News Releases
May 22, 2024

Gene Dahmen: A Lifetime of Achievement 


Gene Dahmen graduated as one of just three women in her class at the University of Virginia Law School. Although she had, in her words, a very positive experience at UVA and continues to be deeply involved with the Law School, she also understood how it felt to be part of an underrepresented group. As a practicing attorney in the years prior to her election as the first woman President of the Boston Bar Association in 1987, she continued to see firsthand the harmful effects of treating women and minorities as “other.” 

Thus, Dahmen made it her prime objective as BBA President to ensure that all Boston attorneys, regardless of race or gender, felt at home at the BBA.  

“My top priority was outreach,” Dahmen said. “In addition to representing my gender and trying to elevate the role of women in the profession, I knew I wanted to reach out to other groups that were, at that time, also underrepresented in the legal community.”  

“The election of Gene Dahmen as President of the BBA brought a breath of fresh air into the oldest bar association in the United States,” said Hon. Margaret Marshall, former Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, who served as the BBA’s second female President from 1991-92. “A person of vision, integrity, and incredibly good judgment, her kindness and welcoming warmth made the Boston Bar Association a home for all.”  

Under Dahmen’s leadership, the BBA organized events featuring diverse speakers, including a lunch with Dennis Archer, who later became the first Black president of the American Bar Association. “It was the most diverse audience of lawyers I had seen up to that point,” Dahmen recalled with pride.   

That year, the BBA began to lay the groundwork for what would later become a central part of its mission and organizational structure.  

“We formed a committee on minorities in the law and laid out specific goals about what we wanted to do and worked to identify problems facing minority law students and lawyers. We wanted to try to undertake programs that would increase educational, employment, and business opportunities for underrepresented groups,” Dahmen explained. In the years since, that focus on outreach and minority representation has seen the formation of the BBA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Section, DEI Summer Fellowship Program and Career Fair, and partnerships with local affinity bars, among other initiatives.    

“In the entire time I’ve known her, Gene has used her remarkable skills–charming persuasion, quick intelligence, graceful listening, tactful suggestion, and the ability to bring people together—to further the goals of a more just society,” said Hon. Sandra Lynch, who served as the BBA’s third female President from 1992-93.   

It was this same skill set that led Dahmen to bring awareness to the mental and emotional toll a career in the law can have on a person and begin to prioritize the availability of resources to combat those issues. Prior the term “Lawyer Well-Being” becoming part of the profession’s vernacular, Dahmen made it a point to recognize that, in her words, “[lawyers] spend all [their] time helping other people, but who’s there to help us?”   

“Work-life balance was not a familiar term some 40 years ago,” said Justice Marshall, “yet from the beginning of her career, Gene worked to make excellent parenting and excellence in the law a desirable and achievable goal. Because of pioneers like Gene and the work of the BBA, the law now provides for maternity, paternity and parental leave, and lawyer well-being is a central concern of our profession.”  

With a clear focus on making the BBA truly a place for all Boston-area attorneys, and then taking steps to look out for the wellbeing of those lawyers, Dahmen then turned her sights outward to the larger community. Dahmen, along with her President-Elect, Edward F. Hines, Jr., began what they called a “tilt toward the city,” having the BBA more involved with local issues.   

“We wanted to be sure that we had a seat at the table where important issues were concerned,” Dahmen recalled. She believed the Boston bar could be a strong partner of the city—a commitment the BBA continues to uphold to this day through its meetings with the Boston judiciary, participation in the annual Walk to Hill advocacy event, and more.   

Dahmen has also made contributions to the legal profession outside of her roles with the BBA and remains committed to many of the same causes she championed as BBA President. She served a six-year term on the first Court Management Advisory Board, appointed by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to assist with judicial reform of the Trial Court. She had gubernatorial appointments to the first Massachusetts Commission on Women, and later to the Commission to Review Massachusetts Anti-Takeover Laws. She has served on the boards of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, Prisoners Legal Services, MCLE (which she chaired), MLAC, and the Volunteer Lawyers Project. She also made history as the first woman President of the University of Virginia Law School Alumni Association, and was once named as one of the “40 Most Powerful Lawyers in Massachusetts” by Mass Lawyers Weekly.   

“As Chief Justice, I was honored and delighted when Gene accepted the invitation of the Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court to serve as a member of the first Court Management Advisory Board,” said Justice Marshall. “Her advice was invaluable: wise, informed, thoughtful, helpful. Her professional expertise as an outstanding lawyer in the field of family law contributed immeasurably to our work.”  

In a display of both her capacity for leadership roles and her varying interests, she has also served on the boards of a number of cultural and civic organizations—including the Boston Symphony, New England Conservatory, Longy School of Music, Boston Lyric Opera, Landmarks Orchestra, her alma mater Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, Health Resources in Action, and Bridge Boston Charter School Foundation.     

“Gene, with her southern charm, steely determination, and unending generosity, has left her mark on many of Boston’s leading charitable institutions,” Justice Marshall said.  

Despite her record of service and her many achievements, though, Dahmen is quick not to accept appreciation, but to give it.   

“I certainly wouldn’t have expected this,” she said of receiving a Lifetime Achievement recognition. “There are so many people who’ve done so much more, and I was somewhat astounded that I’d be selected for this tribute. But I’m also very grateful. Having held a leadership position within the bar has enabled me to have leadership positions in other areas as well, and all have immeasurably enriched my life.”    

Her friends and colleagues, though, feel equally lucky to have worked with her, and they are happy to recognize and celebrate her impact on the BBA—which has now seen more than a dozen women hold the office of President—the profession, and to important institutions in the city.    

“Leadership style so often determines the success of the group,” said Justice Lynch. “Gene is a woman of enormous energy and has a style of leadership which helped guide the BBA to success in so many different fields.”   

“Retired or not, she is, and always will be, a key part of the fabric of our community,” said Joan Lukey, BBA President from 2000-01.   

“Gene has truly been a pioneer and role model for so many lawyers,” said Joel Reck, BBA President from 1996-97. “By honoring Gene with [a Lifetime Achievement Award], the BBA highlights the qualities of a superb lawyer and counselor who has always worked in the service of our noble profession and of our broader communities. I have had the privilege of knowing and working with Gene in a variety of ways at the BBA for many decades; her style of leadership has been to lead by example, and she was always able to persuade others to do the right thing because her values were so sound, and her judgment was based on those values.”   

Though she says she felt no animosity upon becoming the first female President of the BBA (“It was really the opposite; people would say, ‘it’s about time,’” she recalls), the pressure of expectation could easily have weighed on Dahmen during her term. Instead, she faced the issues impacting the community and legal profession head on and did so without sacrificing any part of what made her so easy to follow.   

“Throughout the years that we have known each other, no matter the interlude between our interactions, she is the same Gene that she was on each occasion before—smiling, radiating contentment, and happy to see the lucky person who has just greeted her,” recalled Lukey. “She is truly worthy of a lifetime achievement award.”   

“If you are privileged to be a lawyer, you need to give back,” Dahmen said. She has spent a lifetime giving back, paying forward, and working to make the Boston legal community one for everybody. Though she may have been surprised to receive a lifetime recognition for those efforts, the rest of the Boston bar knows, “it’s about time.”