Michelle Lucero ('89)

Alum of the Month June '14

Hailing from rural Ignacio in Southern Colorado, Michelle Lucero refused to allow the smallness of her hometown stifle her ambition. With a strong, educated, civically engaged mother who was always encouraging her to dream big, it’s no mystery that Lucero has come from a tiny town’s Valedictorian to the Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel of Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Lucero’s forthright yet welcoming personality at once makes you realize that you are in the presence of someone who knows themselves and knows exactly what they are doing. Even Lucero admits that she’s never been under the radar, even when she wanted to be. No small credit goes to her small town experience; something that Lucero says has always grounded her.

So how did the winner of the William Randolph Hearst scholarship with her heart set on becoming a doctor end up as a top executive at of one of the most prestigious health institutions in the nation? Lucero describes her career as something like a patchwork quilt, where each new position earned her a different skillset and informed her perspective. A resume that might at first seem to have a meandering quality to it is in fact the foundation of an incredible career in health law.

Though her first dream was to become a doctor, and indeed she pursued this path as an undergraduate at Rockhurst College (now Rockhurst University), the well-placed words of an academic advisor and the realization that she was too impatient to start her career after many years in medical school ultimately landed her at Colorado Law. Law school proved to be an environment where the energetic and sharply intelligent Lucero thrived. She served as President of the SBA and was deeply committed to the Hispanic Bar Association and the Women’s Bar Association. Despite her dedication to school, Lucero never missed a chance to have a laugh, whether it was encouraging her friends to doodle patently inappropriate cartoons or playing “bingo” during class.

Of special significance in Lucero’s quilted career are those opportunities from which she still draws today. Working as a prosecutor for the City of Denver, Lucero executed over 50 jury trials. From the salt of the earth to white collared executives, she saw humanity at its most, well, human. Her civic duties continued as she worked as an Assistant City Attorney and became well-acquainted with the complexities of employment law through negotiations with labor unions. This foundation in employment law served her well as a staff lawyer for US West.  Once she was hired as Assistant General Counsel for Denver Health, Lucero was finally home in the field she always loved–health care. For the first time, she was using her legal skills in a setting wholly dedicated to health care. Recognizing that without her myriad of opportunities in both the private and public sectors she would not have been equipped to take on this in-house role, Lucero was glad to be engrossed again in health care. This background proved essential to clinching her role as Vice President of Employee Relations at Centura Health.

Overseeing hundreds of employees and helping to steer the massive ship that is a major hospital takes time and energy enough–but the tireless Lucero still finds time to directly support her community. In addition to serving on the Winter Park Advisory Council for the City and County of Denver, being an appointee to the Udall-Bennett Judicial Selection Committee, as well as pro bono work  for the Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation, Lucero is Chair of the Metro State University Board of Trustees.

Though to an outsider it might appear that Lucero has lived a charmed life, one full of success after success, this does not capture the whole story. Never known to be shy, Lucero openly discusses the challenges she faced as a woman and Latina in a field largely dominated by white men. At an intimate lunch with Colorado Law students, Lucero shared stories about accusations that she was only selected for a job in order to fill some minority quota. While in that particular instance Lucero rightfully confronted the accusation head-on, she also shared a piece of wisdom: sometimes, interpreting actions as sexist or racist is a choice. She cautioned that seeking out racism in a world which, despite enormous improvements, still suffers from ignorance and hate will only serve to fuel more conflict. Never should someone ever lie down and accept blatant racism or sexism (and it is impossible to imagine the fiery Lucero doing so), but sometimes the better solution is education and forgiveness.

The legal community and the community as a whole have benefitted hugely from Lucero’s wit, sense of humor, and straightforwardness. We at Colorado Law are proud to claim her as our own. One might be nervous that such talent could be drawn away to other parts of the country, but rest assured she is here to stay – as she put it, “this state is my home.” With her passionate dedication to health law and tireless community engagement, Lucero would indeed leave an enormous gap if she ever chose to. Instead, she fills the gap to the point of overflowing.

Five Questions for Michelle Lucero ('89)

What is your fondest memory of being a student at Colorado Law?

That is a toss-up!  There are some memorable moments with my nutty classmates living through the Socratic Method with Professor David Hill or Professor Dennis Hynes. The most fun was acting as the “prosecutor” in Professor Pizzi’s class and earning a bottle of wine at the end of the year. A close second is playing on Scott Tarbox and Don Brown’s men’s softball team…I was the only chick on the team!

What do you know now that you wish you had known in law school?

I wish I would have realized sooner that the purpose of law school is really to teach you to think critically and analytically. The substantive material is not meant to be memorized or even necessarily well-understood; rather, it is the tool that professors use to hone this thinking ability.

What advice would you give to current students as they’re preparing to graduate?

A few things: Remember to be respectful, regardless of which position you attain. Work hard, because nothing can overcome the value of hard work. Most importantly, let your integrity be your guide. If you do these things, whatever job you end up in, you’ll be fine. And if a job doesn’t line up with your integrity, it’s not only wise but necessary to find a different one that does.

Who was the biggest influence on your career?

It is impossible to pick one person, because I take a bit of guidance from everyone who I work with. I have been blessed to work with amazing, bright, visionary people. In fact, I’ve never considered hiring a career coach because I’m constantly surrounded by them. By learning a valuable lesson or skill from each person with whom I have worked with, my career has been shaped by dozens if not hundreds of people.

Of what accomplishment are you most proud?

From a personal perspective, I have to say my kids, as cliché as that might sound. They are amazing. They are bright, caring beyond belief, worldly, and I think they are going to make a difference in this world. I see them and I know I’ve done good.

Professionally, I have a couple of accomplishments. First, my position at Children’s is a dream job. The highest calling is to do work for sick children, and I love going to work to do just that! I was also so proud to vote for creating a tuition category for undocumented students at Metro State University. This vote happened before the Dream Act was passed, and it was just a courageous and inspiring moment.