Longtime UW Law registrar returns to kick off academic year

As UW Law prepares to kick off the new academic year, the law school’s longtime registrar Pontus Niklasson returns to the key role he held from 2009-2019.

Niklasson is an integral part of students’ lives during and after law school. As registrar and director of academic services, he manages and maintains thousands of student and alumni academic records, which in the legal field’s highly competitive environment carry particular significance long after graduation.

“My role touches on so many of the different pieces of the puzzle that make up the school that you really don’t get siloed,” Niklasson says. “I like feeling like I’m contributing to something, and I enjoy working with students to help them solve whatever problems they may have.

The move is the latest in lifetime full of them.

Niklasson was born in Sweden, and grew up in Belgium, Morocco and Egypt. He says those early experiences with different cultures sparked an interest in anthropology, which he studied when he relocated to the United States for college.

He holds a degree in anthropology from Northwestern University and a master’s in the field from the University at Buffalo.

“I found it so interesting to be a student of how people interact and how people find meaning,” Niklasson says.

Since beginning his career in higher education, Niklasson has held various roles that allow him to engage with people on several different levels.

In 1999, he joined the Office of Career Services at the University of Chicago Law School. By 2005, he had taken over as the school’s registrar, a role in which he has served since.

While school-to-school duties vary, registrar is an immensely complicated position that is central to the student academic experience.

“More than anything, I hope students can retain the excitement of embarking on something new and interesting so they can make the most of what they’re going to learn.”

In addition to serving as stewards of an institution’s academic records, registrars are responsible for a wealth of critical aspects of the student experience, including scheduling and registering students for classes; scheduling space and times for classes; ensuring students meet graduation requirements; processing grades; preparing transcripts and diplomas; producing data about students and classes; and ensuring student data privacy requirements are met.

In the past 20 years, the technical aspects of the role have evolved as electronic record-keeping replaced hard-copy data management.

Still, the foundation remains the same: helping students get everything they need to succeed in law school and move on to successful careers as attorneys.

“Registrar can be a high-stress position because you really serve as a go-between among students, faculty, colleagues and sometimes parents,” Niklasson says. “It has definitely drawn a lot on my education, and so many aspects of this work have allowed me to grow both as a person and as a professional. It just becomes a part of who you are.”

Niklasson returns to the UW after a year in New York where he served as university registrar at Alfred University.

While the experience was rewarding and instructive, he says he enjoys the more direct connections with students the law school affords.

As UW Law heads into a COVID-19-impacted year, those relationships among the faculty, staff and student communities will be arguably more important than ever.

“There’s a whole community of people at the law school who are ready to help, interact or just be there for one another,” Niklasson says. “And more than anything, I hope students can retain the excitement of embarking on something new and interesting so they can make the most of what they’re going to learn.”