With heavy hearts, we join the entire legal and Greater Boston community in mourning the passing of Richard A. Soden on Christmas Day. Richard served as of counsel at Goodwin Procter and was a past-President of both the Boston Bar Association (BBA) and Boston Bar Foundation (BBF). His exceptional legal acumen and unwavering dedication to the betterment of our profession and our city have left an indelible mark.
“Richard was a seminal member of the Boston legal community, committed to the highest standards in the legal profession,” said BBA President Hannah L. Kilson. “He worked throughout his career for the advancement of diversity in the profession. Keenly aware of the stresses of the profession, he also worked to elevate issues of lawyer well-being and professional integrity, both locally and nationally. We were honored to have him as a panelist at the BBA Leadership Retreat this fall, where we focused on lawyer well-being. During his presentation, Richard reminded all of us to give equal attention to family, community, and work as we make our way in the profession. We are all the better for his compassionate leadership. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife Marcia and their sons and grandchildren.”
Richard’s tenure at Goodwin spanned decades, beginning as a summer associate in 1969 and culminating in his elevation to partner in 1979—making history as one of the first Black partners at a major Boston firm. His practice encompassed corporate finance, corporate governance, and regulatory compliance, and he remained active and engaged as cornerstone of the firm’s Business Law Department after transitioning to an Of Counsel role in 2006.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of our beloved friend and former partner, Richard Soden,” said Anthony McCusker, Chair, Goodwin. “Through his service-filled life, Richard exemplified the very best of our firm. A trailblazer through and through, Richard was selflessly dedicated to bettering the legal profession, championing diversity, equity and inclusion, and always giving back to the community. He leaves a rich legacy and will be sorely missed by all of us at Goodwin and well beyond our firm’s walls.”
Beyond his legal prowess, Richard’s leadership extended deep into the community. He served as President of the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association, chaired the Supreme Judicial Court’s Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers Oversight Committee, and led the Lawyers for Civil Rights Steering Committee. His influence also reached national spheres, with involvement in the ABA’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Standing Committee on Bar Services and Activities.
“Richard wanted to make a difference, to challenge the pervasive racism of the time, to improve the lives of those who needed help,” said Hon. Margaret H. Marshall, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (Ret.), who served as BBA President from 1991-92. “And what a difference he made. He was leader, role model, mentor, hand-holder, guru, teacher—for colleagues, for friends, for generations of lawyers, a lawyer always helping other lawyers.”
“Richard’s faith, confidence, and loyalty to his friends and colleagues was invaluable – Richard always knew you could meet the next challenge, even when you doubted it,” said Mary K. Ryan, BBA President from 1997-98, who worked closely with Richard for many years.
In 2018, the BBA honored Richard with the Lifetime Achievement Award, recognizing his profound contributions to the profession and community. He saw the BBA as the “people’s bar,” welcoming lawyers from all backgrounds and emphasizing the critical importance of incorporating diverse perspectives into our collective thinking.
“As we are witness to the rise of the politics of racial and economic division,” he remarked that night (you can read his full speech here), “I would like to remind us all that we will succeed, not by ignoring our differences, but by acknowledging and embracing them. It is by the work of each of you in this room that we can assure inclusion of all in our great profession.”
“Richard was a fixture—a part of the social infrastructure of the profession—and cannot be replaced,” said Renée M. Landers, BBA President from 2003-04. “The best tribute is for all of us to live by his example and to continue the work that remains unfinished.”
As we mourn his passing, we commit to honoring Richard’s legacy by continuing his lifelong dedication to service and inclusion through our work.
We don’t do what we do to get awards, we do what we do because it makes us feel good to help other people. It feeds our souls and gives us a reason for living by putting the tools we use to do business to work toward the betterment of society.
– Richard Soden
For more on how Richard touched the lives of so many in the legal community, we invite you to read the reflections below from his friends and colleagues:
Hon. Margaret H. Marshall, Chief Justice, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (Ret.); BBA President, 1991-92
We were neighbors first, almost 50 years ago, on a narrow one-block street in Boston’s South End. The street was a gathering place, where Richard and Marcia’s two toddlers pedaled their “big wheels” from one end to the other. Soon our legal paths kept crossing, at the Boston Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, later at BBA Council meetings or other bar events, local and national. My memories tumble from one decade to another, with one constant: Richard was driven, his quiet energy relentless. A highly successful, sophisticated corporate lawyer, he wanted most to make ours a better profession in order to make ours a better world. He wanted, in words he loved, a legal profession respected “not for the foes we vanquished but for the people we helped and the lives we improved.”
It is hard now to remember the hostile barriers facing black lawyers when Richard graduated from law school in 1969. A lonely pioneer, he could have sought only to advance his own career. He had other plans: Richard wanted to make a difference, to challenge the pervasive racism of the time, to improve the lives of those who needed help. And what a difference he made. He was leader, role model, mentor, hand-holder, guru, teacher…. for colleagues, for friends, for generations of lawyers, a lawyer always helping other lawyers. Civility was his calling card, action his operational mode. He never raised his voice, even when opinions were deeply divided, the issues difficult to resolve. And he always, always pushed toward action, leaving his mark again and again.
My lasting image: Richard in black tie at some large function with Marcia, his beautiful wife he loved so deeply standing next to him, embracing each person with his wide inclusive smile, a natural candle around which an eclipse of moths always gathered. Ours is a far better world because of Richard Soden.”
Joel Reck, BBA President, 1996-97; BBF President, 1999-2000
As someone who worked closely with Richard at the BBA for many years, I always enjoyed my interactions with him. He was a person of the highest integrity, and he lived his sound values. He believed that each of us could make a positive difference in our profession and in our society and he spent at least the many decades that I knew him doing just that. His broad smile, his good nature and his optimism were almost always present when I was with him. The professional life that he modeled should continue to inspire other lawyers.
Lauren Stiller Rikleen, BBA President, 1998-99
For nearly three decades, I have been the beneficiary of Richard’s extraordinary friendship, wisdom, and kindness. Our paths began at the BBA, where I have no doubt that he had a significant role in my being nominated for the leadership roles that led to my becoming BBA President. We spent three years together as members of the ABA Board of Governors and, years later, he became the budget officer when I chaired the ABA Section on Civil Rights & Social Justice. Throughout these years, we had the opportunity to get to know each other’s wonderful spouses and spent countless hours appreciating the BBA’s approach to leadership in comparison to what we were observing at the national level. Richard learned my foibles and never stopped teasing me about them. I will miss his telling observations, his wit, and his ability to get to the heart of every issue. And I will dearly miss the teasing.
John D. Donovan, Jr., BBF President 2010-2012
Richard recruited me to be a Trustee of the Boston Bar Foundation with a mixture of flattery and enthusiasm for the work of the BBF. He persuaded me by touting a grant the Foundation made to place a legal services clinic inside the Boston Medical Center. That hospital serves the downtrodden, the homeless, substance abusers, patients without resources, and people mired in the red tape of the health care and social service systems – in other words, clients with immediate legal needs on multiple levels who are simultaneously confronting pressing medical issues. Richard envisioned the immediate impact the grant would have, and his passion for the project was infectious. Thanks to Richard, I caught the bug.
Somebody once said that service to others is the rent we pay for our room here on earth. Richard left us too early. But his rent was fully paid up.
Renée M. Landers, BBA President, 2003-04
I first met Richard when I interviewed for a summer associate position at Goodwin Procter when I was a second-year student at Boston College Law School. My conversation with him put me at ease. I remember especially being impressed by the extensive collection of Thomas Moser furniture in his office. At the time, one of my good personal friends was a furniture maker for Thomas Moser, so I had developed the ability to identify the products of the company. This taste in furniture was evidence of the excellent taste that he and his wife, Marcia, exemplified in their appearances and leadership in the Boston community. In everything they did, Marcia and Richard did not, in the words of Maya Angelou, “underrate the value of style.” They understood that “we should be aware of all we do and of how we do all that we do.”
Even though I declined the offer to join Goodwin that summer to go to Ropes & Gray, since that interview, I have always known Richard. He took seriously the unsought responsibility of being among the first African American partners at a major firm in keeping the path clear for others to follow, mentoring younger lawyers, and contributing to the community. The list of local and national organizations to which he devoted his wisdom would be impressive if allocated among ten people, yet he was one person taking on these roles. Several years after graduating from law school, I recognized how underrepresented women and people of color were in the legal profession even by the mid- to late-1980s. The experience would have been even more isolating for people who entered the profession earlier. I often think about the pioneering role that Richard and others played. The role required unusual strength of character and discipline of personality.
My husband and I were connected in a substantial way to the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston. Richard and Marcia were fixtures at all the fundraising events and Marcia, if memory is accurate, served on the board. Their engagement was a seal of approval for the organization, and both my husband and I went on to become chairs of the board of directors. Indeed, Richard and Marcia were fixtures at charitable events in Boston. Their role in visibly supporting so many worthy organizations was noted admirably in a Boston Globe piece about philanthropic leaders. Their participation lifted organizations performing valuable work that nevertheless struggle for funds and attention, as well as the organizations where involvement is comparatively easy—university boards and established bar organizations.
Richard’s public and community engagement did not flag over time. I admire Richard most for recognizing that his efforts to address a personal challenge could be as instructive to many other lawyers as his other achievements. Publicly owning a difficulty can be a very hard thing for lawyers and others who have invested a lifetime in pursuing high achievement and projecting invincibility. The humility and grounding reflected in his dedication to Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers and the work of the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs is further evidence of Richard’s unique personal strength and professional leadership. Making a safe space for lawyers to face their challenges and to seek help is one of Richard’s truly exceptional legacies.
This fall, I had the privilege of seeing Richard at two events—a dinner for Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers and the traditional Boston Bar Association/Foundation Presidents’ Dinner. At both, Richard’s voluble personality was in evidence, tempered, I thought on those occasions, by a reflective quality earned from a life well lived. He could see the fruits of his labors from the vantage point of the mountaintop with the recognition that he had given his best. His leadership and encouraging presence will be missed. He was a fixture—a part of the social infrastructure of the profession—and cannot be replaced. The best tribute is for all of us to live by his example and to continue the work that remains unfinished.
Gene D. Dahmen, BBA President, 1987-88
He was an inspiration to me in many ways, a great lawyer and bar leader, and a good friend. He will be very much missed, and his memory will indeed be a blessing.
Paul Dacier, BBA President, 2013-14
In the mid-1990s, I met Richard at a BBF meeting focused on allocating funds to Civil Legal Aid organizations. I was impressed with his leadership, focus and empathy in guiding the all-too-difficult decision-making process. He also opened my eyes to the importance of helping those in need.
We also spoke many times about our common interest in Scouting and its importance in character building for youth.
Richard was a great man and set high standards for all of us to meet. He will be remembered.
Wm. Shaw McDermott, BBF President, 2008-2010
Rarely do talent, good judgment, and boundless good cheer convene in one person, but they did in Richard, as he traversed our councils. We were blessed to have him in our lives. He will be in our minds’ eyes and our hearts always.
Mary K. Ryan, BBA President, 1997-98
Richard’s legacy can be found both in what he did and what he meant to his friends and colleagues. He was a recognized leader in multiple areas – what I particularly remember from the time we worked closely together in the mid- to late-90s was his dedication to scouting and to his service as a Trustee of Boston University, both of which he enjoyed immensely. But above all, I will remember his belief in the power of service to and through the bar and legal organizations, which—happily for us—most notably included the Boston Bar Association and the Boston Bar Foundation.
For as long as I knew him, he dedicated his considerable talents and time to the American Bar Association, from its top leadership positions as a member of the Board of Governors and House of Delegates to his steadfast commitment and dedication as a member and officer of the Civil Rights and Social Justice Section (still better known to some of us as the Individual Rights and Responsibilities Section) and the Bar Services Committee, among many others.
On a personal level, Richard’s faith, confidence and loyalty to his friends and colleagues was invaluable – Richard always knew you could meet the next challenge, even when you doubted it. And while he may have been the epitome of the proper corporate lawyer, even down to the bow tie, he was not pretentious – far from it. He had a dry wit and cut to the chase; I found him to be a straight shooter, also an invaluable quality as a friend and mentor. May he rest in peace and may his memory be a comfort to his bereaved family and friends.
Sara Romer, Boston Bar Association Government Relations Director, 1990-1999
As the Boston Bar Association Government Relations Director from 1990-1999, I had the privilege of experiencing Richard’s gentle and impactful leadership first-hand. Throughout BBA Council and Executive Committee meetings, legislative strategy sessions, and nearly a decade of interactions large and small, I saw Richard’s sharp insight, humility, commitment to service, actions, and influence serve the very best interests of the legal profession and community at large.
Richard was an invaluable mentor to me. He was also responsible for slightly delaying my engagement. One Saturday morning in May 1991, my then boyfriend Andrew and I were walking downtown toward Boston Common, when Richard appeared in our path. Appreciating Richard’s warm impromptu conversation and signature infectious smile, I later learned that Andrew was at the same time anxious to get down on one knee and pull the ring from his pocket.
I am grateful for Richard’s leadership and legacy–and smile as I remember his.
If you would like to submit a remembrance of Richard Soden to be included here, please contact Alex Smolokoff at email@example.com.