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Following family precedent at Iowa Law: First-year student Hannah Shirey’s UI ties date back to 1881

When Hannah Shirey reflects on her lineage, it’s no surprise she wound up at the University of Iowa College of Law.

But Shirey—who became the fifth generation of her family to attend the UI College of Law this fall—wasn’t always certain she’d be a Hawkeye.

After graduating from Colgate University in central New York with a degree in both anthropology and Middle East and Islamic Studies in 2011, Shirey jumped in to nonprofit work in New York City. Though her experience was rewarding, she says she quickly found herself needing to qualify her statements to clients.

“I was doing advocacy work, but I always found myself telling my clients they were going to need to talk to a lawyer,” Shirey says. “It was getting to the point where, to effectively do the advocacy work I wanted to do, I needed to have the skills that a legal education can offer.”

After deciding to pursue a J.D., Shirey started applying to law schools. And her family—made up of seven graduates of the UI, and four from the UI College of Law in particular, over the course of nearly 140 years—was cautiously excited when she was admitted to Iowa.

“We did not ever encourage her or advise her to go to law school because that has to be a person’s own decision, but we were thrilled,” says David Dutton, Shirey’s grandfather and a 1960 Iowa law alumnus. “I think our first response was quite visceral. We got off the phone and shouted very loud. We were delighted and we still are delighted.”

Shirey’s family ties to the UI—and the College of Law, specifically—date all the way back to the late 1800s, when Steven Francis Varga (her uncle’s great-grandfather) graduated from Iowa Law with an LLB degree after his family emigrated from Hungary. Born in Leon, he then returned to his hometown and, according to Shirey’s aunt and uncle, Susan and Terry Mulligan, practiced law there for the rest of his life.

“The account is that the Vargas came over from Budapest, Hungary, to make wine in Iowa and that my great-great-grandfather was a judge in Budapest,” says Terry Mulligan. “They settled in a Hungarian colony called 'New Buda' in south central Iowa and eventually resettled nearby in Leon.”

The historic house where Varga raised his family—and another Iowa Law grad—still stands in Leon today, where it’s used as a funeral home. His son, Francis Melvel Varga (the grandfather of Shirey's uncle, Terry), graduated from Iowa Law in 1913 and followed in his footsteps. The Mulligans (who graduated from the UI in 1967 and 1968, respectively) say it’s likely the Vargas were the only lawyers in town.

Next came Hannah’s grandfather, David Dutton, who graduated from Iowa Law after marrying Susan Mulligan’s sister, Mary. Dutton is now in his 54th year of practice in Waterloo and served as Black Hawk county attorney from 1969 to 1975. Fourth in line is Dan Mulligan (Shirey’s cousin), who received his J.D. from Iowa Law with High Distinction in 1996 and was also a member of the Order of the Coif.

Even though having a family full of Hawkeyes helped spark Shirey’s interest in Iowa Law, she says her decision was solidified when she came down for a visit and learned more about the school's academic culture.

“What stood out to me was the student body being very well-rounded. The law school is full of very smart and engaged people, but people who are also very humble and cooperative. I wanted to work really hard and be around people who are passionate,” Shirey says, adding she was also attracted by the flexibility that a J.D. from Iowa had offered alums she spoke with. “I was attracted to rediscovering my Midwestern roots and I decided I wanted the UI College of Law to be part of that.”

Because she’s continuing a family tradition, Shirey says she’s discovered an entirely new connection with her loved ones.

“My grandfather has been telling me I was going to be a lawyer since I was in the womb,” Shirey says, reflecting on her youth, when she’d occasionally watch him in the courtroom. “I already feel closer to my relatives by having the Iowa connection reaffirmed. I almost feel my grandpa and I have a new lawyer language, and I can understand him a bit better now that I’m here.”

Dutton says he’s enjoyed learning more about his granddaughter's course work and discussing his own practice with her.

“It does give us a common bond. We talk about what she’s learning in contracts and torts, and I share some of my trials with her,” Dutton says. “I am hoping she will get excited about being a trial lawyer because she has great communication skills.”

This semester, Shirey began working with the New Iowans Legal Clinic—a new pro bono project in partnership with the Iowa State Bar Association—and she says she’s looking forward to watching her grandfather practice from her new perspective.

“My family had a huge influence on me coming to Iowa because they’ve all been so invested in the communities that they’re connected to,” Shirey says. “Whether it’s Waterloo, where my grandparents live, or Iowa City, where my Aunt Susan and Uncle Terry are incredibly involved, it’s been inspiring to see their love of this place and how they carry that with them.”

Original article was published on Iowa Now.

Hannah Shirey