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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.”