Barbara Shapiro ('78): Teacher, Lawyer, Artist
After growing up in a village on Long Island where nobody locked their doors, Barbara Shapiro headed off for a life filled with degrees and life changes.
After earning her B.A. at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, she went on to Harvard University, obtaining a master's and Ph.D. in English. For eight years, she taught English literature at the college level, including Colorado State University, a move that convinced her the West was where she wanted to settle.
When her husband, Dan ('77), wanted to add a law degree to his Harvard medical degree, they moved to New Mexico, where he became a law student. Unable to find a teaching job, Barbara became a lobbyist in 1974, trained by Anne Bingaman specifically to lobby the Legislature to fight an effort to repeal the Equal Rights Amendment, which had passed the year before.
"This experience really opened up my eyes," she says. "I had never had contact with lawyers before that and, as a result, began thinking of law school for myself." After sitting in on a few classes with her husband, she joined him, graduating in 1978.
She was well-equipped for the career change: "I like to argue and law school used all the skills I had been trained to use: reading critically, writing, and most cases were like stories."
Following graduation, Barbara joined Poole, Tinnin & Martin, where she built a family law practice.
"It was a good fit for me," she says. "I came from a demonstrative family and was used to the give-and-take of verbalizing feelings and I enjoyed the one-on-one relationships with clients, solving problems and am comfortable with numbers."
Two years after graduating, she refreshed her teaching skills and also began teaching; first, she co-taught Street Law, a class in which she trained law students in methods to train high school teachers how to teach basic legal concepts to their students. As an adjunct law professor, she taught advanced family law for about five years, until it was incorporated into the curriculum.
Barbara also began lobbying for the Family Law Section of the State Bar and helped get passed the Joint Custody Act, along with revised child support guidelines and a revised alimony statute. She also wrote and published articles.
When the Poole firm dissolved in 1993, she continued to practice on her own for five more years, until she grew tired of the pace and took on a new challenge that combined her professional talents: writing and family law.
She wrote Family Law in New Mexico, and has updated it every two years since. With Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, associate dean for clinical affairs, who is doing the primary writing, Barbara is currently working on a second edition.
"Writing the book helped me sum up what I had learned in my law practice; it was a punctuation mark on my career," she says. She closed her law practice in 2004.
Meanwhile, she had begun taking art classes at UNM in 2001, first in landscape design, which led her to printmaking, in which she is now immersed. She is on track to receive a B.F.A. in 2009.
"I like working with my hands, and I use my hands a lot in printmaking. I also like that it's experimental," she says. Most of her prints are derived from her love of gardening and reveal themes of growth and change. The same could be said about the themes that have followed her throughout her life.
A Conversation with Barbara Shapiro
Q: What was your favorite class in law school?
A: Family law. It helped me think as a lawyer.
Q: Who was your favorite teacher?
A: Lee Teitelbaum
Q: Name one law you would like to see thrown out.
A: All old laws dealing with divorce that are fault-based.
Q: Who is your favorite U.S. Supreme Court Justice?
A: William O. Douglas
Q: If you weren't a lawyer, what would be your dream job?
A: I've gone through three professions: teacher, lawyer and now I want to be an artist.
Q: What did you like best about practicing law?
A: Helping people solve their problems in a way they felt they received a fair deal and could move on.