Motivating Factor: Alum’s lasting commitment to the law and environment

You couldn’t have planned the life trajectory of Julia Klee ’80 even if you tried. “Opportunities just presented themselves,” Klee recalls. “I never thought about making a fortune. I thought about making a contribution. As a refugee I thought, ‘Why am I alive when so many people died?’ That question drove me.”

Photo of Julia in a white shirt, sunhat and sunglasses, leaning against a wooden fence.

Julia Klee ’80

Klee was just a toddler when her family fled from Lithuania toward the end of World War II. They were assigned to a displaced persons’ camp in the U.S.-controlled sector of post-war Germany and eventually applied to live in the United States. Klee graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a degree in chemistry.

Klee moved to San Francisco in 1969, then volunteered for the Peace Corps in Kenya in the early 1970s. When she came back to California, she worked in environmental compliance before deciding to study law. “I thought I could make more of an impact on environmental issues if I studied law,” she says. “I could combine my background in science with law. It just fits.”

After graduating from Berkeley Law, Klee worked in the environmental business division of a law firm — one of the country’s few practices like it at the time. She also worked for UC Berkeley’s Office of Environment, Health & Safety, where she connected with faculty members at the Rausser College of Natural Resources (RCNR) and the Energy & Resources Group.

The university has so much strength across disciplines. But I’m showing support in areas that mean a lot to me …” — Julia Klee

Klee later worked for a now-closed commission of the United Nations that paid compensation for losses and damage suffered during Iraq’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait in 1990–91. She and her husband, Howard, lived in Switzerland for 22 years until they returned to the West Coast in 2022.

Klee’s enduring commitment to the law and environment will continue: She has made a bequest commitment to create the Julia Epley Klee Fund, a 10-year endowment to support teaching and research in the areas of environmental law and international and comparative law. She has also committed to supporting the Center for Law, Energy & the Environment and the Human Rights Center, and is including RCNR in her estate plans.

“I wish my resources were as great as the number of things I’d like to support,” Klee says. “I think about the departments of architecture and music and the Library. The university has so much strength across disciplines. But I’m showing support in areas that mean a lot to me since Berkeley has been such a tremendous influence on my life’s path.”

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