In the 1930s, as the nation struggled through the Great
Depression, membership and representation were major challenges for
the Massachusetts Bar Association.
Membership had been "static" since the 1920s, and then the
Depression took its toll. In 1938, MBA President Henry R. Mayo
lamented that there were an estimated 8,000 to 9,000 lawyers in the
state, but only 700 MBA members, having dropped from 1,250 before
The MBA, which was formed, in part, to represent lawyers statewide
and include the input of regional and specialized bar associations,
had not garnered much participation from those groups.
The MBA's bylaws, which said that each county, city or local bar
association "may" appoint a delegate, were changed in December 1932
so that every affiliated bar association president (or their
designee) was automatically made a delegate to the MBA's Executive
1930: At the annual meeting, a member notes
that several other industries, including bankers, new government
agencies and accountants, are "gradually encroaching on the legal
profession." The comment opens discussions that would continue
throughout the decade, attempting to define the boundaries of a
relatively new phrase - "the unauthorized practice of law."
April 1932: Opinion of the Justices declares that
the judicial department has inherent exclusive power to determine
the qualifications of applicants for the admission to the
December 1932: New bylaws are adopted, providing
a plan for the automatic affiliation of local bar associations
under the aegis of the MBA. Presidents of local associations
automatically become delegates to the Executive Committee. The
gradual implementation of this plan helps address allegations that
the MBA does not stand for lawyers throughout the whole of the
1932: After the gains of the 1920s, the Great
Depression stagnates the advancement of women within the
profession. Despite this, Sybil H. Holmes is elected the first
female member of the Executive Committee.
1936: The American Bar Association restructures
and allows state bar associations to participate through a body
called the House of Delegates.
1937: The conservative MBA polls its members, and
finds an overwhelming 93 percent against President Roosevelt's
"court-packing" plan to increase the membership of the Supreme
Court in an effort to secure a progressive majority. The plan was
MBA Did you know?
Historical nuggets from the Massachusetts Bar Association's
100-year-old history as told in Fiat Justitia, A History of
the Massachusetts Bar Association 1910-1985, by Robert J.
Brink. Compiled by Megan Griffith.
- The MBA began publishing its annual legislative report in 1913
to help lawyers cope with that year's busy legislative session,
when more than 2,000 proposals were considered. The detailed report
included commentary, which also helped non-lawyer legislators
understand possible consequences of proposed legislation.
- The MBA started offering legal aid as a public service during
World War I. Its members helped disseminate legal information and
provide legal assistance to soldiers and sailors. One member in
particular, Reginald Heber Smith, recognized that better legal aid
would improve access to justice for the poor -- and might prevent
- As the MBA grew and matured, its presidents began to broaden
its focus, taking aim at general trends in society instead of just
at issues specifically relevant to lawyers. In 1960, MBA President
Harold Horvitz founded the Committee on Juvenile Delinquency to
examine a societal problem.