Profiles: David Cheng

David Cheng

David Cheng

JD 99

Chair and Managing Partner of China & Asia Pacific Practice, Nixon Peabody

International Lawyer


One of David's first memories in the U.S. was going on school interviews. The experience was a culture shock. He'd gone from attending an all-boys' academy in Hong Kong to being the only Chinese student at an English-speaking co-ed elementary school in California. By high school, he'd fully settled in. He took up playing the alto saxophone in the school band, then joining the school choir. He played left tackle on the high school football team's offensive line, and he was a good student. Graduating in the top 5% of his class, he applied to a couple of private universities as well as some UC campuses. He chose UC Davis for Microbiology, eventually planning to attend medical school. The summer after high school, he met his future wife, Teresa, a UC Davis student majoring in engineering.

Then it was time for David to figure out what to do with the rest of his life. He'd spent his junior and senior years working part-time for Prudential. He wanted to excel his career and decided to continue his education, but this time in law. He found that the most important advantage wasn't based on the size of the school, but on its focus.

"Golden Gate Law School prepares its students not just for the California Bar exam, but to truly practice law once they graduate. Preparing for the bar exam is much less important than students imagine at the time."

David Cheng graduated with high honors in the top 7% of his class, passed the California, Maryland and Nebraska bar exams on his first try, and had been working on various legal projects and firms.

Cheng augmented his stellar academic achievements with a solid record of internships and paid part-time positions in Bay Area law firms while a GGU Law student. In the first year, he worked at a pro bono clinic in Santa Clara. The summer before his second year, he first interned with GGU Trustee Mark Burton at Hersh and Hersh before being hired part time.

At the time of his graduation in 1999, the GGU Law School Career Services program encouraged him to apply to the US Justice Department's prestigious Honors Program for entry-level attorneys. It was an excellent opportunity to hit the ground running as a litigator, and to begin distinguishing himself as a tax attorney. So David packed up his brand-new law license and headed to Washington, DC. Once there, he enrolled in Georgetown University's LLM Taxation program.

He went on to serve as lead counsel charged with representing the United States in more than 90 civil cases in US district and bankruptcy courts. He was responsible for multimillion-dollar tax-refund suit brought by individuals, partnerships and corporations, and collection and foreclosure suits against individuals, trusts and corporations. David had been with the Department of Justice for four years when Mayer Brown, a global law firm with long historic ties to Hong Kong, recruited him to join its tax controversy team in Palo Alto in 2003. He stayed for five years.

When Cheng joined Nixon Peabody as a partner in 2008, it was with a focus on the firm's new ventures into China. For two years, he split his time between the firm's San Francisco and Shanghai offices. As the firm's interests in China grew, so did Cheng's time spent in the Shanghai office. His San Francisco office was furnished with nothing more than a work table, a couple of chairs and a telephone.

In 2010, David was asked to become the chair and managing partner of the China and Asia Pacific practice, in addition to being a partner in the firm's Global Tax Practice group. He spends 90% of his time in China, so he relocated to Hong Kong in 2010.The Nixon Peabody's China expansion continues on a trajectory with David Cheng at the helm.

Today, Cheng represents a host of US and Chinese companies in cross-border transactions ranging from patents and trademarks to corporate financing and cross-border licensing. He works with both domestic and international bankers, accountants and financial advisers from the United States to the Middle East to Asia. He also is the general counsel of one of China's largest fruit importer/ exporters and of one of the fastest-growing Chinese technology companies. His clients range from Fortune 500 corporations to high-net-worth individuals on a myriad of issues related to international and domestic taxation.

As David Cheng builds a career as one of the best American lawyers practicing in China, he has become a popular speaker on cross-border alliances at legal conferences and is considered one of the country's leading legal authorities on doing business in Asia.

David Cheng has been recognized for exceptional standing in the global legal community in Chambers Global: The World's Leading Lawyers for Business 2014 for Corporate / M&A & Tax, work. He has also been recognized in Chambers in previous years.