Student Spotlight: Justin Lee ’23

What do you enjoy about being a NYU Law student?

I know it gets said a lot, but I love the collegiality at NYU Law! When you think about the law school stereotype—or at least when I did—it’s this hyper competitive, best-look-in-your-side mirrors kind of place, but that’s just never been what NYU’s like.

I love the fact that every student I’ve talked to here seems like they want to learn from each other, are humble enough to know that they don’t know everything, and want to help you out. Because I think we all know that you don’t get through three years of law school alone.

Justin Lee ’23
Justin Lee ’23

What first inspired you to pursue a career in law?

Before law school, I worked on a Capitol Hill lobbying team, then in marketing, consulting for government contractors. Across my roles, I had a sneaking realization that the things I thought were the most interesting questions were questions of legal interpretation—things that would go into this black box that we’d turn over to outside counsel. And then these answers and guidance would come back, and we’d follow them like they came down from Mount Olympus.

So eventually, I wanted to know what kind of dark magic was happening in the box—how could it be that two very good lawyers could look at the same problem, the same statutory language, and have totally different answers? Why did they say “It depends” so much? I had to go to law school to find out!

What did you like about being co-chair of the Asian-Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA)?

Being part of APALSA gave me so much of what’s made being at NYU great. From the first week of 1L, it gave me a community: friends, mentors, a home at the law school where I could get professional development, networking, social events, all in one place. And that was especially hard since my class started 1L remotely.

So co-leading APALSA was a huge privilege. It was an opportunity to give other students the same opportunities that I had. We helped the AAPI community navigate the challenges of coming back together—in person—during a pandemic, and I think we really succeeded in renewing our community’s energy. I’ve seen memories made and friendships founded at APALSA events, and every single one’s a win.

Why did you get involved with the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY)?

It goes without saying that the pandemic led to a lot of suffering, and a whole lot of need. That was very true in the AAPI community, but you just saw it everywhere. I wanted to find a way to volunteer and help.

During 1L, APALSA put me in touch with William Lee (’18), a former APALSA co-chair, and he was gracious enough to welcome me onto his committee at AABANY.

Joining AABANY has already paid dividends. It’s been a great outlet to do good outside of the confines of the classroom: helping at pro bono clinics, assisting victims of anti-Asian violence, and creating alliances between community orgs.

I’ve also built great relationships in the legal community. I’ve forged mentorships with experienced attorneys, and mentioning AABANY has gotten me in the door in some surprising places!

This year, I’m serving as Vice Chair of AABANY’s Student Outreach Committee, and I’m excited to see what we can do!

Can you point to any valuable lessons or takeaways from being a student leader?

The most valuable thing I’ve learned is that being a “student leader” is not about you.

No matter what role you have in an organization, in a community, what have you, the most important thing is that you are just an instrument to get whatever job that needs doing done. The only thing that changes as you get labeled a “leader” is how much of that same effort, that same initiative, is expected of you.

What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of the classroom?

A fight gym opened in my building recently, so I’ve gotten very into boxing. My friends will tell you I never stop yapping about it! I love thinking about the tactical considerations of a fight and that special sort of collegiality and sportsmanship that you share with a sparring partner.

Plus, I want to be a litigator, so it can’t be bad practice for dealing with adverse parties!

What has been your favorite law school class so far?

That’s the hardest question so far! It’s hard to pick one, but I’m going with the Housing Law Externship with the Legal Aid Society because of the hands-on experience.

Not only did I help people in need and get client management experience, but it was so cool applying what I learned in my doctrinal classes. It’s one thing to learn about notice requirements or motions to dismiss. It’s another thing to write an answer that succeeds in getting a case thrown out because notice was inadequate. And nothing burns the rules of a motion to dismiss into your brain like arguing one in front of a real judge in a real courtroom! Also, I definitely didn’t know how fun the litigation process could be!

Posted on September 21, 2022