From a young age, Ritchie Lee dreamed of becoming a public defender. Growing up in San Francisco, Lee said he saw his peers unfairly targeted by law enforcement. He said it inspired him to fight against the injustice he saw playing out in his community.
“Growing up, I came across many amazing people,” Lee said. “But this city fails to give everyone a fair opportunity. In many cases, it seems like the systems we live in actively serve to target certain groups.”
This past summer, Lee moved one step closer to achieving his dream when he worked as an intern at the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, where he represented indigent clients through court appearances, legal research and writing.
After his graduation from UC Hastings in May, he plans to work for the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office.
For Lee, representing those who can’t afford high-priced lawyers isn’t just about making the justice system fairer. It’s also about fulfilling the promise of the American dream – the idea that even those from disadvantaged communities can work hard and find success.
“I believe there is a lot of talent and potential in my community,” Lee said. “But unfortunately, many do not get the opportunity to realize their potential because of our criminal justice system. I want to create a world where everybody can be free and be able to live the lives they want to and chase their dreams.”
Lee, who grew up in an immigrant Cantonese-speaking family, is the first generation of his family to graduate from college.
During his time at UC Hastings, Lee got involved with the Legal Education Opportunity Program, Social Justice Lawyering Concentration, Asian Pacific American Law Student Association and Hastings Boxing Club. He also served as editor-in-chief of the Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal, where he strived to amplify voices and perspectives of those historically excluded from the legal field.
In his first summer of law school, Lee worked with the W. Haywood Burns Institute, a public advocacy group dedicated to combating structural racism. Additionally, he worked as a judicial extern at the California Court of Appeal, First District Division Four, for the Honorable Justice Jon B. Streeter.
According to Lee, all these experiences helped prepare him for future success in his budding legal career.
“My judicial externship not only provided me with many opportunities to become a stronger writer, but it also gave me the confidence that I am capable of tackling any legal issues I may encounter,” Lee said
To those considering seeking a law degree at UC Hastings, Lee warns it’s not easy but the school offers a strong support system. “What makes UC Hastings unique is the variety of different resources and mentors that are ready and willing to help support you chase your dreams while you are in law school. UC Hastings is a very supportive community that has played a significant role in helping me become a better version of myself every year.”