Students from his first contracts class 30 years ago, and students from his most recent class, were among the Rutgers Law alumni who gathered to honor Co-Dean Ronald K. Chen as he received the Distinguished Service Award from the Rutgers Law School - Newark Alumni Association.
Debevoise & Plimpton hosted the awards ceremony on June 26, which was well attended by students and alums spanning several decades. Mary Beth Hogan ’90, Co-Chair of Debevoise’s Litigation Department, welcomed those assembled and shared her own reflections on Dean Chen. Chen is stepping down as co-dean this summer to return to teaching full-time.
The Alumni Association designed the event to also serve as a fundraiser for the Ronald Chen Public Service Internship Fund, started by Chen earlier this year to pay for summer stipends for law students willing to do public interest work. Brian Biglin ’11, the current alumni association president, remarked that the fundraiser was a fitting way to honor Dean Chen and the “unique legacy of Rutgers Law School Newark – as the People’s Electric Law School.” He added, “we are so proud to confer our Distinguished Service Award to a true legend.”
Biglin reported that the event alone raised more than $5,400 for the Chen Fund.
Chen ’83 talked about his career history, from his days as a Rutgers Law student, to becoming an associate dean, serving as the state’s Public Advocate, and returning as the dean of the law school – leading it through the merger with Camden in 2015, all while continuing to teach Contracts Law.
“Rutgers is my professional home,” he said. “I think I’m just getting my second wind at Rutgers.”
Chen said he’s proud to have been part of the unique aspects of Rutgers Law – that it is an accessible school to talented students – and that professors, “Teach them how to use the law as an instrument for positive social change. I think that’s what Rutgers does exceptionally well.”
Through his internship fund, Chen said he wanted to give students who wished to pursue public interest law the opportunity to do so since many of them could not afford working for free in the summers. “This will give them the experience and connections to pursue that career,” he said.
He also introduced Omar Rana ’19, the first recipient of the Chen internship, who is spending his summer working at Legal Aid. Next year, students from Newark and Camden will be eligible to apply for the internships.
Rana, 24, is a graduate of the University of Kansas. At Rutgers Law, he has participated in the Student Bar Association, Asian Pacific American Law Student Association, National Lawyers Guild, LGBT Caucus, Public Interest Law Foundation, the International Law Society and the Race and the Law Review. He went to Jordan with Professor Sahar Aziz to learn more about the Syrian refugee crisis and this summer, he is an intern at the Legal Aid Society in Staten Island in the Juvenile Rights Practice. Rana said he hopes to practice public interest law after graduation.
“It’s an honorable profession but a profession with great responsibility as well,” Chen said of practicing law. “The best days are still to come for the law school.”