MBA Centennial Profile: Newcomer Mayo A. Shattuck leads MBA’s rebirth

Issue February 2011

After the stock market crash plunged the nation into the Great Depression, the Massachusetts Bar Association fell into a period of malaise as well. Membership had dwindled, and in 1940, the MBA did not have enough people to hold its annual meeting.

To the rescue came Mayo A. Shattuck, a new member of the MBA who served as president from 1941-44.

As described in Fiat Justitia, A History of the Massachusetts Bar Association 1910-1985, Shattuck, from Hingham, cut quite the image.

In 1941, Mayo Shattuck, who had been a member less than a month, became the MBA's new president and, armed with a three-year term, so completely mobilized the Association that it seemed like a 'dashing hero saves the day' movie plot. In fact, Shattuck, with his Clark Gablesque mustache, possessed a courage and a fighting spirit to match the movie metaphor.

Shattuck had made a splash - as reported on the front page of the Boston Herald's Jan. 16, 1941 issue - for enduring the boos and shouts of hundreds of people at a public debate, to argue that the United States should aid Britain in World War II (The bombing of Pearl Harbor that December would settle the debate). These were turbulent times, for the association and the nation.

Upon taking office, he immediately created a committee to "study the deficiencies or our organization and make recommendations."

One of the first recommendations was to restart the annual meeting, but adding both a social element and legal education offerings to the standard MBA business, a tradition that carries through to today. Indeed, MBA members had complained about the lack of any formal educational programs since at least 1931. The success of those offerings led to what became continuing legal education in Massachusetts.

Shattuck also oversaw the hiring of the MBA's first executive secretary, set the stage for encouraging greater participation in the Massachusetts Law Quarterly (before it became the Massachusetts Law Review), and the creation of its Junior Bar for younger bar members that would eventually be known as Young Lawyers.

But perhaps his greatest accomplishment was reviving the MBA's membership, which had sunk to as little as 600 members. Shattuck appointed groups in 62 cities and towns across the state to actively recruit other lawyers to join the MBA.

The effort was a success. Hundreds more had joined by the end of Shattuck's term, and membership continued increasing in the years and decades after him.

Centennial Timeline

The 1940s

1940: The association is unable to gather enough interested members to hold the annual meeting.

June 1941: May Shattuck, less than one month into his membership in the association, is voted into a three-year term as MBA president. A dramatic orator, he starts shaking the association out of its apathy.

Nov. 1941: Shattuck publishes the recommendations of a subcommittee in a special issue of the Quarterly. Included in the recommendations is the beginning of the association's focus on continuing education for the state's attorneys.

Nov. 1941: The MBA moves into new offices on the second floor of 5 Park St.

Dec. 7, 1941: Pearl Harbor is bombed.

May 1942: For the first time, the association holds a two-day annual meeting combining education, entertainment and association business. It includes the first daylong annual Massachusetts Law Institute, which later became known as the Swampscott Institutes, for decades the state's most important forum for refresher courses.

June 1943: As the Boston Herald reports, an astonishing 40 percent of practicing attorneys are also employed in the war effort or serving in the armed forces. The vacuum creates great opportunities for women, who are once again, if not welcomed, at least tolerated in the profession.

1945: The MBA moves into new offices in Room 622, 53 State St.

1946: MBA President Edward O. Proctor is elected.

1947-50: Concerns about communism sweep the country. In 1951, the MBA's Executive Committee goes on record rejecting the loyalty oath proposed by a special committee of the Legislature, but agrees to exclude all members of the Communist Party from membership in both the association and the bar.

After a decade of activism and recruitment, the MBA has 2,600 members, more than half of the estimated 5,000 members of the bar.

MBA Did You Know?

  • The McCarthy Era left few parts of the country untouched, as government officials hunted down "subversive" individuals. Massachusetts lawyers were required to cite a "loyalty pledge" to join or even remain a member of the bar. The MBA stood firmly against this new oath.
    Eventually, however, under pressure from other bar associations and legislative figures, MBA members voted to exclude Communist Party members from membership in both the MBA and the bar itself. MBA President Samuel P. Sears wanted to take more proactive steps and insisted on educating the population about democracy and the law to avert growing Communist sentiment.
  • In the early 20th century, aspiring lawyers qualified for the bar by clerking with or shadowing practicing attorneys. However, the growth in importance of law schools changed the focus of lawyers to the mindset of the profession and away from strict memorization of the law. MBA President Mayo Shattuck aimed to solve the gap between theory and practice and to offer "refresher courses" for returning WWII veterans through the MBA's annual Massachusetts Law Institute.
  • From the 1930s through the early 1970s, MBA presidents usually held three-year terms. This concept was devised to allow each president to engage in long-term planning for the association, rather than to enact short-term personal goals. In 1973, members at the annual meeting recognized that to allow more lawyers an opportunity for MBA leadership, this term should once again be shortened to one year. To resolve the problem of continuity, the association decided to allow the new "president-elect" to learn about problems facing the organization before they assumed their leadership position.
  • In the 1960s, the MBA became a force on the frontlines defining and defending the boundaries of the legal profession. It helped form the Joint Committee of the Press and Bar, which resolved the conflict between the media's right to freedom of the press under the First Amendment, and lawyers' claims to their clients' right to a fair trial under the Sixth Amendment.
  • The Joint Committee issued a "Guide for the Bar and News Media," which gained the support of Massachusetts newspapers and became a model for efforts in other states. In addition, the MBA participated in the Joint Conference Committee on Physician-Lawyer Relationships to agree on certain courtesies and considerations for meetings both within and without trial.