For 45 years, Secretary Frank W. Grinnell guided MBA: Longest-serving officer also started Law Review

Issue January 2011 By Bill Archambeault

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 conscience.

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 & Styles:

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 sacrifices."

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 first love."

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 associations.
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 …"

Grinnell's Legacy

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 Massachusetts lawyers."

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 alone.

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 emeritus.

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 said.

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 weight.

"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.