PHILADELPHIA, January 10, 2021 — Cozen O’Connor renamed its 1L Diversity and Inclusion Fellowship to the Bernard Lee Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Scholars Program to honor their late shareholder Bernard Lee and his passion for mentoring young lawyers and developing a pipeline of diverse talent within the firm and the legal profession. The scholarship was also expanded in Lee’s honor, increasing the potential in scholarship funds to $15,000. The firm also anticipates increasing the number of scholars.
Lee passed away unexpectedly in November after suffering a cardiac incident at a Philadelphia 76ers game. Lee was a nationally known real estate lawyer who advised developers, corporations, and governmental and quasi-governmental entities on developing and financing complex real estate projects. He served as the former co-chair of Cozen O’Connor’s Real Estate Practice and was a two-term member of the firm’s board of directors. He also served as a former member of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission.
However, Lee’s legacy extended well beyond the sports arenas and skyscrapers he helped usher into existence. As one of the longest-tenured African-American attorneys of his generation to ascend to the highest ranks of the Am Law 100, he worked to pave the way for other diverse attorneys to follow in his footsteps. He was a former president of The Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia, a local affiliate of the National Bar Association (a national network of African-American attorneys and judges); a longtime leader in the Real Estate Executive Council (a trade association for diverse real estate executives); and general counsel to the local chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi, a historically African-American collegiate fraternity. He received numerous awards and recognitions for such service, including the Women’s Division of the National Bar Association Renaissance Man Award and the Sadie Alexander Barristers’ Award.
“Through his genuine commitment to make our firm a welcoming environment, Bernard worked tirelessly to mentor countless young diverse attorneys at the firm, and most recently as a member of our integration team to ensure that all of our new diverse hires felt immediately included and properly acclimated into our firm,” said Michael Heller, President and CEO of Cozen O’Connor. “Bernard’s work was invaluable to the fabric of our culture, and with this scholarship, we hope to honor his memory.”
The firm first established the Cozen O’Connor 1L Diversity and Inclusion Fellowship in 2018 for students in their first year of law school with a demonstrated commitment to diversity and inclusion. Scholars participate in the firm’s summer associate program following their 1L year and a diversity & inclusion mentorship program. Scholars will be eligible for up to $15,000 in scholarship money to help defray the cost of law school tuition and related expenses.
The firm’s first Bernard Lee 1L Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Scholar is Thomas Nguyen, a first-year law student at Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law, who will be a Summer Associate in 2022.