Amber Lee (JD '11): Fighting for Justice
VENTURA, CA - Amber Lee has to call us back later. She’s in the middle of jury deliberations on a first-degree/residential burglary and domestic violence case. As a a deputy Ventura County district attorney, Lee may handle up to forty cases at a time. “It becomes second nature,” she explains, “where you compartmentalize the facts of the case and the different intricacies.” A 2011 graduate of Pepperdine Law with a certificate from the Criminal Legal Practice Program, Lee knew precisely where she was meant to land in her chosen profession-as a prosecutor and voice for the people.
“There’s a great deal of responsibility that we have as prosecutors so that victims feel like they’re being heard, and justice is done.”
Rarely is there a lull in the daily responsibilities of a deputy district attorney. Between preliminary hearings, court appearances, filing cases, and writing trial briefs, Lee still manages to get into what she calls the “nitty gritty” of each and every case she is assigned. She says that being a prosecutor is an inborn part of her personality. “When I went to law school, I flirted with other jobs, ones that pay more, but I couldn't wrap my head around fighting for money or fighting for contracts.” After years as a prosecutor in the domestic violence unit, guiding victims through the criminal justice process, Lee has recently been reassigned to the serious and violent felonies unit. It sounds like grim work to be faced with everyday, but it is what Lee feels is her calling. Lee confirms, “I went into law school knowing I wanted to be a prosecutor.”
Goal-oriented and nothing short of ambitious, Lee describes how she ended up at Pepperdine Law. While an undergraduate student at UCLA, Lee sat in as then Los Angeles County DA Alan Jackson (JD ‘94) led the prosecution of the Phil Spector murder trial. She says that she was so impressed with by his presentation of the case that she knew she needed to emulate what she saw in order to find success as a prosecutor. With a little research, Lee learned that Jackson took trial advocacy with Professor Harry Caldwell, thus leading her to Pepperdine. “I went in looking for him,” she admits. In order to learn everything she could, she relentlessly studied his books on trial advocacy and closing arguments. Lee says of Professor Caldwell, “He made my experience at Pepperdine Law what it is.” Working under Caldwell for two years, Lee learned the trial tools that would eventually land her in her current role as a DA.
“The only responsibility I have is to do the right thing that aligns with the law, my faith, and how I was raised.”
Despite a perpetually full schedule, Lee returns to the law school from time-to-time to help Professor Caldwell in preparing the trial team for competitions. She also says that on occasion students will contact her in the run-up to the Bar Exam, and she gladly provides them with insight and realistic expectations. In the true spirit of a Pepperdine alumni, Lee expresses, “I feel obligated to help because when I was there, I didn't know very many prosecutors other than the adjunct professors. If I can lend a hand helping to people who want to be prosecutors, then I feel like there’s an obligation to pay it forward.”
As someone who recognized her convictions early-on, we asked Lee to conclude with her best piece of advice for 1L students. “Spread a wide net,” she says, “so that you can find what you’re passionate about.” Above all, though, “Give yourself a good reputation so that people are willing to fight for you.”