Investing in the Torchbearers: Ensuring the Legacy of Cornell Lawyers

by Eileen Korey

Jade Ovadia ’25 credits her mother with fueling her dream of becoming a lawyer. But it was scholarship support that allowed that dream to become reality.

Jade Ovadia ‘25 as a toddler

“My mom is a practicing attorney and the single mother of eight. Finances set the glass ceiling pretty low,” says Ovadia, who recalls playing under her mother’s office desk as a toddler. “Generous donors to Cornell Law School allowed me to break through that ceiling. I am eternally grateful for that.”

Ovadia, who earned her undergraduate degree at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, says donor impact reaches well beyond a single individual. “Scholarships impact the entire class,” says Ovadia. “We have students from all walks of life bringing diversity of thought and experiences. They help us all think out of the box—they might only be there because of scholarship support. It’s important for donors to realize that every amount contributes to all of us who are in the room.”

That realization resonates with Barry W. Rashkover ’86, who believes his own career success can be tracked back to his time at Cornell Law. “I feel like I owe a lot to the Law School. It’s only three years of your life, but it is three critical years. It set me on a career that has been very fulfilling and that I continue to thoroughly enjoy. I believe that smart, talented young people deserve to have that opportunity and if I can help make that a reality for them, it makes me proud.”

Rashkover, a partner at Walden Macht & Haran, chooses to contribute in ways that will benefit the greatest number of students. “When the time is right and I have money to give, I’ve asked the Law School to tell me what they need, whether it’s for immediate scholarship use or an endowed fund.” Rashkover also seizes opportunities to attend events where he meets law students who share both their dreams and challenges. “They are impressive, energizing, and inspiring.”

It’s mutual: students like Patrick George ’24 are equally inspired by donor support. After two decades of military and government service, he pursued a law degree to continue in public service. Between the Yellow Ribbon program for veterans, G.I. Bill benefits, Cornell’s scholarship support and matching federal dollars, George can focus full time on his legal education (and continue to serve others through the Veterans Law Practicum and the Graduate Students Mentoring Undergraduates program).

“I feel like Cornell is investing in me as a person and it’s a level of affirmation I’ve never had in my life,” says George. “Growing up in Mobile, Alabama, I never knew anyone from an Ivy League school. Cornell was as real as Narnia. To be invited into this world is a level of privilege that comes with deep gratitude and a sense of responsibility. I have great options in front of me, and it’s the first time in my life that I have felt this way.”

“Cornell gives me the ability to control my future,” says Evan Greenberg ’26, “but I would not be here without scholarship support.” Greenberg came to law school directly from undergraduate studies at Syracuse University and, despite partial scholarships, he was still looking at daunting debt. From age five, Greenberg knew the value of each dollar donated, having founded Evan and Joshua’s Hot Cocoa Stand with his younger brother to fundraise for pediatric cancer research. They started in the family garage and raised $180 on $2 sales of cocoa cups the first year, then donated it to charity.  It set the foundation for an investment in time, energy, and money, ultimately raising more than $87,000 to date.

“Law school is really an investment in yourself, but the expense is hard to stomach,” says Greenberg. The fact that Cornell Law is a leader in job placement at big law firms is a calculation in his confidence in the future. “I know that going to Cornell means I’ll be able to pay off my debt and achieve career goals, whatever they end up being.” He also intends to pass along the generosity that alumni donors have provided him, contributing to scholarship support for other deserving students who will come after him.

“Cornell offers an opportunity most people don’t get, and scholarships and financial aid offered me an opportunity to be here,” says Dalton Sousa ’25. “The opportunity to go into big law can change the trajectory of your life, and gives you the tools to build a lifestyle that allows you to give back.” Sousa is a summer associate at Foley Hoag, which provided him the Charles J. Beard II Diversity Fellowship, granted to outstanding first-year law students from backgrounds underrepresented in the legal profession.

“Every time you make the cost of attending law school more affordable for students, it frees them up to pursue whatever path they want to pursue,” says Shane Cooper ’03, associate dean of admissions and financial aid. Cooper was a nuclear submarine officer in the U.S. Navy before attending Cornell Law School. After getting his law degree—care of the Navy’s law education program—he continued to serve in the U.S. Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps. He came to academia with a healthy dose of gratitude and appreciation for the extraordinary value of donors who make futures possible for strangers.

“I’ve seen the pressures that face our students, and how financial pressures influence decision making,” says Cooper. He says the admissions/financial aid award process at Cornell Law is rare among law schools. Admissions is need-blind, based on merit. But after a student is admitted, a needs analysis is conducted and students are offered need-based financial aid. “A lot of law schools don’t have the resources to offer need-based awards. It’s because we have generous donors who put us in that position. For every dollar they put towards the annual fund, that’s one less dollar a student has to worry about. It helps pay for rent or groceries. It reduces debt load. It gives peace of mind.”

“For every dollar they put towards the annual fund, that’s one less dollar a student has to worry about. It helps pay for rent or groceries. It reduces debt load. It gives peace of mind.”

In fact, it is the generous donor who “plays a pivotal role in fostering opportunities for the next generation” according to Jens David Ohlin, Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law. “Our alumni help ensure that each class has the resources necessary to continue the legacy of Cornell lawyers.

Indeed, that legacy inspired Cornell Law graduate Hon. Ariel E. Belen ’81 and his wife Joan to set up an endowed scholarship in their daughter’s name. Lauren Anne died at the age of 29. Her passing two years ago remains painful for her parents, but they take comfort in knowing that her dream of helping others will be realized in the hands of a Cornell Law graduate supported by the Lauren Anne Belen Scholarship.

“Lauren had this burning desire for justice from a young age,” says Joan. “If she saw something she thought was unjust, she would speak out, even to a teacher. She was brave, and she would comfort others who were vulnerable.” Lauren was also fiercely protective of her younger autistic brother. “She advocated for those who could not speak for themselves,” says Ariel. “I think she would have wanted a career that used the law to protect defenseless innocents and bring voice to the voiceless.

Belen says that Cornell’s clinical programs in civil legal services and prisoner legal services were especially appealing to him when he attended in the 1980s. Those programs and others inspired him to become a public defender, litigator, judge, arbitrator, and mediator. Belen, whose career included service as a justice of the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, is now an international arbitrator and mediator at JAMS. He says his daughter shared his passion for helping the underdog. He sees the law as “a noble profession providing an opportunity to do good” and the scholarship as “a chance for Lauren to accomplish what she would have liked to accomplish.”

Yet, not all lawyers—especially those who focus on public service—become wealthy enough to fund a scholarship endowment. In discussions with the law school’s development team about their desire to pay tribute to their daughter’s memory, the Belens learned of the Affordability Challenge in which Cornell University promises to set aside matching funds to make an endowment more affordable and valuable. The provost contributes $1 for every $2 donated. The Belens seized the opportunity to do more good.

“We hope this scholarship helps students who are interested in education or health law, public interest careers, or who have overcome significant challenges in their own lives,” says Ariel. “Lauren was always very proud that her dad went to Cornell,” says Joan. “The scholarship would be very meaningful to her.”

Cooper credits generous donors for supporting the aspirations of law students and young lawyers attracted to public service. He points to the Public Interest Low Income Protection Plan (PILIPP), which offers funding for law school graduates working in the public sector to help them deal with expenses and loan repayment. Cornell Law graduate Fred Rubinstein ’55 and his wife Susan philanthropically supported PILIPP and created the Rubinstein Post Graduate Fellowship that allows a student to take a position at a nonprofit or government agency that would not otherwise be able to afford to hire them.

The Rubinstein fellowship helped Kate Sullivan ’23 achieve her dream of working for The Legal Aid Society. Sullivan always wanted to serve the underserved—especially victims of domestic violence suffering from mental health issues. A licensed social worker, Sullivan thought a law degree would be an additional tool in her arsenal. The Rubinstein Fellowship pays Sullivan’s salary so she can work full-time helping survivors of domestic violence with mental illnesses navigate the legal system. “I am able to combine my social work and legal skills to more effectively work with clients, tell their stories, collect new evidence, and change their sentences,” says Sullivan.

“I’ve always admired people who committed 100 percent to public service,” says Rubinstein. “People who go into public service are valuable and very special. I want to help them in a fully committed way.” Rubinstein’s long and successful career in corporate law gave him the means to do that.

Similarly, Carolyn Click ’24 sees an opportunity for both public service and intellectual property law in the legal work she’ll be doing when she joins Latham & Watkins as an associate in New York City after graduation. The former president of Cornell’s Native American Law Students Association, Click remains deeply committed to her Mvskoke (Muscogee/Creek) community and, as an advocate for Indigenous interests, hopes to propose pro bono opportunities for her firm. She also sees legal work in New York City as a way to give back and open doors to others in the Indigenous community.

“Scholarship support made it possible for me to attend Cornell,” says Click. “Now, with a law degree, I will have the ability to pull others up after me. One donor can create a ripple effect, and countless others will be helped because of that single donation.”

“Every alum I’ve run into wants to help the next generation,” says Cooper. “No matter when they graduated, their willingness to help each other, to mentor, or to give back in some way is inspiring.” “It’s important to invest in the students of today because they will be the leaders of tomorrow,” says Rashkover. His philanthropy is driven by the belief that lawyers are needed, now more than ever. “In a time of uncertainty, lawyers and judges are the guardians of our judicial system, our Constitution, and our democracy. Cornell Law students will carry the torch that protects our constitutional democracy. Well-trained lawyers and judges will have a steady and thoughtful hand on the tiller.”