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Juan Zúñiga is managing partner at Rimon Law in San Diego. Courtesy Photo.
Juan Zúñiga is managing partner at Rimon Law in San Diego. Courtesy Photo.

This innovative Latino lawyer is breaking barriers in the legal industry with commitment and dedication

Juan E. Zúñiga was recently appointed as managing partner at Rimon Law, becoming one of the first Latinx leaders of a major law firm.

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Rimon Law is one of the premier law firms of the new age, utilizing an innovative technological platform that seeks to disrupt the 500-year-old law model.

It does so by allowing employees to get autonomy in work hours, location, and most importantly, culture, effectively engaging its roughly 200 employees across 46 offices on five different continents. 

In October 2022, Rimon Law made a historic hire, appointing Juan E. Zúñiga as its managing partner after 9 years with the firm. 

In the newly created role, Zúñiga is in charge of overseeing the next stage of development from the firm’s San Diego office, effectively becoming one of the first Latinx lawyers to lead a major international or U.S. law firm.

At the time of the announcement, Zúñiga told AL DÍA that this wasn’t a role he could have ever predicted for himself. 

“I never thought I would be in a management position,” he said. “I thought I would always be practicing law and representing our clients in their business transactions.”

Despite not anticipating this new managerial role, Zúñiga has prepared for it and displayed tremendous positive impact over his 30-plus years in the legal profession.

Each endeavor throughout his career has been a stepping stone to the role he now holds today. 

A Chip off the Old Block

Zúñiga grew up in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, and is the child of Mexican immigrants.

His father was a small business owner, who ran an accounting firm helping customers with bookkeeping and filing tax returns. However, his help and impact didn’t stop there. 

Zúñiga describes his father as “a bit of pioneer in figuring out how to help people with all kinds of different issues they have.” 

In the 1980s, when many immigrants were migrating to the area, Zúñiga’s father began to see an influx of customers who needed help completing their immigration paperwork.

During one particular season, Zúñiga worked with his father in helping customers with whatever services they needed.

“And I realized that here’s my dad who had no formal training, but was just a smart guy and willing to work hard, having a transformational impact on other people’s lives in the Latino community in Los Angeles in the 1980s,” said Zúñiga.

That experience, and subsequent realization, was a crucial one for Zúñiga and helped him decide on his own career trajectory. 

The way his father was able to make such a transformational impact on other immigrants’ lives, helping them develop a new source of pride while navigating a new country was not lost on him. 

His mindset was, “if you’re smart and you can figure things out, you can impact other people’s lives.”

That mindset is what inspired Zúñiga to apply to law school, eventually attend Harvard Law School, and begin his law practice.

“I pretty much set my sights on this practice of doing service and good,” he said. 

Developing a Niche Focus

After graduating from law school, Zúñiga began his professional career as an associate attorney at an LA law firm. 

There, he worked in litigation and bankruptcy law. As his career progressed, he primarily worked at big law firms, and international law firms.

Over time, he developed his legal craft as an international transactions attorney working on cross-border deals throughout the United States and Mexico, as well as other countries throughout Latin America and the world. 

His focus has been on buying and selling real estate, mergers and acquisitions, overseas distribution agreements, international joint ventures, foreign trade and commerce, and others.

While Zúñiga has a professional connection with these legal transactions, his work has also had a personal impact on him, as well. 

“I get to live my heritage everyday,” he said. “Having been born in the U.S. to Mexican parents and being able to be an effective bridge between two countries is just fantastic. I’m living the dream in that sense.”

While he frequently visited Mexico growing up, Zúñiga later came to see a major contrast between the two bordering countries. 

As he became a lawyer, he had to learn that there is a different way to communicate and present yourself, especially as it pertains to business transactions. 

These interactions have helped him become a better professional, but also better ybderstand the dynamics of the business culture and values betweens the U.S. and Mexico. 

In recent years, Zúñiga has developed a very opportunistic viewpoint about where Mexico is heading.

“People are much more entrepreneurial and creative and forward-looking,” he said. “It’s actually a really exciting time for me personally to be able to live through this particular transition and see how it affects my clients and then impacts me in my practice of law.”

Innovation into Entrepreneurship

After working in traditional law for more than a decade, Zúñiga wanted the opportunity to do something different, and gain more independence.

In his words, he wanted to “set the course of my career, and the clients that I want to represent and the types of matters that I wanted to handle as a lawyer.”

Having the foresight regarding available opportunities in the cross border legal space between the U.S. and Mexico, Zúñiga established his own boutique law firm, launching Cross Border Law Group in 2007.

“One of the things I wanted to do was to distinguish myself,” Zúñiga said about why he initially established his own firm. “I didn’t want to be another John and Jane Doe and Associates, or Law Offices of Sammy Smith. I wanted a concept, I wanted a brand.” 

While operating Cross Border Law Group, Zúñiga set out “sit fluidly in two different countries,” and provide guidance and advice for clients who were looking to enter into a new marketplace and needed counsel and wisdom.

In many ways, he was able to do just that.

Merger Leads to Historic Hire

In 2013, Zúñiga joined Rimon Law by merging Cross Border Law Group with the firm.

Since joining Rimon Law, Zúñiga has successfully brought his decades of experience in the real estate and cross border legal sector to the innovative international firm.

While fully embracing innovative ways to best serve its clients, the pandemic provided a crucial time for innovation to lead the way.

As many small businesses were on edge, wondering how they would be able to survive the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, Rimon Law attorneys kept busy leveraging their expertise to help small businesses during their time of crisis.  

The firm reached out to a pro bono legal services clinic that houses a micro business and entrepreneur unit. From there, Rimon lawyers provided remote pro bono services to small business clients. 

“We ended up probably providing a couple hundred hours of free pro bono legal services to entrepreneurs and small businesses,” said Zúñiga.

While he admits that the pandemic has created issues and challenges for the firm and its clients, it has also created opportunities to solve these very issues. 

Now in his current managerial role, Zúñiga noted that three key traits that have guided him along the way are being good at what he does, his ability to work well with others, and his tendency to build trust. 

His goal is to create strategic and thoughtful growth throughout the firm to help Rimon Law become a true market leader not just in the U.S., but globally. 

“As the managing partner of an international law firm, I’m looking for those opportunities,” he said. “I want to find those countries in which [I can help] build their profile on the world stage.”

“I want our law firm to be cutting edge and to be in places that other people aren’t looking towards,” he continued. 

In addition to this, the new managing partner role affords Zúñiga the opportunity to help partners at the firm develop, create and grow their practice. 

Advocating for More Diversity in Law

Despite his sustained success in the legal profession, Zúñiga has not been immune to microaggressions. 

“I’ll be quite honest, people will look at me differently because of my name,” he said. “And then later, they’ll dig out to me that I went to Harvard and all of a sudden, their attitude towards me shifts.”

“There’s this baseline notion that if you come from a minority community, people are going to subconsciously look at you differently, address you differently, have different assumptions about you, and then you disclose something about yourself and all of a sudden, a door opens,” he continued. “But it’s a shame that the door was never open from the beginning.”

Given this dynamic, advocating for diversity, equity and inclusion has been a personal mission of his.

During the onset of the social unrest following the murder of George Floyd, Zúñiga made sure to express his support for the African American partners at the firm, and the community overall.

Taking it a step further, he helped launch a new internship program for entry-level law students in their first years.

“Knowing that the African American community is disproportionately underrepresented amongst lawyers and then underrepresented in elite law schools, we wanted to find someone and say, ‘hey, step in with us, we’ll give you some tools and skill sets that will allow you to put something on your résumé and you can take it from there,’” said Zúñiga.

The same can be said about the Latinx community, and other diverse communities of color. More representation is needed in the profession. 

“Diversity and inclusion is critical to the legal industry because one of the most important attributes you can have as a lawyer is clear and creative thinking, and diversity in backgrounds brings more perspective to the table to create the circumstances there you can get more celar and creative thinking,” he added. 

Advice: Be Committed and Driven

Given his experience in the profession, Zúñiga can confidently saw that the legal profession is a demanding one.

“It’s a profession that requires you to take on the problems of other people and try to find solutions for them,” he explained. “You’ve got to do for someone else what they can’t do for themselves.”

That is the first piece of advice he would give to those who may be contemplating a career in law. 

For those, like him, who may come from a diverse background, he advises those individuals to be prepared for likely cases of bias and subconscious prejudice. However, his advice is to find a way to turn them into an advantage. 

“If someone’s going to underestimate [you], then what you can do is actually come out ahead because what you’re doing is taking advantage of that psychological opportunity to get more for [yourself] and your client at the end of the day,” said Zúñiga. 

Lastly, Zúñiga wholeheartedly believes it is crucial to give back.

“There’s something about that that makes this job, makes the profession enriching,” he said. 

“An attorney has a special ability to change lives more so than a lot of other professions.”

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