From practicing corporate law to making the case for dolphins: Alice Lee’s journey

This is the second in a series of profiles of students from the Harvard Law School Class of 2016.

Alice Lee LL.M. ’16

Credit: Lorin Granger/HLS Staff Photographer Alice Lee LL.M. ’16

As Alice Lee LL.M. ’16 talks about her decision to pursue an LL.M. degree in the United States, she breaks into a smile. “I love animals and wildlife. I just feel something for them.” After two years practicing corporate law in Taiwan following her undergraduate dual degrees in law and biology, she decided that it was time to finally pursue her dream: work to protect animals and the environment.

As the daughter of two Harvard postdocs in biochemistry, Lee was born just across the river from HLS in the Longwood area of Boston, but grew up in Taiwan. “At every point in my schooling, my parents said, ‘What about going to the U.S.?’ After junior high, after high school, after college, and then finally I realized it was time.”

In 2012, while awaiting her Taiwan bar exam results, Lee embarked on her first formal role in environmental protection. She donned her Greenpeace outfit, and armed with her clipboard, she approached passersby on the street with petitions and a plea for donations. To her surprise, it was quite rewarding. “It’s fun. You see who you’re sharing the planet with, and these people, collectively, have the power to shape the political debate. It’s good to know what they’re thinking and why they do or don’t have a lot of concern for the environment. Even if they don’t want to become a supporter, it’s always good talking with them,” recalls Lee.

At HLS, Lee participated in the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic; enrolled in Environmental Law with Professor Jody Freeman, Wildlife Law with Lecturer on Law Jonathan Lovvorn, and the Supreme Court and Environmental Law seminar with Professor Richard Lazarus; and also audited Animal Law with Professor Kristen Stilt.

Outside the classroom, Lee’s immersion in the field twice took her to Washington, D.C. In the fall, as part of Lazarus’s seminar, she and fellow students heard oral arguments in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission v. Electric Power Supply Association at the Supreme Court. “Listening to the arguments gave me a glimpse into real world U.S. environmental law litigation. It was wonderful to meet and hear the thoughts of each side’s counsel and the solicitor general—it was a real privilege to learn from them, and an excellent complement to both the seminar and my environmental law course,” recalls Lee.

This spring she returned to D.C. with the HLS Student Animal Legal Defense Fund. They met with animal protection lawyers and advocates from the Humane Society of the United States, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Animal Welfare Institute. “Hearing these brilliant people talk about their work for animals was the ultimate inspiring experience,” says Lee.

Through her own LL.M. paper, Lee is hoping to further the protection of animals—in particular, the Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphin. On the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the species now has an estimated population of fewer than 74. Of the many threats to the dolphins, including air and water pollution and human activity such as dam building, Lee decided to focus on those brought about by the fishing industry, primarily by-catch (unintentional capture) and entanglement (death or injury caused by fishing nets). Her paper identifies problems in the Taiwanese wildlife habitat plan and the wildlife conservation act, examines existing U.S. structures, and suggests improvements for the conservation of endangered dolphins in Taiwan based on her comparative analysis.

While the U.S. has developed supportive legal frameworks in response to fishing industry practices that harm marine wildlife, Lee explains that Taiwan crucially omitted the commercial fishing sector from its 2014 wildlife habitat plan.

The 2014 plan designated a major area of the Taiwanese coastline as a protected habitat, subjecting any development carried out in the habitat to scrutiny and a possible impact assessment. However, the plan also included a caveat: All existing fishing activities could continue as usual.

Additionally, Taiwan’s wildlife conservation agency categorized entanglement injuries or deaths as “hunts,” which subjected fishermen to severe criminal penalties. The government issued an explanatory order as a solution: to avoid penalty, the ensnared animal—dead or alive—must simply be returned to the water. “This protects the fishermen and makes things easier for the enforcement agency, but obviously not the dolphins—this is the biggest problem I’ve identified,” says Lee.

Lee examined the case of the North Atlantic right whale to compare specific protections under U.S. law against those under Taiwan’s wildlife conservation act. Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation and research for the Humane Society of the U.S., connected Lee with a scientist and a lawyer working to enhance the right whale’s protections within the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan. “Discussing their efforts and strategies, as well as the problems they’ve encountered, has really enhanced my understanding of how U.S. law works in practice,” says Lee.

Lee hopes that her paper will bring awareness of the weaknesses in Taiwanese laws, as well as of the overall plight of the dolphins: “Nobody has ever written about these laws with regard to the dolphins, so I hope that my paper will start some debate and that we can find a better way to protect our dolphins.”

After graduation, Lee will study for the New York bar exam and then head to Washington, D.C., for an internship in the International Section of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of General Counsel. She hopes to focus on marine mammals, biodiversity, wildlife conservation and marine pollution: “I’m really looking forward to this internship. I am determined to try my best to make a difference for animals and the environment.”