John Lathrop graduated from Burlington College in New Jersey in 1853 and Harvard Law School in 1855. He later was awarded an honorary degree (Doctor of Laws) by Williams College in 1906.
Mr. Lathrop's career as Reporter of Decisions began in an office behind schedule, due to the poor health of his predecessor. Appointed in March, 1874, by the Supreme Judicial Court, Mr. Lathrop worked diligently to prepare and publish volumes 110-114, inclusive, of the Massachusetts Reports. Thereafter, he published volumes 115-145.
Mr. Lathrop reported new decisions in a timely manner. Simultaneously, he organized preexisting cases and assigned them to scholarly lawyers. This work was completed with limited assistance.
It was said by the then Attorney General of Massachusetts, James Marcus Swift, that Mr. Lathrop produced long, exact notes that "made clear every basis of contention of counsel and responded completely to the opinion of the court," 209 Mass. 616 (1911). Mr. Lathrop created reports clearly stated, and published information that was typographically sound; he proved his capability as Reporter.
A notable change adopted by Mr. Lathrop was a new system of organizing cases. He reported the decisions "consecutively as they came down from the full bench according to the date of the rescript," 209 Mass. 616 (1911). Before his change, the publication of cases was delayed based upon the time the court last in the series had made a decision. Cases were formerly grouped by the law term and county under which they fell. With a new system in place decisions were reported consecutively. Along with the date of argument, the county of origin, and the names of the sitting justices, the date of rescript was printed under the title of each case. This system allowed for more prompt reporting of cases, 209 Mass. 616 (1911).
Mr. Lathrop was appointed a Justice of the Superior Court in March, 1888, while still holding the office of Reporter. Mr. Lathrop was skilled at managing active and effective service to both the litigants and the Commonwealth, 209 Mass. 617 (1911). This appointment to the Superior Court prepared him for his next responsibility; Mr. Lathrop was appointed an Associate Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court in 1891.
Justice Lathrop resigned from the bench due to poor health on September 11, 1906. He died on August 24, 1910.