Sean Reyes ’97 has always embraced Utah’s pioneer spirit in 10 years of legal practice since graduating from Boalt Hall. In recognition of his trailblazing achievements advancing minority participation in Utah’s legal system, Reyes recently became the first winner of the American Bar Association (ABA) National Outstanding Young Lawyer award. He was chosen ahead of 24 other nominated lawyers for his legal skills, local and national bar leadership, and dedication to public service.
“To be highlighted among such an outstanding group of people is quite an honor,” says Reyes, who will receive the award this February in Los Angeles. “One of the most important things is it brings attention to the minority communities that I champion, and helps to further their causes. It also gives minority youth someone they can look to and say, ‘If he can do it, I can do it,’ because I came from similar circumstances. It sounds trite, but I tell them ‘If you work hard and stay disciplined, anything is possible. But on your way, you have to give back to others.’ To have the ABA validate that message is very meaningful to me.”
A partner at Utah’s largest firm, Parsons Behle & Latimer, Reyes was one of the state’s first minority attorneys to be named partner at a major practice. During his tenure as president of the Utah Minority Bar Association, the organization received awards from the ABA and Utah State Bar as Reyes convinced many Utah firms to sign a diversity pledge and raised over $100,000 to honor the state’s first 50 minority lawyers and fund scholarships for minority law students. Last year, the Utah State Bar named Reyes its 2006 Young Lawyer of the Year for his diligent efforts to nurture diversity in the state’s legal profession. Minorities comprise 15% of Utah’s residents, but only 3% of its bar members.
Reyes specializes in complex commercial litigation, and is a member of his firm’s employment law department. He is a strong voice for minority businesses in the state, serving as a director of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Vice-President and founding member of the Utah Hispanic Business Leadership Foundation, and board member with the Utah Asian Chamber of Commerce. In addition, Reyes mentors law students of color and coordinates judges and other attorneys to meet with them for mentoring. He also supervised training in a service program that taught English to thousands of immigrants in the Salt Lake City area, and he helped to create several community-outreach programs.
Last year, Utah Business Magazine named Reyes one of the 40 most influential business persons in Utah under the age of 40. The son of immigrant parents—his father is a Spanish-Filipino artist-businessman and his mother is a Japanese-Hawaiian teacher—Reyes grew up in fairly humble circumstances near Los Angeles. His commitment to minority causes grew during a two-year Mormon mission in the barrios of Chicago, and was then further enhanced at Boalt.
“I learned a great deal about public service during law school,” says Reyes, who was an executive board member for Boalt’s Asian Law Journal. “It strengthened my commitment to minority issues, especially having so many classmates who were intent on using their legal training to help others. I carried that commitment into my professional life, and it has been very gratifying to work on community issues that are so important to me.”
With four children and another one on the way, the demanding work schedule of a law firm partner, and his extensive civic obligations, Reyes points to a single reason for being able to juggle it all. “My wife, Saysha,” he says with a laugh. “Honestly, having the greatest wife in the world is the only way it’s possible.”
– By Andrew Cohen