California Minority Counsel Program Attorney Spotlight

Jimmy Nguyen: Nationally-Recognized Award-Winning Asian-Pacific American Lawyer, Evolving Media Expert, LGBT Activist, Diversity Advocate, and Thought Leader

By David Tsai, Townsend and Townsend and Crew LLP

Article originally published in California Minority Counsel Program Newsletter May/June 2010 for Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month and LGBT Pride Month

Jimmy Nguyen [was] a partner in the Beverly Hills office of Wildman, Harrold, Allen & Dixon LLP [and now is a partner in the Los Angeles office of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.]  His “360 degree”practice encompasses counseling, transactions and litigation of intellectual property, entertainment, new media, technology, advertising & sports matters. A change agent, Jimmy does innovative work in IP and new media, and advances change in organizations to which he devotes time – including the California Minority Counsel Program.

Jimmy has a compelling life story that is the epitome of the American dream. He was born in Saigon, South Vietnam. In April 1975, when Jimmy was 2 years old, his family fled the night before the fall of Saigon to communist North Vietnamese forces and re-settled in Southern California.

Since then, Jimmy has a practice of excelling early – graduating high school at age 16, college at 19, and law school at 22. In college, he was a 7-time national gold medalist in speech competition. Jimmy graduated magna cum laude from UCLA with a B.A. in Communication Studies. He attended the University of Southern California law school on a full scholarship and graduated in 1995, the youngest member of his class where he was known as “Doogie Howser, J.D.”There, he was champion of the Hale Moot Court Honors Program and the 1995 Jerome Prince National Evidence Moot Court Competition.

At 31, Jimmy became a partner at Foley & Lardner, one of the nation’s largest law firms. He co-founded and co-chaired Foley’s Entertainment & Media Industry Team and was also vice-chair of its Intellectual Property Litigation group. Also a bar leader, Jimmy currently chairs the State Bar of California’s IP Law section and served on its Executive Committee since 2004. Arnold Peter (Peter, Rubin & Simon, LLP), founder of the Association of Media & Entertainment Counsel, described Jimmy as “a rising star in the legal profession and a remarkable role model . . . [and] clearly one of the top entertainment attorneys in Hollywood.”Mr. Peter also commented that “Jimmy consistently exceeds his own already high standards by working diligently and with passion for the cause of increasing diversity in the legal and business community.”

No wonder, at 36, Jimmy was already named by Lawdragon in 2008 as one of the 500 “Leading Lawyers in America”and described as a “dynamo talent”who “is a one-stop shop for companies in entertainment, technology, advertising, sports and other industries seeking IP, litigation and transactional advice.”He has also been named a “Best Lawyer Under 40″by the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) in 2005, and one of 2010’s Top 20 Lawyers Under 40 in California by the Daily Journal. Reflecting his prominence in the LGBT community, the Advocate magazine named Jimmy to its 2010 “Forty under 40″list of leading LGBT persons.

As an immigrant, Asian-Pacific American and openly gay man, Jimmy champions diversity in the legal profession. He serves on the Board of Directors of CMCP. In January 2010, he was named CMCP’s co-chair and will co-chair CMCP’s 2010 annual business conference (which he led in 2007). Jimmy is currently leading an initiative to publish a CMCP white paper on corporate programs to incentivize diverse outside counsel spend. Jimmy also actively participates in MCCA, NAPABA, the National Conference of Vietnamese American Attorneys, and other legal diversity organizations. An LGBT civil rights activist, he also serves on Equality California’s Board of Directors.

In his office, Jimmy hangs a photo of his father’s graduation from Saigon University Law School above a photo of his own law school graduation 23 years later. Jimmy’s father, Linh Nguyen, was a “magistrat” judge in the French civil system adopted by South Vietnam.

Once in the United States, rather than continue to wield significant judicial power, Linh took whatever jobs he could get – beginning as a hospital orderly. Jimmy’s father sat for the California Bar Exam, but was unsuccessful given his limited time to study and limited English skills. Ultimately, Linh found employment at the U.S. Postal Service, where he worked until retirement.

Needless to say, Jimmy made his father proud when he graduated from law school. Last October, Jimmy brought his father to the National Conference of Vietnamese American Attorneys in Huntington Beach. Jimmy did not expect anyone to recognize Linh, but someone did: Judge Nho Trong Nguyen. Judge Nguyen now sits on the Orange County Superior Court, but in South Vietnam, he served as a Congressman and then an Associate Justice on the Constitutional Special Supreme Court.

When Jimmy and his father walked into the NCVAA conference, Jimmy said hello to Judge Nguyen and started to introduce his father. But Judge Nguyen already knew Linh from Saigon, and remarked what a powerful judge Linh had been in Vietnam. Later that day, Judge Nguyen began a panel of Vietnamese American judges by thanking other judges for attending. And then he said there was another judge in the room who was more powerful than all of them in his time as a “magistrat”in Saigon. Judge Nguyen pointed out Jimmy’s father in the audience; Linh shyly stood up and waved.

While Jimmy knew of his father’s judicial history, he never got the opportunity to see that judicial pedigree in action. Seeing this outpouring of respect – almost 35 years and an ocean away from Vietnam – made his father’s legal prominence “real”to Jimmy. Jimmy also realized he could draw upon his legal heritage to strengthen his own career.

Jimmy has had numerous opportunities to leverage his diversity for professional success. He has put his Asian-Pacific American heritage to good use for clients. Jimmy’s prior firm opened an office in Shanghai, China, and Jimmy worked on one of the firm’s first engagements there – overseeing entertainment and media legal work for the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai. The Chinese organizing committee hired a U.S. production team to produce an Olympic-caliber Opening Ceremony.

Before Jimmy came to Shanghai for several trips on the project, some communication issues had developed between the Chinese and U.S. teams. Though Jimmy is not Chinese (and speaks no Chinese dialects), he helped bridge the cultural differences. The Chinese team felt comfortable trusting Jimmy given his heritage from neighboring Vietnam; the U.S. team communicated effectively with Jimmy given his understanding of entertainment business dealings. Jimmy’s cultural background helped pave the way for better teamwork, and ultimately a dazzling Opening Ceremony.

. . . 

Jimmy’s LGBT leadership has led him to now represent Constance McMillen – the lesbian high school student from Fulton, Mississippi who shot to national attention after her high school barred her from attending prom with her girlfriend. Constance was approached by numerous Hollywood producers and agents who want to acquire her life story rights to produce a television movie and publish a book. After getting a call from Constance’s team at the ACLU, Jimmy is negotiating deals for Constance to bring her story to television and book form. In the process, he is helping Constance use her experience to improve the lives of other young LGBT persons.

Nicole Harris, Corporate Counsel at PG&E Corporation, summed it up best: “Jimmy’s ongoing commitment to diversity in the legal profession is inspiring. He brings a keen mind, creativity and boundless energy to every project he tackles. I am personally very pleased that Jimmy is using those talents as a CMCP volunteer and 2010 Conference Committee Co-chair.”CMCP is honored to feature Jimmy Nguyen during this year’s Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month and LGBT Pride Month.