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January 27, 2019

Meet the 4 legal trailblazers who received the Spirit of Excellence Award

California attorney John Lim, who immigrated to the United States with his parents from South Korea in 1967, was presented with the 2019 Spirit of Excellence Award by the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession for his commitment to diversity during a ceremony on Jan. 26 at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Las Vegas.


Left to right: Spirit of Excellence Award recipients John Lim, Pamela Jones Harbour, Willie Gary and Peter Reyes

Left to right: Spirit of Excellence Award recipients John Lim, Pamela Jones Harbour, Willie Gary and Peter Reyes

“If I have done anything to deserve this award it is that I have pursued one thing consistently and passionately for a long time, the pursuit of diversity and inclusiveness in the law,” said Lim, who was one of four recipients recognized this year. The other honorees were Florida attorney Willie Gary; Pamela Jones Harbour, senior vice president and legal officer at Herbalife Nutrition in Los Angeles; and Peter M. Reyes, Jr., a judge on the Minnesota Court of Appeals in St. Paul.

Lim, who is the managing partner of LimNexus LLP, a minority-owned corporate boutique firm with offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., said his family was the beneficiary of an immigration law signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. “Even under the pre-1965 law, immigrants had more opportunities to come to the U.S. than they do today,” Lim said, noting the recent rollback of immigration laws. “The point is that immigration made our country strong and, in my view, will be critical in keeping our country strong.”

Watch acceptance speeches of Spirit of Excellence Award recipients:

An attorney since 1982, Lim represents Fortune 500 and Global 1000 companies, financial institutions, governmental entities, private equity funds, commercial developers and institutional investors in corporate, real estate and financing transactions. He advises emerging high-tech ventures as outside general counsel and speaks at seminars on topics ranging from corporate governance to anti-deficiency rules in real property secured transactions. To further equal opportunity and equal access to justice, Lim actively supports public interest law groups that serve the disadvantaged and marginalized. Additionally, he and his law partners provide scholarships to diverse law students through the LimNexus Foundation.

During his acceptance speech, Lim said the burden on all lawyers to “bring legal action to the disenfranchisement of millions of our fellow citizens is ever important.”

“Voter suppression has been called one of the most important civil rights issues of our era,” he said. “But the challenges extend far beyond that one issue. We must protect the rights of children at the border. We as lawyers must take legal action to curtail the epidemic of police shooting innocent, unarmed people. As diversity in our colleges crumbles under the current administration, we as lawyers must defend the right of colleges to promote diversity.”

Lim concluded by saying that his “goal is to pay it forward so that minorities and immigrants will have their fair chance to their precious say in an honest and fair society.”

Willie Gary parlayed a passionate work ethic learned from his humble beginnings in Southern migrant farming communities into a legal career that earned him a Forbes listing as one of the “Top 50 attorneys in the U.S.” Gary was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1974 and opened his hometown’s first African-American law firm in Stuart, Fla. He has tried cases in 45 states and is in demand as a motivational speaker, delivering speeches at law schools, universities, churches and to various groups throughout the country. He has received honorary doctorates from dozens of colleges and universities. In 1994, he and his wife, Gloria, founded The Gary Foundation, which provides scholarships to youth so they can realize their dreams of achieving a higher education.

Accepting his award, Gary challenged lawyers to make a difference and to “help somebody,” and he challenged young lawyers to “work hard” and “be the best that you can be. No excuses.”

Pamela Jones Harbour leads a compliance team across 94 markets at Herbalife Nutrition, developing and enhancing policies and infrastructure to ensure effective education, training and mentoring programs for independent Herbalife members worldwide. She also leads the company’s global privacy and data security efforts. She was a litigation partner in three American law firms, with a specialty area in antitrust, consumer protection and data security law. Harbour also served as a commissioner on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission from 2003-10 and in the 1990s as a deputy attorney general of the New York State Attorney General’s Office. Harbour is recognized internationally for her leadership in the field of data privacy.

 “Many of the trailblazers before me overcame adversity at some point in their careers. And I have been and remain inspired by their stories,’’ she said. “Indeed, adversity has had influences in my own life. However, it is not the absence of adversity but rather how one overcomes that determines success.”

Peter Reyes, before being appointed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, worked as a senior intellectual property lawyer at Cargill and as a partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP. He is active in the ABA as a member of the House of Delegates, the Judicial Division, Section of Intellectual Property Law and Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section. He also served on the ABA Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities and the ABA Council for Diversity in the Educational Pipeline. In addition, Reyes served as national president of the Hispanic National Bar Association from 2012-13, and president of the Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association from 2000-03.

During his acceptance speech, Reyes shared publicly for the first time his story of growing up with an alcoholic father who was often violent toward his mother, and whom he saved from being choked to death by his father as a teenager. “To this day I still have nightmares of my father but I did not let that stop me,’’ Reyes said. “I have found my calling as a public servant, as a judge and I’ve learned to carve my own path and I have gained the freedom to love unconditionally and to break down barriers for others who dare to follow.”