By Scott Merrill
When the Bar Association of New Hampshire – as it was then called – was established in 1873 as a philanthropic club of “like minded attorneys,” it consisted of all men. It wasn’t until 1917, three years before congress ratified the right to vote for women, that Agnes Winifred “Winnie” McLaughlin became the first woman admitted as an attorney to the Bar. More than seven decades would pass from that time before the first woman would be named president of the Bar in 1992.
For nearly 100 years, the Bar Association resembled a “quasi social networking organization,” says NHBA Executive Director George Moore. “For a long time, the Bar existed mainly as a place for lawyers from around the state to trade information about how judges were ruling and to stay connected socially.”
In 1972, the Bar—which had about 1,600 attorneys at the time— became the New Hampshire Bar Association (NHBA) and took on the role of licensure from the courts, as well as professional development and pro bono services. Today, the NHBA serves nearly 4,000 lawyers, as well as judges, the courts, and the public through its various programs.
For more than 30 years, various individuals and organizations such as the New Hampshire Bar Foundation (NHBF), the New Hampshire Supreme Court Society (NHSCS), and the King Law Library, have been preserving state’s legal history for future generations. Their combined work—through archiving and video interviews — continues to tell the stories and preserve the work of the judges and lawyers who have shaped New Hampshire’s legal landscape for over two centuries.
The Bar Emerged Along with New Approaches to Law
The formation of the Bar Association of New Hampshire came at a time when significant changes were occurring in American culture and in the way American law was approached. By 1873, one change affecting the practice of law was the so-called Langdell Revolution, named after Harvard lawyer Christopher Columbus Langdell. This approach, which acknowledged the increasing complexity of the law, led to the casebook method of study focusing on finding precedents that is still used today, in combination with the Socratic method and other forms of instruction.
By the time Winnie McLaughlin, who would go on to work for 25 years in the estate planning division for an insurance company in Manhattan, was barred in New Hampshire in 1917, another approach to law was emerging. The realist approach, as it was called, happened alongside cultural and economic complexities which led to the demand for a growing specialization in law. This approach, which continued to utilize the casebook method and a body of ordered principles, was also concerned with the “social ends” of law and was “more problem-focused…particularly on problems as they are encountered by the lawyer in his office,” according to a 1967 Marquette Law Review paper titled Lawyers in American Society: 1760-1966, by John Willard Hurst.
Telling the Story of New Hampshire’s Legal History
Maureen Raiche Manning, a founding member of the New Hampshire Women’s Bar Association established in 1998, became involved in preserving the bar’s history in the early 1990s. Her work began after seeing an advertisement from the NHBF around 1991 calling for the formation of a Legal History Project. By March of 1993, Raiche Manning— who chaired the committee—and a group of several others had completed guidelines for their interviews and soon hired a professional video production service. The cost of each interview at the time was $500.
While the original committee for the project held some of its last events and interviews around 2000, the stories they had collected—which involved hundreds of hours of interviews and editing— painted a picture from the perspective of New Hampshire lawyers and judges dating as far back as the 1930s. These interviews, some of which are housed on the NHSCS website today, along with others done before and since then, are now part of the NHSCS’s Oral History Project.
Gregory Smith, former state Attorney General, and member of the NHSCS Board of Trustees (Editor’s Note: Gregory Smith is honored in the 50-Year Member Supplement contained in the center of this issue), says the process that Raiche Manning and the Legal History Project established in the early 90s continues to be utilized today, noting that the quality of the recordings has improved over the years.
“You can tell when you look at the library which ones were recorded in high definition and which were recorded earlier on VHS,” he says, explaining that the early tapes were converted to a digital file to publish them. “A lot of the work is now being done professionally with support from the New Hampshire Civics Institute.”
When getting started with the project, Raiche Manning says she began by asking for a list of all the members who had entered the Bar starting around 1950, and later the group began going back further.
“We ended up breaking down who had been interviewed already and then we started breaking up the transcripts,” she says, explaining the committee was looking to tell interesting stories that would provide a snapshot of people’s experiences practicing law.
For the project, Raiche Manning interviewed former NHBA President Fredrick K. Upton, who died in 2013. She learned that after leaving Harvard Law School in 1942, Upton had served in the Navy for two and half years, and upon his return was sworn in at the New Hampshire Supreme Court during an impromptu visit without taking the bar exam— a common practice at the time. Upton went on to work with his father, former US Senator Robert W. Upton, and his older brother, Richard Upton, at what is Upton Hatfield today.
In 1990, Patti Blanchette, who became the first woman president of the NHBA in 1992, interviewed Wyman Boynton, who she worked for in Portsmouth in the early 1980s.
Blanchette credits Paul McEachern for her ascension to the Bar presidency. McEachern was interviewed for the Oral History Project in 2017 by Superior Court Judge John Lewis. (Editor’s Note: Judge Lewis is honored in the 50-Year Member Supplement contained in this issue.)
“[McEachern] opened the door for me by inviting me to serve on various bar committees,” Blanchette recalls.
Raiche Manning says one of the interesting things about her work on the Legal History Project was that many of the interviewees were people she respected and looked up to.
“I felt like they were such important figures in the Bar Association and in the practice of law in New Hampshire,” she says.
Raiche Manning shared her own story for the Bar News of her early days as an attorney when women were sometimes referred to by their male colleagues as “sister.”
This was at a time, she explained, when the bar was made up of primarily men and at the time male attorneys often referred to each other as “brother.”
“Brother Nixon, Brother Upton…at some point I said ‘No, we don’t want to be called sister. We’re not your sisters,’” she says, citing an interview from the Legal History Project told by Cathy Green that illustrates her own experience.
In 1977, Green was defending a client in a jury trial where the prosecutor continued to refer to her as “sister” in the courtroom.
“She didn’t push back I guess,” Raiche Manning says, explaining that when the jury came back and let [Green’s] client off, she had recalled she was surprised she’d won. A couple of months later, Green recounted in the interview that she ran into one of the jurors from the case in a grocery store who told her he had thought she was a nun and that a nun would never represent someone who was guilty.
Justice Bassett’s Work Preserving New Hampshire’s Legal History
In 2018, New Hampshire Supreme Court (NHSC) Justice James Bassett interviewed William Chapman, who he has known for 35 years, for the NHSCS Oral History Project. Chapman, he says, was a mentor during his time as an attorney at Orr & Reno.
“He is a great example of someone who has had an interesting life and who has had a large impact on the law,” Justice Bassett says.
Chapman, who has argued 43 cases in front of the NHSC, focuses his practice on media law, appellate practice, and businesses seeking tax exemption. The case that went to the Supreme Court that has had the strongest impact on how the unified bar in the Granite State operates came in 1987. The Court’s decision in Petition of William L. Chapman, who was against the Bar’s opposition to tort reform legislation, established limits to the political activities the NHBA could engage in. It also found there were cases where such activities were permissible, including responding to legislation that affected the legal profession as a whole.
Through his work on the State House Bicentennial Commission in 2019, Justice Bassett wrote an article for the New Hampshire Historical Society about the statehouse in the 1800s.
“Most people didn’t know the state Supreme Court sat where the Senate convenes for a number of years in the second half of 19th century,” he says, explaining that in the early 1800s judges rode a circuit and sat in courtrooms around the state. The NHSC celebrated the building’s bicentennial in 2019 by hearing oral arguments in Representatives Hall. The court first heard arguments there in 1824, then moved into the Senate Chamber across the hall in 1875, and eventually across the street into its own building in 1895.
“The 2019 commemoration was a great experience for us,” Justice Bassett says. Bassett, who joined the Court in 2012, says preserving history is important and that the Court frequently uncovers historical documents that are in storage.
“During my time at the Court, we were able to locate the documentation for Daniel Webster becoming a member of the Bar,” he says, adding that court is mindful of its responsibility to maintain and locate historical records. “We have a responsibility to preserve and present the history of the Court and the leaders of the Bar.”
Preserving New Hampshire Court Cases
A NHSC project to archive and digitize old cases has recently completed the first seven volumes dating back to the 1800s. The project, which started nearly five years ago, is headed by the NHSC’s “Library Judge,” Justice Anna Barbara Hantz Marconi, and Mary Searles, law librarian at John W. King New Hampshire Law Library. Northeast Document Conservation Center, which specializes in treating and digitizing collections made of paper or parchment, has been contracted to do the work, which will include conserving and archiving 600 volumes of cases, starting with the oldest. The total price tag of at least $2 million will be paid for with money approved by the state legislature, as well as COVID grant funds, according to Searles.
In her perusals of the old cases, Searles says she found an exhibit of the late Justice Robert Peaslee’s doodles, as well as a lurid story relating to her own family history.
“It was a divorce case from the 1800s, and I was asked to track down some information for a family genealogy,” she says, explaining the case involved a kidnapping. “Apparently [the mother] had divorced the man and he showed up with a pistol and ran away with the child. They were found hiding behind a chimney in Maine and he had cut the girl’s hair to pretend she was a boy.”
Justice Hantz Marconi refers to the cases being archived and digitized as a window into New Hampshire’s historical practice of law and the individuals who participated.
“We have documents written by prior judges and justices who rode the circuit that include deeds and actual exhibits that are stitched into the parchment,” she says. “There’s information about the practice of law, how cases were decided, who the judges and lawyers were, and what the issues were about at the time.”
She says the second and final phase of the archiving process will be to find a place to house the conserved archival materials.
“We’re currently in the process of designing a vault, if you will, that could go in the Supreme Court basement where archival cases would be stored,” Justice Hantz Marconi says. “And it just happens to dovetail with the rehabbing of our HVAC system, so we may be able to piggyback on that.”
Reflecting on how the function of the bar has changed since 1972—the year it was unified—NHBA Executive Director George Moore recalls recently finding correspondence between then NHBA Executive Director Joseph Hayden and NHBA President John Pendleton dealing with budgets from that year. After unification, tax returns were needed to document sales of the New Hampshire Bar Journal and other physical assets.
“They were making lists and [likely] trying to figure out how to not get in trouble,” Moore says, explaining that the list of assets in 1972 included IBM typewriters, equipment rentals, and mimeograph machines totaling $1,809. “That really puts in perspective the size of the Bar at the time and how much it has changed.”
Scott Merrill is a staff writer for Business NH Magazine and former editor of the Bar News.