Skip to Content
The best public universities have the strongest private support.

Sharing the Fruits of a Dream

Margaret Wong

Margaret Wong

Sharing the Fruits of a Dream

It was only when she began teaching immigration law this fall as an adjunct professor at Case Western Reserve University, says Margaret W. Wong '76, that she realized what a high-wire act it is to hold your own before a classroom full of bright law students.

So, says Margaret, who has spent a career building her Cleveland-based practice into an immigration law powerhouse, she called on SUNY Buffalo Law School for advice. She emailed associate professor Rick Su, whose teaching and research includes work in immigration law, with a rookie question: "How do you talk for two hours?"

Rick provided a little coaching, and now- "every Tuesday at 6 o'clock"-she finds herself imparting the lessons of her fruitful career to the next generation of would-be immigration lawyers.

Margaret's personal journey is as well-known at SUNY Buffalo Law School as it is in Cleveland. Born in Hong Kong, where her parents had fled following the Communist takeover of China, she became an immigrant herself, coming to the United States on a student visa along with her younger sister, Cecilia. Between them they had four suitcases and $200.

Margaret's rags-to-riches story began when she worked her way through college in Iowa and then Illinois as a waitress (though, she lost jobs because she couldn't tell a Rob Roy from a Manhattan or from a martini), and spent summers doing hotel work in New York's Catskills resorts. A full scholarship to SUNY Buffalo Law School, she says, made her dream of becoming a lawyer possible.

Making Her Own Opportunities
She passed the bar but could not find a job in law. She worked a temporary position as a legal and financial officer for the City of Buffalo, then moved to Cleveland to become a management trainee at a bank there. After a brief stint at a Cleveland law firm, she struck out on her own with a $25 desk and didn't even have a secretary.

She called everyone she knew and handed out her business card on buses. Slowly the business built up to the point a few years ago when Wong moved it into a beautiful new building on downtown Chester Street and christened it the MWW Center. Margaret Wong & Associates now has additional offices in Chicago, New York City, Columbus, Atlanta and Detroit, serving both individual and corporate clients throughout the United States.

She and her husband, pharmacist Kam Chan, have two children, including daughter Allison Chan, a 2011 graduate of UB Law School.

"It is my firm belief that the United States in still the best country in which to live, thrive, and become somebody," she writes in her book The Immigrant's Way. "I am living the American dream. ... Most foreign-borns in the United States are tenacious survivors. We work hard to save and to bring our families to America to enjoy a better life-in living standards, personal freedoms, and environmental conditions. We also tend to be stoic, do not voice our opinions often, and are more generally accepting and accommodating to the not-so-great things that happen to us or around us, while being thankful for the good things that do happen."

Wong makes the three-hour drive from Cleveland for meetings of SUNY Buffalo Law School's Dean's Advisory Council, of which she has been a member since 2006. The Law School has recognized her extraordinary level of involvement with her alma mater by presenting her with the Distinguished Alumna Award for private practice in 2007.

Giving Back
That involvement has extended to substantial financial support of the Law School. This year Margaret has increased her previous commitment of $850,000 by an additional $650,000. That $1.5 million endowment will be divided: half for scholarships, half to establish a professorship in immigration law.

The scholarship support, she says, is partly intended to advance the school's efforts to attract the very best students regardless of financial need. "We're trying to get really top-rate students," she says, "and it's nice to be wanted. For many of these top-tier students, three schools will accept them, and the decision comes down to which they can afford financially."

The ability to offer significant scholarship money, she says, means SUNY Buffalo Law can enroll students of the highest caliber, thereby enhancing the educational experience for all the school's stakeholders while also helping the school's reputation and rankings.

But also, Margaret says, her scholarship giving recognizes the help she herself received all those years ago. "It really did some good for me," she says of that assistance. "I went most of three years for free. I thought it would be neat to plan such a gift and see some kids enjoy it. It's a good investment."

In addition, the new gift to endow a professorship in immigration law reflects her commitment to that legal field and her recognition that it's an uncommon specialization. "I did not realize how hard it is to recruit good teachers who care about immigration," she says. "It's such a niche practice. It includes issues of Constitutional law, human rights, international trade-we need to encourage professors to do scholarly research in that field."

She recognizes that the gift may seem showy, and that's the last thing she wants. In reality, she says, she was "a little shocked" at the amount she was asked to give. But the gift becomes manageable, she says, when paid over a number of years, and partly as a bequest-and the tax deduction, she notes, is immediate.

Margaret, who marked her 61st birthday this year, turns reflective when asked about the timing of her gift. "You come to a time in your life when you ask, what impacts you the most? You want to do some good," she says. "After the kids are grown and all the tuition is paid, what do you care most about? You want to help other people, not just your immediate family and children."

How You Can Help
You can make a significant difference like Margaret and it doesn't have to affect your current income. Learn how.

 

eBrochure Request Form

Please provide the following information to view the brochure.

A charitable bequest is one or two sentences in your will or living trust that leave to the University at Buffalo a specific item, an amount of money, a gift contingent upon certain events or a percentage of your estate.

an individual or organization designated to receive benefits or funds under a will or other contract, such as an insurance policy, trust or retirement plan

'I give, devise, and bequeath to the University at Buffalo Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit education corporation, headquartered in Buffalo, New York, the (sum of $_____) or (_____% of my estate) or (the property described herein) or (the remainder of my estate) to benefit the University at Buffalo."

able to be changed or cancelled

A revocable living trust is set up during your lifetime and can be revoked at any time before death. They allow assets held in the trust to pass directly to beneficiaries without probate court proceedings and can also reduce federal estate taxes.

cannot be changed or cancelled

tax on gifts generally paid by the person making the gift rather than the recipient

the original value of an asset, such as stock, before its appreciation or depreciation

the growth in value of an asset like stock or real estate since the original purchase

the price a willing buyer and willing seller can agree on

The person receiving the gift annuity payments.

the part of an estate left after debts, taxes and specific bequests have been paid

a written and properly witnessed legal change to a will

the person named in a will to manage the estate, collect the property, pay any debt, and distribute property according to the will

A donor advised fund is an account that you set up but which is managed by a nonprofit organization. You contribute to the account, which grows tax-free. You can recommend how much (and how often) you want to distribute money from that fund to the University at Buffalo or other charities. You cannot direct the gifts.

An endowed gift can create a new endowment or add to an existing endowment. The principal of the endowment is invested and a portion of the principal’s earnings are used each year to support our mission.

Tax on the growth in value of an asset—such as real estate or stock—since its original purchase.

Securities, real estate or any other property having a fair market value greater than its original purchase price.

Real estate can be a personal residence, vacation home, timeshare property, farm, commercial property or undeveloped land.

A charitable remainder trust provides you or other named individuals income each year for life or a period not exceeding 20 years from assets you give to the trust you create.

You give assets to a trust that pays our organization set payments for a number of years, which you choose. The longer the length of time, the better the potential tax savings to you. When the term is up, the remaining trust assets go to you, your family or other beneficiaries you select. This is an excellent way to transfer property to family members at a minimal cost.

You fund this type of trust with cash or appreciated assets—and may qualify for a federal income tax charitable deduction when you itemize. You can also make additional gifts; each one also qualifies for a tax deduction. The trust pays you, each year, a variable amount based on a fixed percentage of the fair market value of the trust assets. When the trust terminates, the remaining principal goes to the University at Buffalo as a lump sum.

You fund this trust with cash or appreciated assets—and may qualify for a federal income tax charitable deduction when you itemize. Each year the trust pays you or another named individual the same dollar amount you choose at the start. When the trust terminates, the remaining principal goes to the University at Buffalo as a lump sum.

A beneficiary designation clearly identifies how specific assets will be distributed after your death.

A charitable gift annuity involves a simple contract between you and the University at Buffalo where you agree to make a gift to the University at Buffalo and we, in return, agree to pay you (and someone else, if you choose) a fixed amount each year for the rest of your life.

Personal Estate Planning Kit Request Form

Please provide the following information to view the materials for planning your estate.