Jeremy Fudge as the firm’s CEO.
Texas CEO Magazine recognized Jeremy for helming BAL’s aggressive nationwide growth in the middle of the pandemic, and for leading the company to other key milestones, including strategic lateral hires and eminence in legal technology.
His embodiment of BAL’s mission to make a positive difference in people’s lives continues to be evident in every aspect of his service to the firm.
“Life comes down to loving and serving others.”
Frieda is the first woman and Latina to serve as BAL’s Managing Partner. In her role, Frieda oversees all aspects of the firm’s legal operations and ensures that teams across the firm’s multiple offices are working together seamlessly to deliver best-in-class immigration services while building on the firm’s oneBAL culture.
“With my position, I hope to inspire and pave the way for others like me to continue BAL’s legacy of powering human achievement.”
In an ever-advancing industry, BAL continues to stay a step ahead by rolling out a brand refresh as well as the launch of a new website with evolved branding and enhanced functionality.
BAL will continue its mission of providing an experience that makes a positive difference in people’s lives with the launch of its enhanced beneficiary experience portal. With a focus on an improved client experience, the new portal will deliver visibility and confidence with features such as: