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Black lawyers welcome two new law school deans

Bridgit Brown
Black lawyers welcome two new law school deans
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Southern New England School of Law School Dean Robert V. Ward, Boston College Law School Dean Vincent Rougeau, Harvard Law School Professor Charles J. Ogletree and Suffolk Law School Dean Camille A. Nelson attended the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association reception last week. (Photo: Bridgit Brown)

Each year the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association (MBLA) has an annual fall reception that provides an opportunity to recognize diverse individuals who have made significant contributions to the state’s black legal community.

This year’s reception was hosted by McCarter and English Attorneys at Law last week and it welcomed two new bright and shining stars to the state’s black legal community: Camille A. Nelson, dean of Suffolk Law School and Vincent Rougeau, dean of Boston College Law School.

MBLA also recognized Robert V. Ward, who was the first dean of the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth Southern New England School of Law —  the state’s first law school.

Dean Nelson received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto and law degree from the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law and went on to receive a master’s degree from Columbia Law School. She clerked for Justice Frank Yacabucci of the Supreme Court of Canada before working as an associate at McCarthy Tetrault, Canada’s largest law firm.

Dean Nelson was a visiting professor at Washington University’s St. Louis School of Law where she became the Dean’s Distinguished Scholar in Residence. From 2000 to 2009, she was a member of the faculty of the St. Louis University School of Law where she was named Faculty Member of the Year and received the Faculty Excellence Award.

On Sept. 1, 2010, she became the first woman and the first woman of color to become the dean of Suffolk Law School in the school’s 104- year history.  

In her speech to a crowded room of black legal professionals representing various age groups and divisions of law, Dean Nelson spoke of the importance of talking about excellence and diversity simultaneously.

“Too often people say they want one or the other,” Dean Nelson explained, “but they overlap and you can achieve them simultaneously.”

She was proud to say that in this past year Suffolk has had the most students of color in its entering class than the school has ever had before.

“That’s almost a quarter of our entering class and we’re the fifth biggest school in the country so that’s over 125 students,” she said. “That’s a big deal and I think that’s important to celebrate because that’s hard work and that doesn’t happen by accident. That doesn’t happen without making people accountable. It takes work and commitment on the part of the people in the building.”

Dean Nelson also mentioned some upcoming events taking place at the University, including the launching of the first Native American Law Clinic in the eastern part of the United States this November.  

The MBLA has approximately 200 active members, and it has served the African American legal community since its inception in 1973. Through trainings, continuing legal education and mentorship programs, the MBLA reaches out to more than 500 minority lawyers in Massachusetts and provides opportunity for career development and advancement.

Dean Rougeau graduated from Brown University where he majored in international relations, and then later received his law degree from Harvard Law School. He worked as an assistant and associate professor at Loyola University of Chicago School of Law before joining the faculty at Notre Dame Law School.

Prior to becoming the dean of Boston College Law School, Dean Rougeau has been a distinguished professor of Contracts, Real Estate Law and Catholic Social Thought at Notre Dame for the past 12 years. His academic research at Notre Dame focused on global migration and multicultural citizenship with a special interest on the challenges posed by religious pluralism.

He also served as dean of Academic Affairs for three years and as a member of the Law School’s Appointments Committee, including three terms as committee chair. On July 1 of this year, Dean Rougeau became the 11th dean of the Boston College Law School. That day he also became the first African American person to hold that position in the school’s 82-year history.

Dean Rougeau said that he had never imagined being dean of Boston College Law School and talked about his personal journey to the appointment. He said that this was his third time living in Metropolitan Boston. As a child he lived in Boston while his father was a student at Harvard University in the early 1970s, and in the late 1980s, he returned to the city as a student to attend Harvard University.

“I have to say that the city of Boston has gone through extraordinary transformations,” said Rougeau.  “One of the reasons I am so proud and happy to be back here is because to see a community struggle, and change, and achieve, and accomplish is a beautiful thing. It speaks well to the possibilities of engagement and dialogue and a real willingness to confront difficulty and this city has achieved great things because of that.”

 Dean Rougeau said that his presence at Boston College Law School is just a part of the efforts to diversify the school and he encouraged attendees at the reception to spread the word about the college.

“We are a part of this city and in our role we must engage with the greater community of Boston.”

Harvard Law School Professor Charles J. Ogletree gave a toast that evening and spoke light-heartedly about the state’s black legal community of the not so distant past.

 “This is such a special evening here with all of these celebrated individuals,” Ogletree said.  “It’s so different for us because when we had these meetings, decades ago, we had them in a Volkswagen, and everybody had room.”

“It’s such a change and everyone of us said that we would not be here today, but we have been here through thick and through thin. [Boston] is a remarkable city and [Massachusetts] is a remarkable state. What other state can claim today that they have an African American lawyer as their governor? That is a sign of accomplishment. We have a president and first lady who are graduates of the law schools here. That tells you how much we can do and that’s what makes it so wonderful.”