Co-Dean David Lopez, the longest-serving General Counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, recently left the Washington D.C. based firm of Outten and Golden to become the new Co-Dean of Rutgers Law School in Newark. He answered a few questions about himself so the Rutgers Law School community could get to know him better:
Welcome to Rutgers Co-Dean Lopez. What drew you to join Rutgers Law School?
As I learned more about Rutgers, I discovered it was a wonderful and uniquely special law school. We have an amazing tradition of excellent scholarship, inclusiveness, and community engaged clinical education. The faculty is tremendously gifted and, unlike some other schools, focused on the students. Our alumni hold leadership positions in the legal profession and are increasingly engaged with the students.
Rutgers Law is located between two of the five most dynamic and populous urban centers in the country and the faculty and student body is one of the most racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse in the nation. This provides our graduates a critical and fairly unique experience as they tackle a broad range of legal issues confronting our country. As a school that has enshrined excellence and opportunity, and made it part of its DNA, Rutgers is the most quintessentially American law school. Oh yeah, it is also highly affordable. Just ask your friends at other schools.
Are there any programs or goals you have for your first year here?
Yes. I would like to build upon the traditional strengths of the One Rutgers Law School– scholarly excellence, inclusiveness, and affordability–to further build one of the best public law schools in the United States. This means the schools should: 1) help law students navigate the evolving technological, economic, and global nature of the legal practice; 2) respect open academic dialogue and the multiplicity of views about many of the difficult issues confronting lawyers during this point in time; and 3) ensure our graduates are active participants in the quest for justice and the rule-of-law in our society. Regardless of the chosen career track of any of our students, it is important our graduates recognize that the legal profession holds a position of special trust in our society and, as such, the law school must go beyond preparing students to practice our craft. It must also be a “school of justice” where students develop leadership to address the difficult issues of our day.
What was your journey to becoming a lawyer?
I grew up in an activist household where my parents engaged extensively in the community, in particular with Cesar Chavez and the farmworker struggle for economic justice. I hated it as a child and my parents would always remind me, “Mijo, you have an obligation to leave the world in a better place.” While I ignored them as a child, their sense of passion stuck with me throughout my life and inspired me to go to law school to be a civil rights lawyer. Since then, I have had the enormous privilege of working on both the front lines and at the policy level and on some of the most pressing civil rights issues. These include providing second chances to the reentry community to have full coverage under civil rights laws; to providing the LGBTQ community with religious freedom and inclusion, and the protect the immigrant workforce from sexual harassment and exploitation. I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with some of the finest lawyers of our generation, not just in the area of social justice but in all areas. I certainly hope to leverage some of this experience for the benefit of our students.
You've worked for law firms and for the EEOC, what appeals to you about working in higher education?
I think it is important, as we develop experience and wisdom - sometimes through hard knocks - to “pay it forward.” Law school is where we learn to refine, understand, and discuss what for many is a deeply rooted idea of justice. This becomes the springboard for the rule of law in this country and internationally, a concept central to advanced democracies, but, according to some research, slowly eroding in our country. My generation must build upon the lessons and sacrifice of others to make sure our country lives up to its highest principles of opportunity, inclusion, and justice. There are many paths where a law degree can take you, but, regardless of the path, we must always further the highest ideals of the legal profession.
Tell us a little bit about yourself outside of being a lawyer.
I grew up partly in a small town in Oregon and in Arizona. Most of my family is in Phoenix and I have a Southwestern heart. I’m an avid reader, a lifelong learner, either an extroverted introvert or introverted extrovert–tests are still under review. A mediocre dancer, a mediocre basketball player, a mediocre swimmer, and a mediocrity in many other ways but I try and don’t take myself too seriously. Oh yeah, my family rocks!
What advice do you have for law students today?
As with the history of civil rights and social justice, remember 1) this is long-game and there will be occasional setbacks but keep working hard and follow your inner light; 2) build community by supporting your classmates but also don’t be afraid to ask for support from friends, family, and other parts of the Rutgers community; and 3) even when weary, keep pushing forward, and never give up.
This will be your first time living in New Jersey. What are you looking forward to?
Life often takes some mysterious twists and turns, it has been quite a journey. When I left Arizona in 1985 to go to law school, it was with the intention of “three and out” and then to return to that beautiful, beloved, but often-troubled state. Instead, I spent 13 years on the East Coast in Boston and Washington, D.C. When I finally made it back to Arizona, I never expected to return to the East Coast but then I was offered a position in President Obama’s Administration. Now I am here in New Jersey eager to embrace this next chapter and learn from the natives about the state and this incredibly complex and interesting Newark community.