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Elliot Gaiser ’12 works for an inter­na­tionally rec­og­nized law firm, after grad­u­ating from the Uni­versity of Chicago Law School and holding extern­ships and clerk­ships in the Circuit Court of Appeals. Elliot Gaiser | Courtesy

In high school, Elliot Gaiser was told he was either going to be a lawyer or politician. As hard as he tried to avoid these, he failed at both.

A 2012 graduate, Gaiser now works for Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher LLP, a firm with more than 1,200 lawyers in 20 offices worldwide. Within five years of grad­u­ation, he had already externed with Judge Alice M. Batchelder of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and clerked for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. In the Fifth Circuit, he worked for the Hon­orable Edith Jones, who was appointed by former pres­ident Ronald Reagan.

Gaiser also spent his second summer of law school as an asso­ciate in the Wash­ington D.C office of Cleary, Got­tlieb, Steen, & Hamilton LLP, where he worked on case law and other projects. He spent his remaining summer working under the Solicitor General’s Office of Ohio, where he managed appeals cases for state, and even worked on dif­ferent cases in the Ohio Supreme Court.

Jones spoke of Gaiser as a man of real integrity.  

“Elliot’s records of high achievement and excellent GPA at Hillsdale and the Uni­versity of Chicago made him stand out to me,” Jones said. “Hillsdale was also a pos­itive thing. He had an excellent and rig­orous under­graduate edu­cation, and was well-pre­pared for law. He drafted bench memos — the summary of cases we heard in court and pre­lim­inary drafts of opinions that I edited. He had the first crack at stating the law in the draft opinions.”

Gaiser said he was lucky to spend a year working with Jones, whom he called an incredible mentor. He watched her make deci­sions and be faithful to her oath of office.

“It’s a beau­tiful thing when you see someone who is good at their job, doing their job faith­fully,” Gaiser said. “Judge Jones is such a faithful servant of the law and con­sti­tution.”

But when he grad­uated, Gaiser didn’t intend to go straight into law school and a career in law, even against entre­preneur Don Tocco’s encour­agement, who had become a close friend during Gaiser’s time on campus.

“The very last day of his senior year, he came up to me in his cap and gown, and I asked him ‘What’s the plan’?’ and he said he was going to work for his dad,” Tocco said. “I told him, ‘I think you should get a law degree, pursue higher roots in the judi­ciary.’”

Ignoring Tocco’s pre­diction, Gaiser spent five months working for Altus Tech­nologies Cor­po­ration, a bou­tique data center man­agement con­sulting firm, after his grad­u­ation. There, he managed com­mu­ni­ca­tions for more than 40 IT pro­fes­sionals and of thou­sands of appli­ca­tions and servers to a new data center.

“Then I realized ‘Man, I miss the sort of aggressive, learned aspect of daily life that a liberal insti­tution like Hillsdale has taught me to appre­ciate,”’ Gaiser said.

Gaiser applied and was accepted to Ohio State Moritz College of Law. He trans­ferred after his first year into the Uni­versity of Chicago, ranked No. 4 in the United States by US News.com.

In law, Gaiser said he found exactly what he was seeking.

“[Law is an] incredible place to apply what I learned at Hillsdale: under­standing of human nature, of insti­tu­tions, and com­munity,” he said. “That human beings form to facil­itate flour­ishing and liberty and order under law— all of that was available to practice through the day-to-day process of law.”

As Gaiser deepened his studies in law, he found richness in even the driest topics.

“Even in an eso­teric and dry subject, like civil pro­cedure, I found there were streams in an oth­erwise apparent desert flowing through ques­tions of court’s per­sonal juris­diction, where oppor­tu­nities to explain what fun­da­mental justice means for human nature,” Gaiser said. “So I loved it.”

Inspired by that pursuit of justice, Gaiser went on to become an attorney — the career everyone but him saw years ago. Tocco’s pre­diction came to fruition.

Tocco said that Gaiser’s pres­ti­gious clerkship was no sur­prise to him — from the first time he met Elliot, Tocco said he was shocked how excellent a com­mu­ni­cator Elliot was, perfect for judging and inter­preting law.

“[Law] is axiomatic,” Tocco said. “If you take an excellent, intel­ligent, person capable of con­sulting and and place them in making law, good will come. And this country needs good lead­ership.”

Gaiser’s gift with words helps him determine text’s true meaning — whether he liked them or not.  

“When I have a case to read, I inter­rogate that text. I take words as having meaning, in the real world, and I take that meaning seri­ously. I don’t always agree with those words, par­tic­u­larly when opposing lit­i­gants are making an argument,” Gaiser said. “Words have meaning, but there’s a way to study those words to determine of they are true or false.”

At Hillsdale, Gaiser excelled in argu­men­tation, espe­cially in speech delivery. He was a four-time finalist and one-time winner of the annual Edward Everett Oratory Contest, a speech com­pe­tition judged by Hillsdale College Pres­ident Larry Arnn, Tocco, and Bill McGurn, an editor of the Wall Street Journal and former speech­writer to former pres­ident Bush.

Gaiser said one of his out­standing Hillsdale expe­ri­ences that brought him to where he is today was a public address workshop with Rhetoric and Address Chairman Kirstin Kiledal.

“I alway hear her voice in my mind as she told me how to change a phrase a par­ticular way to make it res­onate with an audience,” Gaiser said.

Kiledal said Gaiser is a “man of the mind”, and said she was pleased when she heard he clerked for the Fifth Circuit, but not sur­prised — “one can never be sur­prised with his accom­plish­ments.”

“Char­acter is a driving force for that young man,” Kiledal said. “The only times I’ve ever seen Elliot hurt was when there were chal­lenges to his char­acter, par­tic­u­larly when we knew that they were ill-founded.”

During his college career, Gaiser interned for Liberty Central, a non­profit con­ser­v­ative advocacy firm, and the Daily Caller under Tucker Carlson, and he con­tributed to Real­Clear­Policy, the Orange County Reg­ister, the Daily Signal, American Spec­tator, PJ Media, and The Fed­er­alist. He also worked as the opinion editor for Hillsdale Col­legian.

At Liberty Central, Gaiser interned for Vir­ginia Thomas, the firm’s founder and the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

“I admire no man more than Justice Clarence Thomas. As a very young attorney myself, his story, his example, his intel­lectual lead­ership from the Supreme Court. So many of the things I learned about, what does it mean to be a hard worker, a pro­fes­sional, a lot of the aspi­ra­tions I have, I learned from afar from Thomas,” Gaiser said, drawing from Thomas’ wisdom on work in his book, “My Grandfather’s Son.”

For Tocco, Gaiser’s steady climb up the ladder of law was evident.

“I would have been sur­prised if [Elliot clerking for the 5th Court of Appeals] hadn’t have hap­pened,” Tocco said. “Keep an eye on him, and see where he ends up in the next five to 10 years.”