Top Gun

Denny Shupe's high-flying career

Published in 2009 Pennsylvania Super Lawyers — June 2009

To Denny Shupe, being in a cockpit at 30,000 feet feels a lot like being in court.

"You're in an enclosed environment, making instant mental computations to get the aircraft to perform," says the Philadelphia trial attorney and chair of litigation services for Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis. "When you're in a courtroom, you're also making instant computations, parrying the thrusts of opposing counsel."

Shupe is comfortable in both environments. He has spent 23 years in the U.S. Air Force and Air Force Reserve, logging more than 4,400 hours behind the controls, and 20 years at the firm. He's even managed to combine his passions, including aviation litigation among his practice areas.

Not that he had ever planned for such synchronicity. His first aspiration was simply "to find my way to college." He did that and more, excelling at the Air Force Academy, flight school, business school at Arizona State and later law school at Penn.

In 1990, while in his second year at Schnader and still in the Reserves, his country called him to serve in the first Gulf War. For 10 months, he piloted the second-largest cargo craft in the Air Force fleet, a Lockheed C-141 Starlifter, ferrying troops and trucks, mail and missiles, bombs and wounded soldiers to and from continental Europe and the Persian Gulf. On one mission, in the mid-1980s, he transported hostages out of the region. They had undergone some very harsh treatment and he was able to "overhear them on our long-distance, high-frequency radios tell their spouses about what they had endured." He and others in his flight crew, men hardened by war, were moved to tears.

After the war, he returned to Schnader and started volunteering with his local USO. One day, he visited recuperating troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., with singer Lou Rawls. "We just sat with the soldiers and held hands. We talked and we prayed," he says.

Since then he has kept his legal career on a lofty trajectory. Today, he is responsible for the operation of the litigation department, supervising the work of litigators in all seven of the firm's offices. It's a big job but he's used to keeping his eye on the controls.

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