Lee obtained his undergraduate BA degree at the University of Hong Kong, and studied law at Lincoln's Inn in London. He was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1979, and was the chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association from 1980 to 1983. He has been a LegCo member from 1985 to 1997, and a member of the Basic Law Drafting Committee from 1985 to 1989. He also chaired the Hong Kong Consumer Council from 1988 to 1991.
Lee chaired the United Democrats of Hong Kong (UDHK) since its establishment in 1991, and retained his chairmanship when the group was transformed into the Democratic Party in 1994. His position was secceed by Yeung Sum in 2001.
In the run up to the reunification of Hong Kong with Mainland China in 1997, Lee was an outspoken critic of China's policy towards Hong Kong and a supporter of the political reform of the former Governor Chris Patten. Internationally he became an icon for fighting the Chinese government for more democracy in Hong Kong, and was recognized and awarded by a number of international organizations, including the "1995 International Human Rights Award" by the American Bar Association, "Democracy Award" of the US National Endowment for Democracy in 1997, and the "Schuman Medal" in 2000 which Lee was the first non-European to receive from the European Peoples Party and European Democrats.
On the other hand some considered his frequent overseas visits, during which he urged foreign concerns and actions on Hong Kong affairs and attacked the implementation "One country, two systems", situations of human rights, judicial independence and the autonomy of Hong Kong, damaging to the reputation of Hong Kong. The Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Tung Chee Hwa, had criticized him of "bad-mouthing" Hong Kong. Lee responded that the overseas governments are legitimately concerned over the situation in Hong Kong, citing, for example, the 1992 U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act of the US, under which the US Government is committed to support democratic institutions in Hong Kong, and could terminate Hong Kong's special economic treatment if the US President considers that Hong Kong is not sufficiently autonomous to justify such treatments.
See also: Politics of Hong Kong