When Dorothy Wolpert started at UCLA School of Law, she wasn’t the typical new student. Nearing 40, she had just celebrated her 20th wedding anniversary and was the mother of 10- and 13-year-old boys.
But it wasn’t the difference in age or experience that made Wolpert, who earned her law degree from UCLA Law in 1976, stand out. It was her wit, intelligence, charm and passion. With those qualities, and her husband Stanley — already a successful UCLA history professor — at her side, she forged a career in law of uncommon decency and service.
It had always been her dream to be a trial attorney. “Law involved three things that I loved,” Wolpert recalls. “Research, writing, and talking. To me being a lawyer meant being a litigator.”
As so often happened to women then, as now, life initially got in the way of her pursuit of that dream. A New York City native, she met Stanley Wolpert while she was a freshman at City College in New York. They soon married and moved to Pennsylvania so he could pursue his doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania. Dorothy continued her own studies at Penn, but the couple soon found themselves moving to India for Stanley’s work.
It was an experience soon after, while just a few credits shy of her college degree, that persuaded her a dream of law was possible. Stanley received an offer from UCLA and they moved to Los Angeles.
“I then had an epic battle with Penn and won,” Wolpert said. “I wrote to them to say, ‘it is highly unlikely that I should ever return to Philadelphia as a student.’ And they wrote back, ‘We do not award degrees except to seniors in residence.’ I wouldn’t accept that and badgered them until they conceded.”
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