Frank W. Grinnell arguably shaped the fledgling Massachusetts
Bar Association more than any other person. Presidents came and
went, but over the course of 45 years, Grinnell - who served
continuously as MBA secretary from 1915 to 1960 - was a constant
presence, a relentless champion and the organization's
He launched what became the Massachusetts Law Review
and sat for 40 years on the new Judicial Council of Massachusetts
to study court reform. He was an advocate for raising educational
standards to become a lawyer, changing responsibility for
investigating lawyers from the MBA to the courts, and increasing
local and regional bar association participation in the MBA. He was
awarded the MBA's Gold Medal on June 11, 1960.
In addition to the MBA and the Judicial Council, he served as
secretary for: the National Conference of Judicial Councils, the
Harvard Law School Association and the Massachusetts Historical
Society. He was also active on a number of committees of the
American Bar Association, and remained involved in arguing for the
improvement of the profession up until his death on March 13, 1964,
at the age of 91.
The late Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Paul C.
Reardon summed up Grinnell's influence in John A. Dolan's 1993
history of Hale and Dorr, Hale and Dorr Backgrounds &
Were one to be asked to name the individual who in this
century has made the most massive contributions to judicial
administration and the dispensation of justice in Massachusetts
there could be but one response -- Frank W. Grinnell. For over 50
years he played a major role in every development, major and minor,
which affected the Massachusetts court system.
A bar leader for the ages
Frank Washburn Grinnell was born in Charlestown on Dec. 14,
1873, received his bachelor of laws degree from Harvard Law School
in 1898 and became partners with Richard W. Hale, another early MBA
supporter, in 1900. They formed Hale & Grinnell, which quickly
evolved into Hale & Dorr, and eventually, Wilmer, Cutler,
Pickering, Hale and Dorr LLP, or WilmerHale.
He maintained an office at Hale & Dorr for years, even though
he devoted his time and energy to debating and influencing bench,
bar and political issues of the day, rather than actually
practicing law himself.
As recounted in Fiat Justitia: A History of the Massachusetts
Bar Association, 1910-1985, by Robert J. Brink, Grinnell was a
paying member the MBA's first year. He garnered attention in 1914
when, as secretary of the Committee on Legislation, he sent a
legislative report to members of the bar that prompted an increase
in membership applications. He spent the rest of his unprecedented
tenure weighing in on and educating lawyers, judges and legislators
about the pressing issues of the day.
Even before Grinnell became a fixture at the MBA, David A. Ellis,
the chairman of the MBA's Committee on Legislation, worried about
Grinnell's burdens: "I do not think the Association has the right
to ask that an individual should continue such large personal
William B. Hornblower had stated at the MBA's organizational
meeting in 1909 that "The main thing about a state bar organization
is to get a good secretary," according to Fiat Justitia.
At the time, with no paid staff, the secretary was responsible for
the association's day-to-day responsibilities.
But Grinnell did not need to be cajoled into making "such large
personal sacrifices." And he was just getting started on what
became his life's work.
"His first love"
Hale once called Grinnell a "self-subsidized foundation for
legal research," according to Dolan, because of his devotion
educating members of the bar and advocating for change. And, Dolan
observed in his book, "The Massachusetts Bar Association was his
As its Secretary, Frank was far more than the
right-hand man of each President of the Association, far more than
the one who carefully and reliably kept the records of the
Association. Frank prepared and sent out the notices; he
coordinated committee assignments and commitments. He attended the
meetings of the Association where he listened carefully and spoke
whenever he thought he should - all Annual meetings, all regional
meetings, almost all committee meetings. He traveled throughout the
commonwealth and the country on Massachusetts Bar Association
matters on his own time and at his own expense. He kept up with
what was happening in other state, county and city bar
Frank had great dreams for what the Association might
do. When he was not yet forty years old, he believed that there
were many important areas crying for change in the legal profession
and in the administration of justice in the Commonwealth. Frank
thought big. He clearly saw the great need for major increases in
the number and quality of the membership of the Association.
Dolan describes how, in 1915, Grinnell asked Roscoe Pound -- the
Harvard Law School dean best known for his landmark speech "The
Causes of Popular Dissatisfaction with the Administration of
Justice" -- for his "unvarnished criticism" of a position paper
called "The Future Growth of the Association" before presenting a
draft of it to MBA leadership. It included an elegant section
calling on volunteers to make personal sacrifices in order to make
the MBA an instrument for improving the practice of law and
deliverance of justice:
"The men who are willing to take up this work must be prepared to
face the ridicule of some, the contempt of others, and the
indifference of most, for the present at least. But it is only by
such service, with the risks of all the possible mistakes involved,
that the Association can become what it should be …"
In November 1915, Grinnell embarked upon another lasting legacy
when he established the Massachusetts Law Quarterly -
which evolved into the Massachusetts Law Review - the
oldest state bar law journal in the country. It was, as Brink notes
in Fiat Justitia, "an outgrowth of Grinnell's annual
legislative reports, and of a need to discuss state law."
He pushed for the establishment of an MBA Publications Committee
-- of which he was a member, naturally -- which included a message
in volume one, issue one, "This is to be a state law magazine
dealing primarily with matters of local interest and practice for
Grinnell included articles on a wide range of issues. Grinnell
solicited members' reactions to the items appearing in the Law
Review as a way of gauging the membership's positions.
Grinnell, who served as editor until 1960, was also one of its
primary contributors, writing 139 articles in its first eight years
But in addition to the Quarterly's original pieces, it
also included republished articles and assorted reports of interest
to lawyers. In 1961, Edward F. Hennessey, who would later become
chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, was named editor of
the Massachusetts Law Quarterly to usher in the next era,
one that achieved greater member participation by including more
original articles. At that time, Grinnell was named editor
The Law Review eventually developed a significant place
in the national dialogue. In 1985, it was identified by a national
study as the periodical cited the greatest number of times by
courts in the United States.
For all the changes it underwent after his tenure, Grinnell was an
indispensable part of the history of the Law Review and
the MBA, according to Jerry Cohen, a partner at Burns &
Levinson LLP, who has been a contributor and editor for the Law
Review since the 1970s and served as its editor-in-chief from
1990 to 1993.
"Frank Grinnell did it all over the span of four turbulent decades
-- Law Quarterly and secretary of the MBA and Judicial
Council. I liken him to the monks of the Dark Ages who preserved
and expanded stored knowledge, learning and civilized values," he
Cohen noted that the Law Review had established itself as
an important and respected vehicle for legal articles and
commentary. Even after Grinnell died, his name carried significant
"In the 1970s, long after Frank was gone, an MBA executive
director proposed to convert the Mass. Law Review from a
scholarly journal to a bar news vehicle," Cohen said. "Present and
past editors rose up in protest and our objections were effective
to block the change. Among other arguments against the change, I
invoked the heritage of Frank Grinnell."
Two books provided valuable historical information for this
article: Fiat Justitia: A History of the Massachusetts Bar
Association, 1910-1985 by Robert J. Brink, and Hale and
Dorr Backgrounds & Styles, a 1993 history of Hale and Dorr
by John A. Dolan.