TENNESSEE SUPREME COURT JUSTICE
UT Knoxville, ’75, ’78
Part of the Tennessee Alumnus’ 100 Distinguished Alumni feature.
When Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Sharon Lee dons her judicial robes and listens to arguments, she carries with her lessons learned as a small-town attorney.
“I never forget that I’m making important legal decisions that affect people personally,” she says.
Lee worked as an attorney in Madisonville, Tennessee after graduating from UT College of Law until her appointment in 2004 as the first woman to serve on the Eastern Section of the Tennessee Court of Appeals. In 2008, she was appointed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, where she served as chief justice from 2014 to 2016.
“You learn who you really are as a small-town lawyer, and you don’t really change,” she says. “You identify with the people you represented.”
She represented her neighbors in their times of crises, when they depended on the legal system for help. Now, she represents all Tennesseans as part of a fair and impartial five-member court resolving questions of law that run the gamut—from civil and criminal appeals to interpreting the laws and constitutions of Tennessee and the United States.
Whether arguing in front of a judge or listening to legal arguments, Lee follows the same process. She observes a snarled situation and applies the law to untangling it.
“It’s working the puzzle—getting the pieces arranged,” she says.
The skill to put the puzzle together correctly comes from her education at UT.
“I’m truly grateful,” she says, “because without that, I’d never have had the adventures I’ve had and been able to do all the things that I’ve done.”