Stephen Lee

inducted 2019 Service

About Stephen Lee

Growing up in a big, noisy, imperfect family, Stephen Lee learned early in life that if you want something, you have to go for it. And you have to go for it without fear of failure, because such a fear keeps you small. Coming from a family of 12 children that included seven boisterous brothers, Steven was never going to live small.

It is this attitude that drove Stephen to take up running as a student after being inspired by his Phys Ed teacher, Paul Glynn, who would take the boys running along Moore St. Stephen later went on to compete in marathons and play State grade competitive squash for over 20 years.

It is this attitude that saw Stephen take up the guitar after watching his Year 12 politics teacher, Frank Fitzgerald, play during a school retreat. Frank said he could hold on to the guitar for a year, and if he liked it, he could buy one. Stephen loved it and he later went on to play and sing for audiences, including at the Spaghetti Tree and Spaghetti Theatre in Melbourne. It is this attitude that has seen Stephen travel around the world 3 times and travel to over 26 countries, so far.

And it is this attitude that has seen Stephen become a highly successful lawyer and now magistrate, despite being warned by a careers counsellor that to enter law school, he would need straight A’s - something that the counsellor obviously thought was beyond the long-distance running, guitar-playing Stephen. “I’ll show you,” Stephen remembers thinking, and he did.

Stephen was accepted directly into Melbourne University Law and Commerce and completed both degrees. Like many young people who move from the country to study in Melbourne, Stephen remembers feeling torn between his new city life and his old country life. To ease that longing, he came back on the red rattler train to play football for South Warrnambool. He would also use those visits home, when he was about 19, to visit the Warrnambool Magistrates’ Court, where he was transfixed by the proceedings. The young law student could see the enormous impact the magistrate had on the individuals in the courtroom and, by extension, the broader community. “This is what I want to do one day,” he thought at the time. After finishing University in 1985, Stephen went into private practice but the fit never felt right and he changed jobs three times in three years.

It was only when Frank Fitzgerald’s father (for whom Stephen was gardening and labouring for on weekends and who was a mentor to Stephen) suggested that he apply for a job with the Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office that Stephen found his niche in public interest litigation.

Stephen went on to work for the office for almost 30 years. In 2001 he was appointed the youngest ever Assistant Victorian Government Solicitor (VGSO), at only 39 years of age. For the next 15 years until 2015, Stephen was responsible for the State of Victoria’s civil litigation and dispute resolution. It was with the VGSO that Stephen began to fulfil his dream of using his legal skills to make a real difference to people’s lives.

For example, Stephen was deeply committed to ensuring that Victoria, as a ‘model litigant’, conducted all its cases fairly and with complete propriety, so that the State did not abuse its power against its own citizens. In addition, from 2012 to 2015, Stephen headed the State’s legal team for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Stephen says, “The Royal Commission changed the entire cultural environment. Society now believes the victims.”

Although initially in charge of only six lawyers when appointed in 2001, Stephen eventually headed up over 45 lawyers, and a total of 60 staff across six teams who dealt with approximately 1,000 litigation cases simultaneously.

At the start of 2016, Stephen was appointed to the role of Assistant Victorian Government Solicitor, Police, and headed up a team of 13 lawyers providing specialist legal services to Victoria Police across a vast array of operational areas of policing, with a strong criminal law focus.

In July 2018, the former teenager who once sat in the courtrooms in Gilles Street Warrnambool, dreaming of becoming a magistrate, was appointed to the bench. In Magistrate Lee’s own words, he “threw the best, biggest party” to celebrate what has been a long and fulfilling journey.

Stephen Lee

2019 Inspiring Alumni

Stephen Lee