Who's Who of Professional Women


In a groundbreaking career that spanned five decades, Jia Zhao, retired principal of Baker & McKenzie LLP in Chicago, Illinois, is humbled by the distinctions of being the first Chinese national from the People’s Republic of China to receive a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Harvard University and the first Chinese national to be licensed in the United States. She was also the first person to be admitted to the bar in both China and the U.S.

Ms. Zhao has been honored in nearly 20 editions of Marquis Who’s Who from 1997 to the present and received the publisher’s Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018. She had the unique experience of having two careers in two countries. Starting out, she was assigned to the Chinese Foreign Ministry to work as a U.S. desk officer after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English from Beijing Foreign Studies University in 1963. Later, in 1980, Ms. Zhao was offered the chance to study law in the U.S., thus starting her entry into the legal field.

During her service in the Chinese Foreign Ministry, a lifetime highlight came in 1972 when President Richard Nixon made his historic visit to China. Ms. Zhao participated in the visit and subsequent vital work that ultimately led to the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1979. She also served as President Richard Nixon’s interpreter during his post-Watergate visits to China in 1975, 1976 and 1979.

In her studies at Harvard Law School from 1980 to 1983, she secured coveted summer internships in various distinguished law firms such as Baker & McKenzie in Chicago; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York; Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro in San Fransisco; and Covington & Burling and Arnold & Porter in Washington, D.C.

Upon graduation from Harvard Law School in 1983, Ms. Zhao completed the one-year practical training program at Baker & McKenzie, took and passed the Illinois bar exam, and returned to the Chinese Foreign Ministry in 1984. Back at the ministry, she landed the position of first secretary in both the Department of Treaty and Law and the Department of American and Oceanic Affairs in the Chinese Foreign Ministry. She served in that position from 1984 to 1988 before she permanently joined Baker & McKenzie in Chicago as a U.S. licensed lawyer in both Illinois and the District of Columbia. This status change enabled her to fulfill another memorable mission by organizing and leading one of the first China law practice groups in the U.S. alongside another American partner.

She started at Baker & McKenzie as a senior associate, and then was promoted to partner and later to principal. In her 25 years of practice at the Chicago office, together with her partner and the China practice group, she worked extremely hard and contributed to the understanding, cooperation and development of investment and trade between the two countries after 25 years of separation and isolation. She retired in 2019 as senior counsel. She maintains memberships with the American Bar Association, the American Bar Foundation, the District of Columbia Bar, the Chicago Bar Association and the Illinois Bar Association. In the years to come, she will continue to focus on fostering more positive China-U.S. ties. Her goal is to “bridge the gap,” making them “two countries and one heart.”

Ms. Zhao has observed sweeping changes in society and her profession since the beginning of her career, including how countries more immediately interact around the world and the constant introduction of new technology. Realizing that the traditional ways of practicing law are obsolete, she encourages lawyers to step outside of their defined comfort zones and technical specialties and learn to study the world beyond their borders. She advises anyone entering the legal profession to seize and maximize all opportunities, be modest, and always remember to be willing to learn and be grateful for all achievements. First crediting her parents for instilling in her a strong sense of confidence and responsibility since childhood, Ms. Zhao attributes much of her success to distinguished educational and career mentors and experiences that nurtured and taught her discipline and hard work.


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