As a child, JoAnn Lee idolized her older brother. Since he wanted to be an attorney, so did she. But her brother changed his mind in high school, opting instead to pursue acting, a calling young JoAnn did not share. What convinced her to follow her legal dreams was the poise of lawyer and U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan during President Nixon’s impeachment hearings in 1974.
“I’d never seen a Black woman like her before,” Lee recalls. “We didn’t grow up seeing or interacting with attorneys, doctors, or judges. My family was just regular blue-collar folks, so hearing Ms. Jordan enunciate, speak so eloquently, and command that room sealed the deal for me.”
Lee began her nearly 40-year legal career in the Harris County (Texas) District Attorney’s Office, quickly ascending to chief prosecutor. She then worked as a trial attorney for Union Pacific Railroad before embarking on a 21-year stint at ExxonMobil. She retired from ExxonMobil in 2020 after serving as assistant general counsel of global litigation and associate general counsel of its 700-person law department.
Throughout her career, Lee advocated tirelessly for equity and diversity and worked to ensure that ExxonMobil fielded litigation teams with women and minorities in meaningful roles. She also focused on in-house equity and inclusion by recruiting, training, mentoring, and championing women and attorneys of color while actively supporting organizations dedicated to those same goals.
For her efforts, Lee received the Women in Law Award for Outstanding Contribution in Gender Diversity from Chambers USA. She was also named a UTA Distinguished Alumna in 2013 and a University of Texas School of Law Outstanding Alumna in 2017. She serves on the UT Law School Foundation Trustee Board and is a Sheffield Power Circle Member of the UT Center for Women in Law.
At UTA, Lee serves on the President’s Advisory Board and helps prepare future legal professionals through generous support of the Pre-Law Center Endowment, which provides hands-on learning opportunities for students.
“The professors and the pre-law curriculum at UTA required me to think more critically,” she says. “The writing and analytical skills I learned contributed to my overall development and were the cornerstone of my strengths as an attorney. For that, I am forever grateful.”