Who's Who of Professional Women


In a groundbreaking career that spanned five decades, Jia Zhao, retired principal attorney of Baker & McKenzie LLP in Chicago, Illinois, is humbled by the distinctions of being the first China national to receive a Doctor of Jurisprudence and become a member of the bar in the United States. She also was the first person ever 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. She had the unique experience of ultimately 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. Ms. Zhao was later offered the chance to study law in the U.S., her entry into the field.

A lifetime highlight came early in Ms. Zhao’s career in 1979 during her service in the Chinese Foreign Ministry when she participated in vital work that led to improving relations between the U.S. and China. She also served as President Richard Nixon’s interpreter during his post-Watergate visits to China in 1975, 1976 and 1979. After immigrating to the U.S. in 1980, Ms. Zhao secured coveted internships at law firms in Manhattan, New York; Chicago, Illinois; San Francisco, California; and Washington, D.C., before earning her Doctor of Jurisprudence in 1983 from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In 1985, Ms. Zhao was admitted to the bar in Illinois and the District of Columbia, respectively, making her duly licensed to practice as an attorney in the U.S. and China. This enabled her to fulfill another memorable mission by organizing and leading one of the first China legal practice groups in the U.S. alongside another American partner, contributing to the understanding, cooperation, and development of investment and trade between the two countries after 25 years of separation and isolation. 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’s stellar career continued with stints as an attorney in San Francisco at Pillsbury Madison & Sutro LLP and in Washington, D.C., at Covington & Burling LLP and Arnold & Porter LLP. She soon landed the position of first secretary for the Department of Treaty and Law and the Department of American and Oceanic Affairs with the Chinese Foreign Ministry from 1984 to 1988 before permanently joining Baker & McKenzie LLP, first as a senior associate, then partner, and finishing as senior counsel until her retirement in 2019. Ms. Zhao 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, and is a former member of the Beijing Foreign Economic Law Association.

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. Declaring obsolete the traditional ways of practicing law, she encourages lawyers to step outside of their defined comfort zones and technical specialties and study the world beyond borders. Ms. Zhao advises anyone entering the legal profession to seize and maximize all opportunities, be modest, and always remember to be willing to learn and 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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