Lessons in Life and Law

Inspired by her UW Law experience, Laureen Seeger ’86 gives back—and calls on others to join her.

headshot of Laureen SeegerLaureen Seeger ’86, chief legal officer for American Express and a member of the board of directors for the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association, has a competitive side that has served her well over the years. A highly driven teenager and a decorated student-athlete in college, Seeger’s willingness to learn and push herself easily translated to a legal career—one that has spanned nearly forty years and includes an impressive record as a lawyer and a leader.

As a young girl, Seeger knew she was interested in studying law and, even as a teen, she did not hesitate to dive in. She took steps to graduate high school at age 16 and spent a year working full time for Quarles & Brady, a law firm in her hometown of Milwaukee. By 17, Seeger enrolled as a freshman at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire and spent every break she had throughout her undergraduate schooling back at Quarles & Brady.

After earning her business degree, Seeger applied to a single school: University of Wisconsin Law School. The school’s reputation, in-state tuition, and proximity to home made it an easy choice for her.

While the decision to apply only to UW Law School was simple, Seeger’s first semester was anything but. Two weeks before classes began, she suffered a serious bicycle accident that left her with a shattered elbow, concussed, and out of cash to pay for tuition. With the help of the Law School and UW–Madison administrators, Seeger was able to apply for student loans and pay her tuition late while still attending classes.

“I will always be so appreciative of that moment in time when I felt that the University of Wisconsin Law School had my back,” she said.

In 1986, Seeger graduated and moved to Atlanta, Georgia, to join the prestigious law firm Jones Day. Early on in her career, she realized how well UW’s Law-in-Action approach to teaching had prepared her for practicing in the real world. She discovered her coursework had been “more practical and more focused on shaping the law and having it meet the moment” than that of some of her non-UW Law peers. Seeger credits the faculty at UW Law School for setting her education apart from that of her colleagues.

“As I think about the University’s future—its impact on current students and future students—I think one of the best investments that can be made is in the faculty. Retaining and recruiting the highest-quality teachers is really number one for me.”

“I don’t think that there was any single factor in Law School that contributed to my journey—my love of the law—more than the professors I had who taught me at Wisconsin,” she said.

As Seeger explains, a competitive drive and reading the proper legal textbooks can only take a student so far. Excellent lawyers first need excellent professors to teach them how to examine, understand, and move the law.

“I didn’t learn what I learned and get that well-prepared just by reading a book,” she said. “The faculty made a huge difference.”

Professors at UW Law also taught Seeger how to achieve a balance in her life between her career and personal demands. Professor Emeritus Thomas Palay, Seeger’s former Torts professor and research adviser, was responsible for a particularly moving moment for Seeger.

“I remember him coming into the classroom one day and being speechless because he had become a new father,” she said. “And he just had to take a moment to share that with the class and talk about how life-altering and mind-bending it was. He was a human being.”

As the youngest of ten children and a mother to five children of her own, Seeger has been able to work toward her career goals while keeping her personal priorities, like family, in mind. Palay gave her a real-life example of what that looked like just as she was setting out on her own journey.

All the lessons Seeger learned in life and law at UW have inspired her to give back. While considering where to focus her support, she faced another easy choice.

“As I think about the University’s future—its impact on current students and future students—I think one of the best investments that can be made is in the faculty,” she said. “Retaining and recruiting the highest-quality teachers is really number one for me.”

The Faculty Recruitment and Retention Fund gave Seeger the perfect opportunity to express her appreciation in a meaningful way while buttressing the Law School with long-lasting support.

Created by UW Law in 2021, the Faculty Recruitment and Retention Fund aims to attract and retain highly qualified faculty members—the foundation of any prestigious law school.

“Recruiting and retaining top-tier legal scholars is central to our mission,” said Dean Daniel Tokaji. “We want UW Law students to learn from the very best. This fund expands our capacity to bring in rising and established stars, develop world-changing ideas, and educate the next generation of lawyers and leaders.”

Seeger is stepping up to forward these goals, and she’s challenging others to do the same with a matching gift of $500,000 toward the Faculty Recruitment and Retention Fund. She has pledged to match commitments of $50,000 or higher.

By supporting this fund, Seeger is setting current and future students up to have the same opportunities she enjoyed at UW Law.

“I just think Madison—the community, the school—is a phenomenal place to study law,” she said. “I can’t imagine a better experience.”

By Esther Seidlitz

If you would like to take advantage of this matching opportunity or like to make a gift to the Law School, please visit law.wisc.edu/alumni/gifts.