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Gaines turns personal victory into legal calling

By: Jane Pribek//June 21, 2012//

Gaines turns personal victory into legal calling

By: Jane Pribek//June 21, 2012//

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Meg Gaines, University of Wisconsin Law School

Law degrees received from: University of Wisconsin Law School (J.D. 1980, LLM 1993)

Staff photo by Kevin Harnack

Meg Gaines practices knight-in-shining-armor law while supervising students at the University of Wisconsin Law School’s Center for Patient Partnerships.

The center serves cancer patients and others who face serious illnesses and, often, serious legal struggles with insurers or health care providers.

Gaines, who co-founded the center in 2000 and serves as its director, can empathize.

In 1995, Gaines was diagnosed with ovarian cancer that had spread to her liver. After a series of medical mishaps and when traditional chemotherapy failed, “I was told to go home and think about the quality of my days; not the quantity,” she said.

Instead, she chose to fight, seeking out experimental treatment. She’s been cancer-free for 15 years.

She said the experience changed her. She began volunteering to help cancer patients, and when they discovered she is a lawyer, they told her about their legal problems and she tried to help.

That work fueled the idea for the center.

The center combines students from the schools of law, medicine, nursing, pharmacy and social work. They form interdisciplinary teams to help patients understand their diagnoses and get the information necessary to make treatment decisions.

“As educators, we typically don’t teach students to teach others how to advocate for themselves,” Gaines said. “So what we try to do to is build capacity in our students to build capacity in others.”

Gaines started her career with a clerkship and then as a public defender in Milwaukee. Four years later, she returned to the law school, where she earned her degree, to work toward her master’s.

She took up clinical teaching at the time to help pay the bills. That’s where she stayed.

This year, Gaines will celebrate 25 years at the law school.

Bill Whitford, emeritus professor of law, said he is grateful she’s there.

“When the history of the Wisconsin Law School over the past 25 years is written,” he said, “Meg’s contributions will be a big part of the story.”

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