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Chen was born on May 28, 1958, in Stamford, Connecticut, and raised in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, where he now resides. He attended Dartmouth College, where he was president of Phi Tau fraternity and a member of the rowing team, graduating in 1980. He then attended Rutgers School of Law–Newark, where he was editor-in-chief of the Rutgers Law Review, and graduated magna cum laude in 1983. He served as vice chair of the New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Professional Ethics from 1996 to 2006, and as a member of the American Civil Liberties Union National Executive Committee from 2002 to 2006. He has also served as secretary and a member of the board of directors of the U.S. Rowing Association, and was a referee in the 1996 Summer Olympics.
Until January 2010, he served as the New Jersey Public Advocate, having been nominated to fill that position on January 5, 2006, by Governor of New Jersey Jon Corzine. He was the first public advocate since 1994, when the job was abolished by former Governor Christine Todd Whitman following the two-year tenure of Zulima Farber, who was Governor James Florio's Public Advocate. The first New Jersey public advocate—and the first of any state—was Stanley Van Ness, who was instrumental in the creation of what was to become known as the Mt. Laurel Doctrine, which prevents municipalities from using zoning as a means of excluding low-income residents. Prior to becoming public advocate, Chen was an associate dean and professor of law at Rutgers School of Law—Newark, teaching courses on contracts, constitutional law, and the federal courts. He returned to Rutgers after his term as public advocate and resumed an active teaching and administrative role. In April 2013, he rose from Vice-Dean to Acting Dean, due to new responsibilities assumed by Dean John Farmer. He was appointed permanent Dean in April 2015. With the merger of the Newark and Camden campuses, he is now co-dean of Rutgers Law School. 
- Meet Ron Chen, New Jersey Department of the Public Advocate. Accessed February 27, 2011. "A child of Chinese immigrants who came to this country after World War II, Chen has lived most of his life in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey."
- Chan, Sewell. "Metro Briefing", The New York Times, January 6, 2006. Accessed June 20, 2008. "Governor-elect Jon S. Corzine nominated Ronald Chen yesterday to serve as public advocate and Lisa Jackson to head the Department of Environmental Protection."
- , Accessed January 16, 2015.
- 92 N.J. 158, *; 456 A.2d 390
- Biography, Rutgers School of Law biography of Ronald K. Chen.
- Corzine Names Public Advocate and Environmental Protection Commissioner, press release dated January 5, 2006
- Q&A with Ron Chen, the new Public Advocate