Fighting for the vulnerable

March 21, 2016
San Mateo Daily Journal

Earlier this month, Marie Hatch, 97, died following an eviction notice from her Burlingame home of 66 years. Nanci Nishimura and Nancy Fineman, together with their law firm, Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, volunteered for Hatch’s cause free of charge. This is not an unusual for Nishimura or for that matter her firm, which is renowned for its pro bono work.

A San Mateo resident, Nishimura was named one of the Top 100 Women Litigators in California in 2010 and a super lawyer for the past decade — those who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. Her focus is on antitrust, business litigation and consumer class actions. She has taken on Wall Street as the lead attorney in the municipal derivatives litigation on behalf of dozens of California cities, counties and public agencies alleging that Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citibank and other major financial players were involved in a conspiracy to manipulate the municipal derivatives market.


So whether it’s an elderly Burlingame woman facing eviction or local government trying to regain funds lost by excessive greed and risk-taking, Nishimura is out there fighting the good fight. How did this attractive, diminutive woman become such a force?

She was born and raised in East Los Angeles and her early years spent living with paternal grandparents. When World War II began, the entire family was sent to internment camps. Her maternal grandparents lost their dry cleaning business and all of their belongings. Fortunately, her paternal grandparents’ property was cared for by a neighbor.

“After the war, my paternal grandfather climbed on a bike, grabbed a rake and became a gardener to silent movie stars up in the Hollywood Hills. My grandparents all became U.S. citizens after the war.”

When Nishimura and her siblings went to high school in East Los Angeles, her mother went to college and became an elementary school teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District. Her father was a finish carpenter and cabinet maker. Some of his handiwork can still be found in the old Japanese restaurants and shops in Little Tokyo, near downtown Los Angeles. When he was young, he was the finish carpenter for the Japanese Tea House, at the Huntington Museum in Pasadena, which still stands today.


While an undergrad at the University of Southern California, instead of graduating a year early, she moved to Japan and completed her fourth year at Waseda University, Tokyo, where she taught English to pay the bills. An adventurer, she traveled alone throughout Southeast Asia during the collapse of the Vietnam War.

“ I saw, heard, and experienced life lessons one will never read in a book,” she said.

Nishimura returned to USC for a graduate degree in international relations, but took advantage of USC’s international programs, and completed her master’s degree at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.

“Although I had law school on my mind, I wanted a portfolio of life experiences first. Also, I had no confidence and was very self-conscious. It took me years to find my center of gravity. After a career in business and design (in management positions in Japan), I closed my eyes and jumped into law school at Catholic University, Washington, D.C.,” she said.

Nishimura intended to practice transactional law in Asia, but her law firms’ opening was in litigation.

“Who would’ve thought an Asian girl raised to keep quiet would end up in a courtroom,” she said.

She worked with the Cotchett firm for years as co-counsel in Los Angeles, then joined the firm in 2002, became partner in 2006. Her favorite and long-standing clients include San Mateo, Los Angeles and San Diego counties.

“The best part of being a lawyer is the ability to make a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “The mission of the Cotchett firm, that is consistent with who I am, is to pursue just causes — represent those who have no voice — who could be plaintiffs who have been harmed, or defendants who have been wrongly sued.

“Pro bono work is personally gratifying. Volunteerism is expected of everyone at this firm.”

As for working with Joe Cotchett, “he has uncanny instincts in the courtroom. Watching Joe is like taking a master class in trial advocacy,” she said... (To read the entire article, please click HERE)