Monday, July 25, 2022

Jeannie S. Rhee ’97: Giving Back in Many Ways

YLS Courtyard in springtime

When Jeannie S. Rhee ’97 reflects on what Yale Law School means to her, a smile lights up her whole face. “The education that I received at Yale Law School and the doors that it opened have been transformative,” she says.

A successful litigator and former prosecutor, Rhee has had the opportunity to be involved in several high-profile investigations. A few years ago, Rhee worked with Robert Mueller in the Special Counsel’s Office, where she led the team investigating Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election. She has also served as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General during the Obama administration.

One might assume that Rhee grew up destined for the upper echelon of the legal profession; instead, Rhee recounts that she did not speak a word of English when she immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea as a child. She says her father sacrificed a lot to give her this kind of opportunity, but her career path thus far — which Yale Law School opened to her — has been beyond even his wildest dreams. “When I think about the things that I’ve been able to do over the course of my career, it’s extraordinary,” she says. “It’s the least that I can do to now be a committed alum, to say thank you in those smallest of ways.”

Rhee has served as a volunteer for all five of her Yale Law School class reunions, including her upcoming 25th. A steadfast donor to the Annual Fund who, as a Reunion Gift Co-Chair, encourages her classmates to give, Rhee also makes a point of visiting campus at least once a year, often to speak with current students in Yale Law Women or the Yale Law National Security Group. 

In addition to wanting to give back to the school that gave her life-changing opportunities, Rhee also returns year after year because of the Law School’s commitment to training leaders who will uphold the rule of law in tumultuous times. Reflecting on her recent work for the Special Counsel’s Office, Rhee observes that the past few years of the American political landscape have been a crucible for the rule of law. “We’re at this moment in history where everything feels really consequential. The law matters,” she emphasized, “When it feels like maybe it doesn’t matter, it matters.”

Rhee also emphasizes the interwoven threads of the Yale Law School community, past and present. She and her husband, Chris S. Rhee ’97, met as undergrads at Yale College and matriculated at Yale Law School together. Rhee fondly recalled how Professor Henry Hansmann ’74 and his wife took the young couple under their wings, shifting from mentors to family friends over the years, and how Professor Kate Stith has been a “mentor and idol” of hers since her time as a student. The Rhees have also maintained close ties with many classmates, especially those who settled in the D.C. area.

Rhee also prioritizes volunteering because she values representing the diversity of graduates of the Law School. “I’m a minority woman in a profession where, for all the progress that’s been made, more progress can be made,” she says. By taking a seat at the table, she feels that she represents classmates and current students from those demographics and shows what is possible with a Yale Law School education. 

But, she explains, her motivation for involvement goes beyond representation; it gets back to being a part of this community. Just as others did for her, she wants to support the next generation through their often-challenging academic and professional experiences. “The profession is hard for a whole host of reasons,” Rhee says, “but I want to show students that it is not impossible.”