Dean Margaret Raymond: A Legacy of Leadership and Service

Dean Margaret Raymond
“Margaret changed the culture of the school, paving the way for a new guard. And the way she changed it was to put procedural fairness in place. She made our processes for hiring, research, and retention more transparent, more regularized, and less personalized. She’s really a procedural jurist.” — Heinz Klug, Evjue-Bascom Professor of Law

Margaret Raymond, UW Law School’s thirteenth dean and the first woman to hold the job, moved to Madison in the summer of 2011 well-prepared to lead. She had spent sixteen years on the faculty at the University of Iowa College of Law, going from being a new law teacher to the William G. Hammond Professor of Law. At Iowa, she won accolades for her teaching and took on a number of campus leadership roles, including president of the University Faculty Senate.

She had succeeded in legal practice and as a law student, as well. She brought prior experience as a commercial litigator and as a criminal defense lawyer to the deanship. At Columbia Law School, she graduated first in her class, and went on to clerk for the late US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and the late Judge James L. Oakes of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Raymond has said she wanted to be dean to make a difference on a larger scale. “It’s an opportunity to affect even more students than I could as a teacher and scholar. By being attentive to 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.”

For the past nine years, Raymond managed a complex legal institution with a $30 million budget. As head of a law school, she was responsible to students, faculty, and university administrators, and also for creating enduring and mutually beneficial relationships with alumni and the broader legal community in the state and beyond.

As she steps down from her role as dean, we reflect on Raymond’s legacy of successful leadership and service to Wisconsin’s legal community.

Holding Steady in Uncertain Times

Raymond’s skills as a new dean were put to the test straightaway. Her arrival in 2011 coincided with a sharp drop in law school applicants across the country, one the legal academy didn’t see coming.

“I don’t know if people fully appreciate the crisis that threatened US law schools around that time,” said Steve Wright, who co-directs UW Law’s Wisconsin Innocence Project. “Law school enrollments plummeted. The number of good paying legal jobs plummeted, too.”

Wright and his colleague Heinz Klug credit Raymond’s bold, decisive leadership with bringing the Law School through a tough time, and ultimately coming out stronger. That’s in part because Raymond knew she would have to engage the entire law school community — faculty, staff, alumni, and students — in working toward solutions. It’s also due to Raymond’s instincts and expertise, they said.

According to Klug, UW’s Evjue-Bascom Professor of Law, “Margaret’s a fast learner — incredibly fast on her feet — and she was able to pick up what was necessary, to step in during a time of uncertainty, and implement reforms.” At the time, Klug was associate dean of faculty development and research, working closely with Raymond as a generation of law faculty were preparing to retire. The challenge for Raymond was to update processes and bring the Law School into the twenty-first century, while maintaining faculty quality and honoring the scholarly traditions on which the school’s reputation had long rested.

“Margaret changed the culture of the school, paving the way for a new guard. And the way she changed it was to put procedural fairness in place. She made our processes for hiring, research, and retention more transparent, more regularized, and less personalized,” he said. “She’s really a procedural jurist.”

Raymond brought that same creativity and determination to UW Law’s fundraising efforts, Klug said. In a shifting legal market, she was able to tap into alumni confidence in the value of a UW Law degree, while building faith in the ways gifts are used. Under Raymond’s leadership, the Law School secured the largest gifts ever from living donors, and well over $40 million in total commitments toward UW–Madison’s comprehensive campaign. That exceeded an ambitious goal by more than $5 million, with a full year of the campaign yet to go. She also secured endowment gifts to promote faculty scholarship, creating a distinguished research chair, two endowed faculty fellowships and a junior faculty fellowship, and the first chair at the UW named for an African-American faculty member — Professor James E. Jones.

“She’s done an extraordinary job finding resources for the school. It will be her legacy. There’s no question about that,” Klug said.

Building New Partnerships

Liz Gracie, a 1983 UW Law graduate who practices property tax law in Chicago, said Raymond has a special knack for building alumni enthusiasm. “I started contributing financially to the Law School pretty soon after graduation, but it was always just a financial transaction,” she said. “I kept my distance and so did the Law School.”

Then Gracie met Raymond at a UW Law-hosted event in Chicago, and her ties to the Law School began to strengthen. She started attending the Dean’s Summit, a two-day event for leadership and legacy donors that Raymond implemented. She joined the Law School’s Board of Visitors in 2014, and soon after, she financed the Gracie Summer Fellows program to support UW Law students in their summer public interest jobs.

“What Margaret did for me — and for others, I’m sure — was to make me a partner in the success of the Law School. She really drew me on board in that way,” Gracie said.

Raymond is an effective and skilled communicator, who never shies away from the opportunity to connect, Gracie said. “Sometimes alumni ask challenging questions, but Margaret never gets defensive. She acknowledges the question and gives a factual and objective response. She connects the dots, she helps us to understand, and she speaks with confidence about the Law School and the challenges and opportunities it faces right now.”

Putting Students First

Since her first day as dean, Raymond championed the transformative power of a UW Law degree, and that meant putting students first. She inspired donors like Gracie to support students in record numbers, earmarking nearly $11 million in the current campaign for students. Even as the campus faced budget challenges, she successfully fought for a three-year tuition freeze and implemented practices to help students keep debt in check. She revamped the Law School’s Office of Career and Professional Development to better prepare students for a changing, uncertain job market. She listened and responded to student needs; as an example, when students said they needed wellness resources, she arranged to hire a full-time mental health counselor, embedded within the Law School. She initiated a transparent process for students to apply for funds for Law School-related activities and she held weekly office hours to stay connected. She hosted graduates planning to sit for out-of-state bar exams who faced a grueling summer of study, unlike their friends planning to practice in Wisconsin who were taking advantage of the diploma privilege, to dinner at her home.

dean raymond with 1Ls at orientation

Nina Neff, a member of UW Law’s Class of 2020, said she values Raymond’s openness, her diplomacy, and her creativity: “She always welcomes a good idea, no matter how unexpected.”

Neff was president of QLaw, a student organization dedicated to serving the Law School’s LGBTQ community. She also served as the senior program editor of the Wisconsin International Law Journal and as a Moot Court coach. “Dean Raymond’s willingness to continually push the Law School to improve on issues of diversity and inclusion is particularly meaningful,” Neff said. “And of course, as UW Law’s first woman dean, she has set an example of excellence and encouraged a generation of women law students to seek success at the highest levels of the profession. She will be missed, but her legacy will continue to shape the culture of UW Law.”

In the final months of the 2019–20 academic year, UW–Madison enforced a campus-wide shutdown to limit the spread of COVID-19. A Law building lockdown meant students and faculty finished their semesters online, and that all face-to-face events — even the traditional hooding ceremony to honor the Law School’s graduating class — would be canceled. When she opened the building for a final time to allow students to retrieve their belongings, Raymond was there to greet students from a safe distance. She knew it could well be her last opportunity to see many from the Class of 2020.

Once again, Raymond was called to lead her community through troubled, unprecedented times. It was an unforeseen conclusion that revealed Raymond’s character as a passionate, forward-thinking law school leader all the more, said Wisconsin Innocence Project’s Wright.

“Simply put, Margaret is fearless,” he concluded. “Through all the challenges, she never lost sight that a good legal education can uplift students, and she remains an articulate advocate for the role of public universities in uplifting communities.”

Dean Raymond’s Legacy

  • Secured endowment gifts to promote faculty scholarship, creating a distinguished research chair, two endowed faculty fellowships and a junior faculty fellowship, and the first chair at the UW named for an African-American faculty member — Professor James E. Jones
  • The first woman dean of the Law School
  • Fought for a three-year tuition freeze
  • Secured over $40 million in total commitments toward UW–Madison’s comprehensive campaign
  • Arranged to hire a full-time mental health counselor, embedded within the Law School
  • Earmarked nearly $11 million in the current campaign for students

Dean Raymond headshotAn Interview with Dean Raymond

When you enter Margaret Raymond’s office, it’s hard not to notice the gargoyle.

After occupying the dean’s suite for most of a decade, Raymond announced last fall that she would step down from her position in July and, following a year of leave, would return to the faculty. She has shared office space with the Law School’s sandstone mascot for just over a year. “This is the second gargoyle, which we believed for years had been destroyed when the old building was demolished in 1963,” she explained.

When the family of a deceased alumnus returned the second gargoyle, mysteriously “found” after a 70-year absence, Raymond took the statue in. Along with the gargoyle, her office reflects her warmth, a sense of humor, and a desire to create a little calm in her high-pressure work zone. There’s a painting of a neighborhood in the Florida Keys that brings her tranquility. There’s a print by a favorite Milwaukee artist, an abstract rendering of the Six Flags rollercoaster along Interstate 94 — yes, she said, it’s symbolic. There’s a picture of Becky Badger, Bucky’s female counterpart. “As for the gargoyle, I might suggest the next dean keep him here,” she quipped. “He’s just what a dean wants in an office mate. He hears everything, and shares nothing.”

Raymond took time to talk from her office in early March, before the COVID-19 pandemic closed the Law Building and required her to end her tenure at home.

What makes a good dean?

A law school dean oversees a complex enterprise, and that’s not a thing academics generally train for. But if you tried to hire people who are non-academics, people who know about managing enterprises, to do this job, they wouldn’t know how to speak the language of the educational community or be aligned with its mission. The challenge is to figure out how to get up to speed on both of those things.

Being tough helps, too. You have to grow a thick skin.

What’s an example of an early lesson you learned?

When I first came, people told me I’d have to figure out what our message is, and that it would be the same message all the time. I wondered how on earth that could ever be true: this is such a big, complicated place, with so much going on. But soon I realized we had started doing just that.

The message was that we needed to sustain the combination of rigorous intellectual and analytical training for which we’re known and the extraordinarily rich array of clinical and experiential learning opportunities we offer, and to continue to offer a transformative UW Law education while growing the diversity of our student body and assuring access to every deserving student.

You came into the job during a sudden downturn in law school interest, which no one predicted. In those early days, did you have second thoughts?

Do I wish I had known in advance how severely the recession would affect law schools? Probably not. If I’d known, I’m not sure I would have been willing to do this job. And it turns out, this was a great time for me to step into the leadership of a law school. You know, I’ve always been a sale rack shopper. Managing creatively in an environment of scarcity is far easier for me than figuring out how to apportion excess. I’m not as good at that. Instead I could say to everybody, ‘It’s all hands on deck. We all have to help out, and we all have to be prepared for things to be tough for a while.’

How did the economic downturn affect your relationships with donors?

Coming to the job in an environment of scarcity meant I could say to donors, ‘We still have the wonderful students we always had, and without your help, they can’t get this transformative degree, and you can make it happen.’ And they did. And so in a way — and this might sound strange — it was a gift to be the underdog, to make the case not for ‘we have a lot and we should have more,’ but instead for ‘we need everybody to contribute in order to make this transformative change in the lives of these students.’

And how does it feel to come out the other side, having so successfully exceeded the UW’s comprehensive campaign goals?

I would have felt much less worried coming into this job had I known that nine years down the road, we would be rounding the corner on a $40 million campaign — and it didn’t feel that arduous. Of course, one of the ways you succeed at fundraising is to make sure you’re working with skilled people; it’s useful to have somebody who knows how. I was incredibly blessed when I came here to have a really good development director.

Fundraising isn’t for everyone, but it wound up being my favorite part of the job. Getting to know alumni who have the capacity to support your enterprise, and then figuring out something they can do that’s both meaningful to them and aligns with what your school needs? To me, that’s fun and creative. And it makes a tremendous difference to our stakeholders.

What’s one thing the next generation of deans will need to pay close attention to?

Figuring out the value proposition of a legal education is more important now than ever. How do we deliver the excellent hands-on education that our students deserve, with a low student-teacher ratio, at an affordable price, and provide them with great career choices when they finish? That’s the question for every public law school in the country.

How has the environment changed for women Law Deans over the past nine years?

For starters, there are a lot more of us! When I came to Wisconsin, women law deans made up about 20 percent of the leaders in the legal academy. Today we’re at around 40 percent. Watching this new generation of young women coming into the deanships — this really capable, diverse group — it’s exciting to think that they’re going to be part of the leadership for the next round of legal education. We’re in really good hands.

It’s also worth noting the causal effect. Younger women on this faculty have told me they feel more empowered to speak out, to own their opinions, and to play a leadership role of their own than they may have felt before there was female leadership in the institution. A lot of things contributed to that, but I’m proud if I played a part.

At Iowa, your scholarship focused on constitutional criminal procedure, legal ethics, and professional responsibility. What scholarly questions are interesting you as you move into the next phase of your career?

I’m interested in doing some qualitative looking at the role lawyers play in smaller communities and whether that’s a sustainable, enduring model. A lot of the literature about the practice of law focuses on very large law firms. And here in Wisconsin, we have one of the many laboratories for the study of small firm general practices and the people who make them work. In a sense, I think those roles anchor communities and families. That’s a really interesting, different way to understand what lawyers do. I’m considering writing more for trade press publications than in purely academic journals, because I don’t think people understand what lawyers do, and I think that could be exciting to communicate.

What will you miss?

This may sound morbid, but one of the things that I really appreciate is being invited to funerals. As dean, I’ve been called into some very intimate moments, some of which are happy and some of which are hard. To have been part of the lives of the people in this community — especially, to have experienced the trust people place in me when they let me see the more somber sides — has been my great privilege.