As the Massachusetts Bar Association neared its 50th anniversary
of existence, a portion of the association's focus was beginning to
concentrate on public service. The MBA was gaining traction across
the state and growing its membership and prominence.
The MBA was also getting recognized at a national level,
specifically with accolades from the American Bar Association,
including its Award of Merit. In addition, more modern times
brought forth ABA recognition in the form of the prestigious
Harrison Tweed Award, bestowed upon the MBA in 2007.
Important precursor to Law Day
Among the ABA recognition received in the 1950s was an Award of
Merit for the MBA's 1954 Massachusetts Heritage Program. The
program was an outgrowth of the Good Citizenship Program, first
established in 1952 by then president Samuel P. Sears. The Good
Citizenship Program placed a prominent lawyer in every high school
in the commonwealth to impress upon the students the importance of
the judicial system.
Sears first established the program following his sense of a
broadening cynicism in the state and across the nation, combined
with his perception of an impending Communist threat.
Sears said, "I thought high school students should know this --
they're the ones who'll run things within a few years. And I
thought they should also know -- hear from the lips of lawyers, men
who are in our courts daily -- that the fight for our kind of
system did not come easy."
Although Sears' version of this influential program ended when his
term came to a close in 1952, its impact was carried on by
president Robert W. Bodfish in 1954. Under Bodfish, the program
re-emerged as the Massachusetts Heritage Program. This version was
accompanied by much publicity; so much so, that Massachusetts Gov.
Christian A. Hertner proclaimed December 1954 as "Massachusetts
Due to its sweeping success, the ABA bestowed the MBA with its
Award of Merit and used its model to create ABA's Law Day, still
celebrated across the nation on May 1 annually.
Unveiling inhumane treatment of mentally
Among the other programs honored by the ABA was the MBA's vital
role in reforming the state's laws pertaining to the mentally ill.
Enacted in 1970, the new code in Massachusetts represented a
national model for how to protect the rights of these
Many attributed such reform to MBA President Paul Tamburello's
(1966-68) tour of Bridgewater State Hospital, which helped bring to
light the inhumane conditions for mentally ill patients. The work
of Tamburello and the leadership of the MBA on this issue earned
the association another ABA Award of Merit.
Tamburello's efforts to reform Bridgewater State Hospital
exemplified a shift in the MBA's focus from more conventional
professional issues to problems of broader social concern.
Tamburello's efforts caught the attention of then Gov. John A.
Volpe, who referred the matter to then Attorney General Elliot
Richardson to investigate.
Richardson enlisted MBA volunteers, including Tamburello, to
represent more than 200 patients during the initial competency
hearings. The investigation ultimately led to the 1970 passing of
legislation to protect the rights and interests of the mentally ill
MBA expands membership, scope
For the third time in seven years, the MBA received another ABA
Award of Merit, in 1974. When President Frederick G. Fisher Jr.
accepted the award, membership numbers had doubled since five years
earlier and its programming was thriving. The ABA acknowledged the
success of the MBA when compared to peer voluntary bar associations
across the nation.
Many of the programs which Fisher cited for the MBA's sustained
success were the Lawyer Referral Service, the Committee on Judicial
Complaints, the Committee of Public Education and the Committee on
Administration of Justice and Trial Practice.
"The MBA has in the past and will in the future fashion its
programs in the public interest," wrote Fisher, "and the reward to
lawyers will automatically follow." During Fisher's term, more than
900 members were engaged in the association's 35 committees and the
association's membership accounted for 65 percent of the
Longtime advocacy for legal aid funding
More recently, in 2007, the MBA received the Harrison Tweed
Award, an honor it shared with the Boston Bar Association. The MBA
and BBA were recognized for their longstanding commitment to
advocating for legal services funding.
Specifically, the prestigious honor applauded both organizations'
effort to expand the Massachusetts Equal Justice Coalition and
secure funding for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance
The bars also encouraged the Committee for Public Counsel Services
to establish and maintain quality controls of indigent defense
services, and advocated for adequate compensation for public
defenders and assigned counsel.
MLAC nominated the MBA and BBA for the national honor. "We are
deeply grateful that the fundamental American value of justice is
kept alive in Massachusetts through the dedication of both the
Massachusetts and Boston bar associations," said MLAC Executive
Director Lonnie Powers following the announcement.
Material from Fiat Justitia: A History of the Massachusetts
Bar Association, 1910-1985 by Robert J. Brink, was used for