The American Bar Association and Judge Advocate Association recently awarded the 2023 American Bar Association Outstanding Military Lawyer of the Year to a Portsmouth-based lawyer.
Cmdr. Karen Lee, the deputy staff judge advocate for the Coast Guard 5th District located in Portsmouth, Virginia, was recognized and honored at the yearly ABA Young Lawyers Division meeting held on August 4, 2023.
This award recognizes the legal contributions of one young judge advocate from each uniformed service. Nominees must be a licensed attorney who is on active duty and under the age of 36 or were recently admitted to practice by their bar within the past five years. Nominees are not required to be members of the American Bar Association.
Each year the YLD and JAA solicits nominations from the Judge Advocate Generals Corps of each service for the YLD and JAA Outstanding Young Military Lawyer Award.
“It was a bit overwhelming to be amongst the amazing attorneys who have received the award in the past both in the Coast Guard and other services,” said Lee. “Like most lawyers, I wanted to help people,” said Lee. “Not just people who were in trouble or in low points in their life but also the everyday of assisting people and making their jobs easier. I originally thought of law as a career after assisting a junior enlisted member that I supervised several years ago with obtaining his citizenship. It was such a consuming process and he kept getting shoved aside and would have to redo things. It really made me think this is what I want to do moving forward, just help navigate someone through a process so their life is easier.”
Prior to this assignment, Lee served as the senior staff attorney at Coast Guard Atlantic Area located in Portsmouth, Virginia and as a Command Services Attorney at Legal Service Command in Norfolk, Virginia.
Lee’s operational tours include the Chief, Port Safety and Security at Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads managing both active and reserve personnel to implement all marine safety, security, and environmental protection missions including foreign vessel exams, waterfront facility exams, and container inspections.
Previously, Lee served as a search and rescue (SAR) Controller and command duty officer at Coast Guard Atlantic Area in Portsmouth, Virginia, coordinating cases in marine safety, law enforcement, and search and rescue throughout the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico. Prior to the command center, Lee served as a port state control officer and incident management division chief at Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Savannah in Savannah, Georgia. There, Lee was a first responder to oil and chemical pollution incidents and a commercial vessel inspector. Lee’s first assignment after enlisting in the Coast Guard in 2005 was Air Station Atlantic City in Atlantic City, New Jersey.