James L. Sawyer

Partner Chicago
james.sawyer dbr.com
Phone: (312) 569-1156 (312) 569-1156
Fax: (312) 569-3156


James L. Sawyer represents clients in all areas of U.S. customs and international trade laws and regulations. He chairs the firm’s Customs and International Trade Team and is the Regional Partner in Charge of the firm's Chicago office.

James represents importers before U.S. Customs and Border Protection, counseling on U.S. and internationally harmonized import regulations concerning the valuation, classification, duty preference qualification, and origin determination and marking of imported products. He has broad experience representing clients in import audits and other verification proceedings, as well as customs enforcement matters such as civil penalty actions, investigations, and liquidated damages cases.

James coordinates with the Firm’s Intellectual Property Group to support clients’ protection of trademark and copyrights in coordination with recordation and enforcement by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He also partners with the Firm’s Corporate and Securities Group to provide assistance and evaluation of risks in due diligence reviews associated with the acquisition of new business, and with the Firm’s White Collar Defense Team with internal investigations and mitigation strategies.

Before becoming a lawyer, James worked and resided in Taipei, Taiwan and lived and studied in the People’s Republic of China. He is proficient in Mandarin.


James partners with clients to evaluate import compliance issues and duty savings opportunities, balancing business realities with the establishment of effective internal control processes and solutions to meet an importer’s legal obligations. James’ experience includes:

  • Assisting importers of all sizes and industries in developing comprehensive import compliance programs, partnering with clients to build the essential bridges of communication across impacted functional areas to ensure import compliance.
  • Working with clients to manage identified import compliance risks and mitigate civil penalty exposure through the preparation and filing of voluntary disclosures and the development and implementation of corrective actions.
  • Advising clients in all areas of import compliance, including issues relating to valuation and methods of appraisement and tariff classification, obtaining beneficial administrative rulings and favorable protest determinations for clients resulting in millions of dollars in duty savings.
  • Working with clients to identify and evaluate opportunities under available duty preference programs and manage related compliance issues, including opportunities and compliance under the North American Free Trade Agreement and other bilateral and multilateral Free Trade Agreements, the Generalized System of Preferences, U.S. Goods Returned and other Chapter 98 duty savings programs.
  • Assisting clients navigate competing origin determination and marking rules, including those enforced by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Food & Drug Administration, the Federal Trade Commission, and those of other import jurisdictions.
  • Counseling clients on the import valuation implications of transfer pricing agreements, contract and toll manufacturing agreements, “first sale” valuation practices, buying agency contracts, and licensing and royalty agreements to identify duty savings opportunities and to avoid potential pitfalls associated with the valuation of imported merchandise.
  • Assisting clients manage their import valuation compliance through participation in U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Reconciliation Prototype program, and works with companies to prepare annual reconciliation entries.


Bar Admissions

  • Illinois


  • Chicago-Kent College of Law, J.D., with honors
  • Union College, B.A., with departmental honors in East Asian studies

Court Admissions

  • U.S. Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit
  • U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois
  • U.S. Court of International Trade


  • Chicago Bar Association
  • International Compliance Professionals Association (ICPA)
  • American Association of Exporters and Importers
  • Coalition of New England Companies for Trade