James L. Sawyer

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


James L. Sawyer counsels clients in all areas of U.S. import laws and regulations, including tariff classification, valuation, origin determination and marking, Free Trade Agreements, and duty preference programs. 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 clients in enforcement proceedings and investigations, Focused Assessment audits, and other verification proceedings conducted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). He frequently assists clients craft responses to formal CBP Requests for Information and Notices of Action, which are often precursors to more aggressive CBP enforcement proceedings. 

James has significant experience partnering with importers to complete internal risk assessments, preparing voluntary prior disclosures, and developing other risk-mitigation strategies to manage identified import compliance risks and civil penalty exposure. He works closely with clients on import valuation issues and strategies for identifying and capturing required elements to declared value, as well as establishing duty savings opportunities under a first sale valuation method. He often assists clients with incorporating trade compliance protections within supply and distribution agreements.  James is also experienced in managing post-importation reporting requirements under CBP’s Reconciliation Prototype program, and frequently assists with the preparation of annual cost submissions for imports from Mexican maquiladora operations imported under a computed value method of appraisement.

James also works with clients to complete tariff classification reviews and challenges, both administratively and through judicial challenges at the U.S. Court of International Trade, and he works closely with clients to support duty savings strategies under available Chapter 98 duty preference programs and Free Trade Agreements. In addition, he frequently advises clients on country of origin determinations and marking requirements enforced by CBP, as well as relevant origin determination rules under the Trade Agreements Act (TAA) and Buy American Act (BAA), as well as advising clients on domestic origin “Made in USA” claims regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and applicable state laws.


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