The Honorable James H. Burnley IV

Burnley James

Jim Burnley focuses his practice on government relations and regulatory and legislative affairs, with a concentration in transportation matters. Jim served as the U.S. secretary of transportation from 1987 to 1989 and is one of the nation's foremost authorities on transportation law and policy. He also served as deputy secretary of transportation from 1983 to 1987 and was general counsel of the Department in 1983. Prior to his years with the USDOT, Jim served as associate deputy attorney general for the Justice Department and as director of the VISTA Program in the early 1980s.

Jim represents a wide array of transportation clients. He often represents clients before the Department of Transportation, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and other offices in the department. Public policy issues in which he has been engaged include the continuing debate over public-private partnerships; climate change, including cap and trade proposals; the licensing of a privately financed multi-billion-dollar offshore LNG port; the impact of the volatility in petroleum prices on the airline and trucking industries; and statutory changes to increase trucking productivity.

With respect to efforts to attract private equity to U.S. transportation infrastructure, he advises clients on how to protect their legitimate interests while seeking transactions that are politically realistic. He also has extensive experience in more traditional publicly financed projects. For example, he co-chaired the coalition that successfully lobbied for the more than $2 billion required to replace the Wilson Bridge, which is a part of the Washington, DC Beltway.

As outside legislative counsel to American Airlines, Jim played a key role in the crafting and passage of the emergency Airline Transportation Stabilization Act, passed in the days after September 11, 2001 to help save the disaster-challenged U.S. airline industry. Among the provisions upon which he focused, the Act limited the liability of American and United Airlines and their agents at their multi-billion-dollar insurance limits, and it created a federal fund to compensate the victims and their families. He also worked on the provision providing for back-up federal terrorism insurance, without which most major air carriers would have faced grounding for the second time very soon after the attacks. Congressional Quarterly characterized enactment of this package as being "generally regarded as an unrivaled lobbying coup."


Government Experience

  • Secretary of Transportation, United States Department of Transportation
  • Deputy Secretary of Transportation, United States Department of Transportation
  • General Counsel, United States Department of Transportation
  • Associate Deputy Attorney General, United States Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General
  • Vice Chairman of the Board of Commissioners, Virginia Port Authority




  • J.D. Harvard Law School 1973
    • Executive editor, Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review
  • B.A. magna cum laude Yale University 1970

Bar Admissions

  • District of Columbia

Professional Memberships and Activities

  • Chairman, board of directors, Eno Center for Transportation
  • Co-chair, Aviation Working Group, Eno Center for Transportation
  • Former vice chairman, board of commissioners, Virginia Port Authority 
  • Former chairman, Port Study Panel, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation (formerly the National Chamber of Commerce Foundation) 
  • Member, Business Advisory Committee, Transportation Center at Northwestern University
  • Former member, board of directors, Infrasoft, Inc. – a producer of software for the engineering industry
  • Former member, board of directors, MTA Safety Training Systems – a company involved in truck driver training 
  • Former chairman, Jamestown Foundation
  • Past chairman, Intercollegiate Studies Institute
  • Member, Legal Policy Advisory Board, Washington Legal Foundation
  • Co-chair of the coalition that successfully lobbied for the more than $2 billion required to replace the Wilson Bridge, part of the Capital Beltway in Washington, DC
  • Director, Volunteers in Service to America, early 1980s
  • Frequently writes for The Hill, Foreign Affairs, Washington Times, Airport Magazine, and other leading business, policy, and industry publications


  • Global Law Experts, Top U.S. Attorney, Transportation, 2013 (The rankings organization chooses only one lawyer in each key practice area per country across the globe)
  • Martindale-Hubbell, AV® Preeminent Peer Review Rated
  • Corporate INTL, Global Award: Transport Law Firm of the Year, Washington, DC, 2014
  • ACQ, Global Award, 2014
  • International Law Office and Lexology (The sponsoring organizations make the awards to lawyers “globally that stand apart for the excellent client care they provide)
    • Client Choice Award, Shipping and Transport, United States, 2013, 2014
    • Client Choice Award, Shipping and Transport, District of Columbia, 2012 – 2014
  • The Best Lawyers in America, Transportation Law, 2023 – 2024