Glass Ceiling-Shattering Titans of the Pasadena Bar to Retire

Published : Friday, June 28, 2019 | 12:20 PM

Susan T. House (l) and Dianne H. Bukata (r)

In the 1970’s, decades before #metoo, two female attorneys revolutionized this city’s most historic law firm and influenced other Pasadena institutions as well. This week, officials at Hahn & Hahn are saying farewell to both trailblazers, who are retiring.

Susan T. House became Hahn & Hahn’s first female attorney when she joined as an associate in 1975. Four years later, she was the first woman elected as a partner in the firm. Dianne H. Bukata joined the partnership a few years later.

“While we are very sad to say goodbye to these two brilliant attorneys, we are deeply grateful for their contributions to the firm, which will last long after they retire,” said Hahn & Hahn Managing Partner Karl I. Swaidan. “Susan and Dianne guided our Trust & Estates department to become the thriving practice that it is today. But perhaps more importantly, they led us to make Hahn & Hahn a more diverse firm and have been persistent advocates for greater inclusivity in the legal profession at large.”

Hahn & Hahn LLP was established in 1899, when there was little to no diversity in any sector of the workplace, let alone the legal field. By the middle of the 20th Century, Hahn & Hahn was well established as one of Southern California’s elite, old-guard firms, a white shoe boutique renowned for its excellence and the integrity of its attorneys. Like virtually every law firm of its vintage, it was also a quintessential Old Boys’ Club.

Since House and Bukata joined the firm in the 1970s, Hahn & Hahn has continued to expand its roster of female attorneys. In 2017, the firm officially shed the Old Boys’ Club mantel with its certification by the California Public Utilities Commission as a majority Women & Minority Owned Business Enterprise. Today, two thirds of the firm’s attorneys identify as women and/or minorities.

Making Change Beyond the Firm

For many decades, the attorneys of Hahn & Hahn have gathered each Friday for lunch at the University Club of Pasadena. When House joined the firm in 1975, however, women were not allowed to join the University Club, and they were barely tolerated as guests—in the Club’s private meeting rooms only. From the moment House joined the firm, Hahn & Hahn’s all-male leadership began to leverage its considerable influence to persuade the University Club to change the men-only policy.

When Hahn & Hahn Partner George Baffa was elected President of the University Club in 1984, the die was cast. That year, the Club’s Board of Governors unanimously voted to allow women as guests. Early the following year, the issue of full membership for women was put to a vote, and Club members passed the measure overwhelmingly.

In 1993, Susan House became the University Club’s first female President. She later led a similar charge to diversify the elite American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, for which she served as President in 2018.

House and Bukata have also helped to diversify the ranks of our region’s nonprofit leadership with their service on various boards and commissions. House is a former Chair of the State Bar of California’s Estate Planning, Probate and Trust Law Section, and she later chaired the Legal Advisory Board of Huntington Memorial Hospital’s Senior Care Network. Bukata is a current member of the Board of Directors of Union Station Homeless Services, and previously served on the board of Five Acres. Both women have also been active in the Pasadena Bar Association.

House’s and Bukata’s retirements will coincide with a change in leadership at Hahn & Hahn. Beginning July 1, 2019, Partner Karla C. Berentsen will take over as chair of the firm’s Trust and Estates practice group, Partner Rita M. Diaz will become chair of Litigation, and Partner Dale R. Pelch will become chair of the Business Department.






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