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Norma L. Shapiro, like other pathbreakers of her generation, felt it her calling to light the way for women who followed in her footsteps. She often invokes a quote from the ancient Roman Gaius: "One who helps the wandering traveler does, as it were, light another’s lamp by their own, and it gives no less light because it helped another."
In 1948, Norma Shapiro was one of only eight women in her 1L class at Penn Law, and she remembers the school as a wonderful intellectual experience. She became an editor of the Law Review and graduated third in her class.
Despite antipathy toward female attorneys at the time, Shapiro had the mettle to take unconventional turns in her career. She took a nine-year hiatus from Philadelphia’s Dechert Price & Rhoads to care for her three young children. When she was ready to reenter the workforce, Dechert wooed her back and Shapiro became the firm’s first female partner in 1973. Five years later, passing frame after frame of photographs of her male predecessors, she moved into her chambers and pulled on her black robes as the first woman judge on the federal bench in the Third Circuit.
The female judges who have followed Shapiro to the bench have not forgotten her kindness and devotion to mentoring: They remember with great affection and appreciation her welcoming phone calls with invitations to lunch, where she serves up sage advice to her new judicial colleagues. In The Counselors, a book about women judges, one Pennsylvania Superior Court judge recalled: "So many women who have joined the bench from this area were contacted by Norma. We all think of her as a friend we can call upon. She is the roots of a tree that is growing and blossoming." Shapiro puts it this way: "I have always viewed the role of successful women as helping other women become successful."
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