The University of Wisconsin Law School has long prided itself on its “law in action” educational philosophy. A similar concept applies to Margaret Raymond’s role as dean.
“I spend 70 percent of my time supporting everyone here at the school; 70 percent on university- or community-related issues and events; and 70 percent on development and fundraising,” Raymond said with a laugh in a telephone interview.
Raymond, who’s in her fourth year as dean, credits her own law school experience, at Columbia University, with kickstarting a kind of hands-on approach to her career. “It not only created opportunities for me but also encouraged me to take advantage of those opportunities,” she said.
It’s what she’s subsequently tried to do for students and fellow faculty members throughout her career.
“Law school opened amazing doors for me,” Raymond said. The first were clerkships with Justice Thurgood Marshall at the U.S. Supreme Court and Judge James L. Oakes on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. She then practiced in a large firm doing commercial litigation and in a small firm doing criminal defense work.
“Ultimately, I had the opportunity to join the faculty of the University of Iowa College of Law and to write and teach in areas for which I had a passion – constitutional criminal procedure and legal ethics and professional responsibility,” Raymond said. It was there that Raymond was named the William G. Hammond Professor of Law and was honored with the law school’s Collegiate Teaching Award.
In 2011, she joined the University of Wisconsin Law School as the Fred W. and Vi Miller Dean and professor of law.
LAWDRAGON: What steered you into legal academia?
MARGARET RAYMOND: My journey to becoming a law professor started with my becoming a lawyer. That wasn’t at all what I planned when I was an undergraduate; I was a chemistry major and pre-med. When I graduated from college, I planned to take a few years off and get a job in social service that would help my application to medical school.
As fate would have it, the job I got was in a law school clinical program in immigration law. Working closely with the lawyers who taught the clinic and with the law students who represented the clients, I came to see that the legal profession played a remarkable role in meeting human needs, and that my skills and talents were well suited to it.
LD: But why teach? And why then move from being a faculty member to dean?
MR: I didn’t come from a family of professionals; my first trip on an airplane was when I left New York City to enroll at Carlton College in Northfield, Minn. My legal education – at Columbia Law School in New York – quite simply transformed my life. Creating those opportunities for the next generation of law students is what makes me excited to come to work every day; it’s why I entered the field of legal education.
When I became a dean, I saw that as a way to affect even more students than I did as a teacher and scholar. By being attentive to the law school’s budget, curriculum, faculty and staff, recruiting and fundraising, I can do things that are of concrete benefit to law students, lawyers and the legal profession, and ultimately to the clients and communities those lawyers serve.
I also get to spend a lot of time talking to lawyers: my colleagues, our graduates and the broader legal community. I love lawyers. I love meeting our alumni and seeing how their law school experience has transformed their lives. It’s incredibly inspiring and rewarding.
LD: Has anything surprised you about the job of dean?
MR: I’ve never worked harder in my life – and I’ve had jobs on which I’ve worked very hard. Here I’m dealing with development and fundraising, with faculty and bringing in top teachers and scholars, with students and recruiting more wonderful students. I’m hands-on with alumni and donors, who I think want and deserve to speak with me in person. I have lots of help from a skilled and supportive faculty and staff. But I think I bring value added.
The other thing that has surprised me, pleasantly, is that our mission – to provide a transformative education that prepares students to practice law in the 21st century – has become more urgent. The environment, including the job market, for legal education has made it so, as has the attitude of today’s students toward a legal education.
Students understand more clearly than ever the investment they’re making in their future. They’re more demanding in terms of us delivering a return on that investment – and I love that. I love, too, that students are focusing on how much they are borrowing and that they’re really scrutinizing law schools – our school – testing us out, kicking the tires.
LD: Is there anything you wish you had known before you came to Wisconsin Law?
MR: When I arrived, I was determined to visit with every faculty member in his or her office – and also to figure out where in this maze of a building their offices were located. I sent around a memo saying that if you want a half hour of my time, just ask. Apparently, I set off a flurry of office cleaning. It might have been nice to know that would happen.
Seriously, though, when you come into a deanship from outside a school, there are many things you learn that you didn’t think to ask, because each institution has a different culture. I wish I had known more about the law school and university culture, how different it is from Iowa’s. But then there are some things you can only learn by living it – and that’s one of them.
LD: How would you describe those differences in culture?
MR: The University of Iowa in Iowa City is a smaller place and, in a way, more orderly with its 11 discrete colleges – in part because there is Iowa State, which is the public land-grant research university in Ames. The University of Wisconsin is bigger, richer – it’s both land-grant and flagship, and more chaotic. It can be a challenge figuring out who the different players are and how they do what they’re doing. That makes this culture more complex, but in a good way. There’s always lots of stuff happening here, and I want to celebrate and applaud that.
Then there is Wisconsin Law’s own distinct culture. We’ve long described ourselves and defined ourselves as presenting law in action, the rationale being that law can only be learned and understood in context. Now, there are different ways in which you can understand context. Wisconsin law was one of the first to adduce data, for example, to the understanding of context.
One cultural trait, then, is our rich methodological tradition of bringing different perspectives to legal education. Another is our tradition of innovation. This is a culture, for example, that embraced experiential learning early on; I mean some 40 years ago, long before it became popular. This is a culture that has created a rich practice simulation course that’s been available to students since World War II; it’s part of our fabric.
As for the faculty, this is a culture that has assembled a very personable, very hands-on kind of faculty community – a community of people who weave in their own experiences to create a rich classroom experience. Every first year, for example, has a required small-section class, in addition to a required writing course. Alumni tell me years later about the closeness of that small group, how they felt that they actually knew the faculty, knew that person well, felt supported and nurtured by them, felt free to come by and ask for advice.
Perhaps what is distinctive, and remarkable, about Wisconsin Law’s culture is the broad range of people whom it fits. We’re diverse in all sorts of ways. We’re a particularly good fit for people who are entrepreneurial, who want to take action in some way: If a clinic addressing a certain subject or need doesn’t exist, the student who fits in here might start one. This is a culture in which students know that they can accomplish things like that.
At the same time, we’re a public university and fairly reasonably priced. You’re not going to find new furnishings and designer décor. If you like things cushy in that way, we’re not for you. If you want a place where you can indulge in expensive comfort, that’s not us.
LD: What distinguishes your institution from other law schools?
MR: We are characterized by three unique traits.
First is the “law in action” approach that I mentioned early on. It’s an approach that equips students to analyze sophisticated legal problems and craft creative solutions. At UW Law School, courses focus not only on learning legal rules, but also on understanding how those rules operate in the real world.
This means studying with professors whose own work examines the role of law in the world. It means asking how people, companies, governments and the law actually interact. And it means helping students learn to think like lawyers about each of these parts of the puzzle.
A second distinguishing feature is the incredibly broad range of clinical and experiential learning opportunities we offer. These vary widely in terms of their subject matter and where and how students do their learning.
As a student at UW Law, you might choose our Wisconsin Innocence Project, where you’ll spend a full year at the Law School alongside a team of students and attorneys seeking exoneration for a person wrongfully convicted of a crime; or our Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic, where you’ll work off-site consulting with entrepreneurs with start-up ideas; or our Lawyering Skills Program, where you’ll spend a semester simulating the work of a general practice lawyer under the supervision of practicing attorneys in relevant areas.
UW Law students can spend a semester as an intern for one of our state Supreme Court justices or in a state agency implementing policy. Many of our students choose more than one of these activities. Our students get an opportunity for hands-on work under the supervision of remarkable lawyers and teachers. They build strong skills enabling them to be excellent lawyers when the time comes.
And practicing law comes sooner for graduates of Wisconsin law schools than it does for most other law graduates in the country. That’s the third distinguishing feature of our law school – our state’s “diploma privilege”: A student who takes the requisite coursework and maintains a satisfactory grade-point average can be licensed to practice law in Wisconsin without sitting for a bar examination.
In 2014, our third-year students graduated on May 16 and were admitted to practice on June 3, meaning they were licensed attorneys about three weeks after they took their last law school exam.
I’d like to say that one of the amazing things about the law school is that we educate people for so many different things. You don’t have to come here knowing what you want. We’ll prepare you for everything from a small practice in Racine to a sophisticated practice in New York.
LD: The diploma privilege would seem to encourage graduates to remain in Wisconsin if they should and can. Is there such a need for lawyers in Wisconsin and if so, in which fields and where in the state?
MR: Particularly in a difficult job market, it is hard to go elsewhere when you’re qualified to practice already in your home state soon after graduation. I can tell you from experience that the newly hired public defenders and district attorneys in our classes can be out the door and on the job the day they get their licenses.
That’s not to say that we don’t have a lot of non-residents. The Wisconsin bar has a very large out-of-state contingent. Nor do we ignore students who plan to practice elsewhere. Indeed, we work hard with them.
That said, the percentage of in-state students here has been increasing in part because we are such a great value, in part because Madison is a great place to settle. I’ve actually had to speak with some students who considered turning down jobs because they weren’t in Madison.
Can Wisconsin use more lawyers? Can our graduates fill a need by remaining here? Yes – especially in the smaller cities in northern Wisconsin. As a result, we’re doing a better job of showing our students what that kind of rural practice would look like, what the advantages are.
In partnership with the state bar, for example, we’re working on pairing senior lawyers who are thinking of retiring with our young lawyers just starting out, the notion being that they are training their successors. And what is so attractive about rural practice? Your opportunity to lead in a small community starts the day you walk into your office.
Every nonprofit – hospitals, community foundations and the like – wants a lawyer on the board. You’ll be that lawyer. Work in Milwaukee or any reasonably large city in this or any other state and you’ll wait a long time for that type of leadership position and community involvement.
Our state access-to-justice study found half a million Wisconsin residents had legal services needs that were not being met. And there is court-appointed paid work available in small communities: misdemeanor criminal defense work, for example, and guardian ad litem appointments where you’re representing the interests of infants, the unborn or those not competent. You might not want your whole practice to involve court-appointed work. But it’s a great place to start.
LD: What are your biggest challenges as dean and how are you meeting them?
MR: Our challenges are the challenges facing all law schools today: providing transformative legal education for great students at a reasonable cost. We think we’re meeting that challenge pretty well. We’ve kept tuition stable for the past three years. We provided some scholarship support to 74 percent of our 2014 entering class, and we’re still providing a top quality, hands-on, personalized educational experience for every student.
We know that a legal education is a substantial investment for each and every one of our students, and we work hard to make sure that they are getting the greatest value from their investment.
We’re particularly focused on controlling costs at the front end. Tuition hasn’t gone up in three years. I lobbied for that. At the same time, we are working with students to control their costs coming in. Orientation for first years includes a presentation on debt and on managing a repayment plan. We have very practical budget discussions with students about living with a budget and within their means.
The result of all our efforts is that average student debt this year went down – to an all-student average of $79,000. That’s still a lot, but it is comprehensible; students can envision the reality of paying it back.
LD: Are you seeing trends in the jobs your students take after graduation?
MR: The percentage of our graduates who begin their careers in public interest positions, such as those in government and nonprofit organizations, continues to strongly outpace the national average. This is not at all surprising, considering the strong clinical and experiential opportunities available to students at UW Law.
At the same time, our graduates are well prepared for work across a broad range of professional opportunities, whether in large law firms, businesses, government or the nonprofit world.
LD: What do you do outside law school when you’re not being dean?
MR: When I have time, I enjoy the Madison food scene. There are some great restaurants here; my husband, Mark Sidel, and I love the Madison Farmers’ Market, and I have trouble resisting the many varieties of local ice cream – including Babcock Hall ice cream made right here on campus. Great craft beer and a Friday night fish fry are Wisconsin traditions, and a bratwurst on a football Saturday makes the game even more fun.
It’s a little challenging for an 11 a.m. kickoff, but we make it work.
Contact Margot Slade at (914) 396-4248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.