Merisa Heu-Weller (Class of 2016) and Kassem Lucas (Class of 2011) were honored with the Rick Palmore Award at the 2018 Leadership Symposium of the LCLD Fellows Alumni in Los Angeles, June 21-23. They join a select group of five other recipients, chosen from the 1,600-member Fellows Alumni community since the creation of the award four years ago.
Named for the founder of LCLD, the Rick Palmore LCLD Fellows Alumni Award recognizes the outstanding achievements, commitment, and leadership of Alumni who have paved the way for the advancement of LCLD Fellows, Fellows Alumni, and other LCLD program participants.
Heu-Weller and Lucas embody those characteristics: exemplary in their careers, generous in their service to the broader community, resolute in their commitment to diversity, and tireless in their support of other LCLD Fellows.
“You are both shining examples of servant leadership,” said Palmore, founding Chair Emeritus of LCLD, during the evening ceremony at Paramount Studios. “I cannot be more proud of you.”
Added Jack Chen of Microsoft, a member of the Fellows Class of 2011: “You are people who over time have advanced the mission, intent, and purposes of LCLD for current and future participants, always putting other people into the path of success.”
Here’s more about the 2018 Rick Palmore Award honorees:
Merisa Heu-Weller serves as Counsel, Global Employment Strategy and Public Policy, for Microsoft Corporation.
She is described in a letter of nomination for the award as “the woven fabric that strengthens the LCLD Alumni community. She works to raise the profile of attorneys for greater recognition by their firm leadership and toward more intentional decisions about the diversity of the people at the firms who are providing outside counsel work on behalf of her company.”
Merisa has worked with numerous organizations to advance diversity. At the fall 2017 Corporate Counsel Women of Color Conference in New Orleans, she represented Microsoft and led a session titled “Beyond Checking the Box.”
Heu-Weller (front right) with other 2016 Fellows at their final class meeting in San Diego, March 2017. (Photo by Wilma Jackson)
At last spring’s American Bar Association National Conference on Equal Employment Opportunity Law, she spoke on artificial intelligence and whether A.I. might increase or decrease bias in the hiring process.
Additionally, Heu-Weller is a Founding Board Member of The Learning Seed Foundation, which sponsors scholarships to assist high school seniors from Thurston and Pierce counties in Washington in obtaining a higher education. The scholarship is designed to benefit students of color who have overcome significant obstacles and demonstrate a commitment to others.
She is known in the Microsoft organization as a tireless promoter of talent from the ranks of LCLD Fellows, staying connected to the national Fellows community and advocating for LCLD candidates internally.
Also, at Microsoft, she was selected to join the steering committee for the African American Employee Network, where she launched the AAEN Speaker Series.
In addition to her diversity activities at Microsoft and elsewhere, she recently became the first African-American woman Chair of the Board of Trustees of Bellevue College, the third largest college in Washington state.
Another letter of nomination states, “From her active involvement in the 1L LCLD Scholars Program and leadership in various diversity initiatives for Microsoft, to her work with the University of Washington School of Law’s Gregoire Fellows Program and the Bellevue College Board of Trustees, Merisa is constantly committed to inspiring and empowering others within the legal profession, in our educational institutions, and beyond.”
The letter calls Merisa “one of the most beloved of our class of 2016.”
Heu-Weller (right) with 2016 Fellows at their first class meeting in Austin, TX, March 2016. (Photo by Joe Mahoney)
“In a way, this moment has been 14 years in the making”, said Merisa at the Fellows Alumni ceremony. “That’s when I first heard of a ‘radical’ general counsel named Rick Palmore, who was declaring that diversity had to become a business imperative.”
“Now, I finally get to thank the man who created the LCLD ‘mafia,’ a living, breathing community. This is not your grandma’s diversity program!”
“We have the capacity and the mandate to fight for what we believe in, in our profession, in our community, and in the world we want to leave behind.”
“The arc of the moral universe bends toward justice,” she said. “But it ain’t gonna bend on its own.”
Kassem Lucas is a partner in the Trial and Dispute Resolution Practice Group in the Philadelphia office of Pepper Hamilton.
In 2011, Kassem was named Partner in Charge of Diversity, responsible for Pepper Hamilton’s firm-wide diversity initiatives and programs. He chairs the firm’s Diversity Committee and leads Pepper’s Implicit Bias Task Force.
Kassem is described by his firm leadership as “the de facto leader of Pepper’s numerous affinity groups, including the African-American/Black Affinity Group, Pepper Pride for LGBTQ individuals, the Veterans Group, Women’s Initiative, the Pepper Latina/o Caucus, Asian Pacific American Attorney Network, and the South Asian Affinity Group.”
Lucas (center) with 2011 Fellows at their first class meeting, March 2011. (Photo by Joe Mahoney)
Kassem served as a member of the LCLD Fellows Alumni Executive Council when the idea of formalizing a Fellows Alumni network was in its infancy, and he has continued his LCLD involvement as the Philadelphia City Lead for the LCLD Success in Law School Mentoring Program.
He also helped host the Philadelphia viewing for the new Fellows Alumni Speaker Series, and champions LCLD programs at Pepper and in the community, ensuring that they are attended by a large and varied group of law students and attorneys.
Kassem teaches a course on diversity in the legal profession at the University of Pennsylvania Law School where students explore how diversity and inclusion play roles in the practice of law, the legal industry, and the attorney pipeline.
He leads Pepper’s partnership with the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law in support of its annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Lecture. He also leads Pepper’s annual “Celebrate Diversity” event.
Lucas (left) speaks during the 2018 1L LCLD Scholars Summit in Philadelphia, May 2018. (Photo by Jay Haas)
“Kassem is a fierce advocate for diversity in the legal profession,” reads one letter of nomination. The letter describes Kassem’s commitment to pro bono work, “having an awareness at all times that there may be others around you that need help and that there is always an opportunity to positively impact someone’s life.”
Kassem has been recognized as one of Philadelphia’s “Lawyers on the Fast Track” and a “Pennsylvania Rising Star.”
His awards for diversity work include the Cecil B. Moore Award from Temple Law’s Black Law Students Association, The Legal Intelligencer’s Diverse Attorney of the Year award, and the National Diversity Council’s Leadership Excellence in the Law Award.
As he accepted the Award, Kassem gestured toward the founder of LCLD, Rick Palmore. “The work of that man and this organization will change the legal field and bring us into the future,” said Kassem. “That’s why I’ve dedicated time and effort to this, and it’s why we all need to continue to go ‘all in.”
“We are going to change the profession.”