Some people go to law school because it is the family thing to do. With a brother and sister who were already lawyers, Meghan Gavin had the opposite reaction as an undergraduate. “I was pretty sure I didn’t want to go law school,” she recalls. While studying history and political science, first as an undergraduate at DePaul University and then in a master’s program at the University of Chicago, Gavin looked forward to working on political campaigns and “participating in the world”—not just studying it.
It only took time, though, before she was bitten by the law school bug. The decision to study at the University of Iowa’s College of Law was an easy one: “I didn’t know where I wanted to end up, whether it would be Chicago or elsewhere, so I decided on Iowa because its national reputation and central location would maximize my options. Also, the price is right—especially for its rankings.”
Six years out of law school, Gavin has no regrets, noting the multiple benefits of her legal education: “Iowa Law makes you an incredible legal writer in a way that other law schools cannot touch. You also learn how to really break down arguments and how to look at every level of a case. Iowa taught me to always second guess and question my initial impression.”
Iowa Law also opened the door to one of her best teachers and learning opportunities. After graduating in 2006, Gavin became a clerk for Iowa Supreme Court Justice Brent Appel, who she calls her ideal mentor; “Justice Appel is very much the type of lawyer I want to be.”
Working with Appel for three and a half years, Gavin had the opportunity to read the Iowa Constitution at least a half dozen times and engage in a very high level of legal abstraction. “I relied on the analytical skills I learned at Iowa every day while working for the Court,” she says.
In late 2010, Gavin became an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Iowa, gaining the interesting distinction of representing her past employer, Iowa’s judicial branch, if and when it is sued. The Dubuque native says that Iowa is a good place for lawyers hoping to pursue governmental work: “There are a lot of opportunities in Iowa with fewer job candidates—as compared to Chicago or Washington, D.C., and you can progress relatively quickly here.”
Recently, she defended the judicial branch in Carlson v. Wiggins, a case challenging the merit selection system for selecting judges. The U.S. Supreme Court recently denied certiorari after the State’s victory at the Eighth Circuit. She also argued her first case last year to the Iowa Supreme Court—Iowa Right to Life v. Tooker. The case challenged the constitutionality of Iowa’s campaign finance scheme post-Citizen’s United. Gavin is well aware that she is doing exactly the kind of “real” work to which she once feared a law degree would not lead. But it did—leading her home and to some of the state’s highest offices.