In 1953 he graduated at Yale University and holds a law degree from the University of California, Berkeley. He worked as district attorney of Alameda County, California before joining Governor Ronald Reagan's staff in 1967. He served as legal affairs secretary from 1967-1968 and as executive assistant and chief of staff in California from 1969 through 1974.
From January 1975 to May 1976, he was vice president for administration of Rohr Industries in Chula Vista, California. He left Rohr to enter private law practice in San Diego County, California and being professor of law at the University of San Diego from 1977 to 1981, where he was also director of the Center for Criminal Justice Policy and Management.
Meese headed the Ronald Reagan's transition effort following the 1980 election. During the presidential campaign, he served as chief of staff and senior issues adviser for the Reagan-Bush committee. After the election of Reagan he became counselor to the President, member of the President's Cabinet and the National Security Council from 1981 to 1985.