Alumna Dawn Stolfi Stalenhoef is a Boston-based attorney who specializes in real estate, environmental, and land use law. In the fall of 2023, she was named among the “Top Women of Law” in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. She spoke with us about her early inclinations toward the legal profession and the value of her customized Simmons education.
When Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly announced that Dawn Stolfi Stalenhoef ’92MA is among the “Top Women of Law” for 2023, she viewed the recognition as a holistic accomplishment. “This award acknowledges the whole person, so it is especially gratifying to be recognized by your peers in this way,” she says. “Being one of the ‘Top Women of Law’ is not just about professional success. It also recognizes the recipients’ behind-the-scenes investments, which for me includes mentoring junior lawyers, volunteering in my community, and contributing to the advancement of DEI initiatives within my firm and the broader legal profession.”
Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly is a longstanding publication for attorneys that covers legal news, current research, and other noteworthy developments within the profession. “There is not a practicing lawyer in the state who is not familiar with or does not routinely read Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, so this is a very broad, ramifying recognition,” notes Stolfi Stalenhoef.
In recent years, half a dozen women attorneys from Stolfi Stalenhoef’s Boston-based firm, Casner & Edwards, were also named “Top Women in Law.” As Stolfi Stalenhoef explains, “Casner & Edwards is a very unique place. . . It is a mid-sized firm that seems to attract lawyers who approach their work in the holistic way that the ‘Top Women of Law’ honor recognizes. Casner attorneys do far more than just clock in their hours. I am surrounded by amazing colleagues — and especially phenomenal female colleagues — who devote substantial amounts of time to volunteer service in the community.”
From a very tender age, Stolfi Stalenhoef seemed destined to join the legal profession. “When I was little, my dad used to call me ‘Sweet Talker.’ Family lore has it that even at five years of age, they thought I showed promising diplomatic skills, which it turns out are pretty fundamental to the practice of law.” Having the opportunity to channel her skills and gifts toward the betterment of society is one of the most rewarding aspects of her work. “I feel very thankful to be able to use my ‘Sweet Talker’ skills to help others navigate complex legal terrain. It is especially gratifying when I am able to support and empower others.”
As a partner at Casner & Edwards, Stolfi Stalenhoef specializes in real estate, environmental, and land use law. In her real estate capacity, Stolfi Stalenhoef assists buyers or sellers in negotiating financing, drafting sales agreements, and collecting the proper documentation to close properties. The environmental component of her practice often involves real estate, as many properties in Massachusetts, which were once industrial sites or factories, may have been exposed to environmental contaminants. With her background in environmental science, Stolfi Stalenhoef connects clients to the appropriate professionals who can investigate the property and estimate the cleanup costs. She also assists clients in other areas involving environmental regulation. Operating within her land use specialty, Stolfi Stalenhoef helps clients to navigate zoning laws and acquire the proper permits. “I find it especially satisfying that my background enables me to help pull all these pieces together for the benefit of my clients,” she says.
Stolfi Stalenhoef chose to attend Simmons for a master’s in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Environmental Studies. “What Simmons was offering at the time was unique, innovative, and customizable,” she reflects. “This program of study, which I helped design, allowed me to collaborate with different departments, faculty members, and advisors. I did not see this kind of program anywhere else, and I have always considered Simmons as being ahead of its time.” After Stolfi Stalenhoef graduated, her precise curriculum fostered the subsequent Environmental Studies major.
“I felt very well-supported at Simmons, academically and interpersonally,” says Stolfi Stalenhoef. “The collaboration and access I was able to have with professors and other students were amazing, and I got to meet many international students too. Being a part of the Simmons community felt like a total immersion rather than just attending school.”
Stolfi Stalenhoef believes that her Simmons education gave her an edge in her future legal career. After completing her Simmons degree, she worked as an environmental scientist during the day and attended law school at night. “There are different ways students can distinguish themselves upon graduation. It was important for me to cultivate interdisciplinary skills, and I put my Simmons education to good use as an environmental lawyer.”
In her advice to aspiring attorneys, Stolfi Stalenhoef advises students to explore the legal profession. “That’s one thing I did right, as a result of good advice from mentors. It’s important to get a sense of what kind of work lawyers do on a day-to-day basis.”
Moreover, Stolfi Stalenhoef urges students to mine their network, which may include Simmons alumnae/i. “Identify the connections you may use, and have meaningful conversations with actual lawyers who are engaged in the practice areas that interest you. While it is true that attorneys are generally very busy, we have all had mentors who made time for us throughout our careers, so many of us are glad to pay it forward and be available for the next generation.”