University of Utah alumnus takes his talents to New York City law firm


Photo taken by Shanna Richmond

When James Clegg graduated from the University of Utah in 2006 he had a career plan. But he had no idea that, in a few short years, he would be working as a lawyer in New York City.

After the U, James spent years at two more universities before he ended up at Mayer-Brown, one of the leading corporate law firms in downtown New York City.

James, or “Jace” as he is known to family and close friends, was born in Farmington, Utah, in 1981 but spent three years in England while his parents fulfilled religious duties for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He graduated from Davis High School in 2000 and then served his LDS mission in Hong Kong.

James met his wife, Christy, after he got back from his mission. They had both spent time overseas while growing up, and having that in common led to almost immediate chemistry. They were married in August 2004, about eight months after they had started dating.

After earning a degree in English from the U, James attended law school at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Even as early as 7th grade, he knew he wanted to be a lawyer; at the time, though, he was partial to Yale.

“Growing up, I always thought that I wanted to be a lawyer,” James said. “People told me they felt like I had an aptitude for it because I like to argue.”

He decided to go to Cornell because it had the best international law program of all the schools he was accepted to. James learned one form of Chinese, Cantonese, on his mission in Hong Kong, and took six classes at the U learning Mandarin Chinese. He had originally hoped to return to China to practice law.

“When I was interviewing at different firms, that’s why I picked Mayer-Brown. … They have a large Hong Kong office,” James said. Along the way, however, he discovered that he might want to take a different path. “As I went through law school, I found that I had an aptitude for tax,” he said.

“In the legal world, if you want to do tax law, you have to have a specialization,” James said. So, after graduating with honors from Cornell in 2010, James decided to enroll at the tax law program at New York University, which is widely regarded as the “gold standard” of tax specialization. Tax law was something that really resonated with James, and he enjoys his current duties with Mayer-Brown. The firm handles contracts for loans, mergers and securitizations for multiple large companies, including BlackBerry.

He finished the program at NYU in 2011 and now works full time at Mayer-Brown. “I really like that it’s very cutting edge, very high-level legal work,” James said. “It’s really scary when you think about, ‘If I screw this up I could literally cost this person millions of dollars.’”

James’ wife Christy, also a University of Utah alumna, does social work in New York City. She does adoption work with adoptive parents, as well as counseling for adults. Though both are very serious about their career paths, things are not all business all the time.
Asked for one word to describe James, Christy responded, “He’s a jokester. He is kind of silly.”

James did concede that he tries to be funny, and that includes having a little fun with friends who are not very familiar with his Mormon faith. He once told a friend that Mormons believe that it is sacrilegious to eat turkey on Thanksgiving.

James is an avid follower of the U’s football team, and so far has been disappointed by the first season in the Pac-12 conference.

“I think that it’s pretty evident that we don’t have Pac-12 talent just yet,” James said. He misses going to football games in Rice-Eccles stadium, and was glad he could attend the Utah-Washington game on Oct. 1, 2011, while he was in town for the weekend.

While in New York, he catches the Utah games in the Flat Iron area of the city at a bar that is the official sports bar of the local chapter of the U’s alumni association. On any given game night, James said, between 70 and 80 Utah alumni show up to enjoy the game.

James has always had a plan for his next four or five years, but says that right now he is not sure where he wants to go. One option he has considered is going to work for a private equity firm, an area where he does have some experience from an internship he did while he was studying tax law at NYU. Although James would be open to opportunities overseas, both he and Christy plan on being in New York for some time to come. Christy even said she would like to start a family sometime soon.