University of Iowa
Return to top

Get to Know: Paul Gowder

Paul Gowder, Professor of Law

At the UI since:
I’ve been here for five years. 

Los Angeles, California 

My wife, Vero,  and my cat, Leonidas.

Alma Mater:
BA, California State University, 1997
JD, Harvard Law School, 2000
PhD in Political Science, Stanford University, 2012

What did you do before joining Iowa Law? After law school, I went off to Oregon and practiced legal aid for two years where I did a lot of tenant work. Then, I moved to New Orleans, lived in a youth hostel, and managed bands for a year (I was the manager for a guy who, among other things, played in Kool and the Gang). Then I went to Alexandria, Virginia, where I practiced civil rights law. After that, I went to grad school and got a political science PhD, and focused on political theory, which combines social science and philosophy. Then, I came to Iowa Law, and I’ve been here ever since. 

What courses do you teach? I teach constitutional law and torts, and I also taught professional responsibility and the policy lab. 

What does your scholarship entail? I recently published my first book, The Rule of Law in the Real World (Cambridge University Press, February 2016). The book draws on philosophical argument, historical research into the law in societies as diverse as seventeenth-century England and classical Athens, and political science tools such as statistics, simulation, and formal modeling, all directed at the overall end of making sense of the idea of government under law in real-world societies, and its relationship to social equality.

I am continuing my rule of law research, but also branching out into, one, democratic theory and the relationship between causation and popular sovereignty, and, two, the impact of machine learning and predictive modeling on both the practice and the concept of law. Other research topics past and future include free speech, cyberlaw, the countermajoritarian difficulty and popular constitutionalism, and conceptions of liberty.

Right now, I’m working on a project to see how much we can achieve with automated reading of consumer contracts. The idea is that I can make it possible to do automated reading of consumer contracts that would suggest really interesting prospects in terms of our ability to get basic legal advice to people in a pervasive way.

My research spans a broad territory in constitutional law, legal data science, ethics, normative and conceptual jurisprudence, political philosophy, democratic theory, and game theory, but I’ve probably written more code than words in recent months. 

How did you decide to join the legal profession? A life fully lived is a life where something looks interesting and you go for it, whether that thing is the legal profession or something else entirely. I definitely went into college with a plan to be on a pre-law track. I’m not sure what motivated that, but it’s worked out well.

What do you enjoy most about working in a higher education/law school setting? I do think that the students are great. Every once in a while, you get a student who goes off to do amazing things. I have students who are high level public defenders working for justice and to help people who are really helpless against the legal system every day. 

I am really more of a social justice driven person, and so it’s important to me that so many of our students, who come in with an interest in doing work on behalf of the less well-off, have me as a resource to help them understand the options available in those careers. I want to help them get there.

If you could spend a day with anyone, from any era, who would it be and why? I might have to give you one you might not want. Machiavelli – if I could have a chat with him about our current political environment, he would explain what’s happening and I don’t know if anyone else could really understand it. 

If you could get rid of one invention in the world, what would you choose? Why? Twitter. Or the comments section, in general. We have so many communication methods right now that just seem to encourage viciousness and polarization and anger that just feed off of one another that make our world really toxic. 

Name a few of your favorite things. 

  • Leonidas, my cat (he may or may not have his own Facebook page).
  • I’m obsessed with Oasis Falafel in Iowa City, I actually met my wife there and they catered our wedding reception, I’ve contemplated asking them if they have an apartment available above it so I could go down there and eat there three times a day. 
  • Apple products. I buy everything Cupertino tells me to.
  • Coffee. I am a terrible coffee addict. If you ask my students, they could guess how many cups I’ve had in a morning based on the coherence of my class.
Paul Gowder