Foley & Lardner History

777 East Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202

Telephone: (414) 271-2400

Private Partnership
Founded: 1842 as Finch & Lynde
Employees: 1,452
Sales: $240 million (1998 est.)
NAIC: 54111 Offices of Lawyers

Company History:

Foley & Lardner is one of the oldest and largest law firms in the United States. From its 1842 origin as a two-man partnership focusing on local Milwaukee issues, the firm has grown to play an important role in the Midwest as its attorneys have successfully counseled corporations on how to flourish in the face of new laws and government regulations. For decades the firm numbered relatively few lawyers, but mergers with seven other law firms starting in the 1970s increased Foley & Lardner's national presence. In the 1990s the firm represents a growing number of clients in new practice areas, such as healthcare, environmental regulation, sports, and intellectual property issues concerning computers and telecommunications. It also works closely with other law firms in the GlobaLex Alliance to represent clients' interests in Europe and Asia.

Origins and Growth in the 1800s

In 1842 Asahel Finch and William Pitt Lynde created the partnership of Finch & Lynde in Milwaukee, then a town of just 2,500 with unpaved streets. Like Abraham Lincoln and many other lawyers of that era, Finch studied law as an apprentice. Lynde, however, graduated from Harvard Law School and then moved west. Initially they kept busy with local litigation, some from business failures after the Panic of 1837.

Both Finch and Lynde became heavily involved in civic and political matters, the former as a Whig and later a Republican and the latter as a Democrat. The partnership represented local railroad interests that competed with the growing railroad hub of Chicago. The firm also represented maritime companies shipping goods on the Great Lakes.

As Milwaukee's economy grew after Wisconsin became a state in 1848, Finch & Lynde provided legal services to manufacturing, banking, insurance, transportation, and utilities clients, and invested as businessmen in some of those companies. In addition, as more German immigrants moved to Milwaukee in the 1850s and started breweries, the law firm gained clients in that new industry which became an important part of the city's heritage.

In 1856 the partnership added Benjamin K. Miller, Sr., and Matt Finch, a nephew of Asahel Finch, and changed its name to Finches, Lynde & Miller. Both new attorneys had studied the law as apprentices.

During the Civil War, the practice continued to serve farming clients, an important area since Wisconsin led the nation in producing wheat for the Union armies. Litigation remained the partners' main forte, helping clients in diverse industries resolve problems from the Panic of 1857 and the chaos of the war years.

In the postwar era, Asahel Finch spent more time as a leading Milwaukee businessman, especially as president of the Milwaukee Gas Company. Lynde, between 1865 and 1879, served in the Wisconsin assembly and senate and in Congress, while representing clients in the federal district court and before both the Wisconsin and U.S. Supreme Courts. Since the lumber and timber products industry was the state's leading manufacturing field, the firm worked on some important cases involving lumber firms.

After the war the law firm also represented the Western Union Company as the telegraph expanded across the nation. Several pork producing companies used the firm's attorneys. By 1971 Milwaukee ranked fourth in the nation's meat-packing industry. Railroad consolidation and regulation provided plenty of problems for clients in that growing field as well.

During the Gilded Age, more corporations relied on attorneys counseling them how to avoid what author Ellen D. Langill in her history of Foley & Lardner called the "costly luxury" of litigation. Partner B.K. Miller, who was handling much of the firm's routine work in the 1870s, provided such counsel and also handled estate and probate matters as more company leaders gained huge fortunes in the late 1800s. Miller was the incorporator and charter stockholder for the new Milwaukee Telephone Company, later renamed Wisconsin Bell. In the 1890s he helped start the Milwaukee Trust Company, whose successor, First Wisconsin Trust Company, became an affiliate of the First Wisconsin Corporation, later renamed Firstar Corporation. Not surprisingly, he served as a Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce trustee.

Between 1883 and 1885, partners Asahel Finch, Matt Finch, and William Pitt Lynde died, leaving Miller to run the firm with a few other attorneys and staff. Major clients around the turn of the century included the Northern Pacific Railroad, the Wisconsin Central Railroad, the First National Bank, Wisconsin Marine and Fire Insurance Company, American Express, Western Union, plus the telephone and transit companies. Foley & Lardner also served Marshall Field, the Chicago Board of Trade, the Continental Bank of Illinois, the Schlitz Brewery and other breweries, and several firms in the lumber, cement, steel, and clothing manufacturing industries.

Law firms helped corporations deal with more federal laws about this time, starting with the 1887 Interstate Commerce Act that regulated railroads. Other laws included the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act and the 1903 Elkins Act authorizing federal judges to penalize railroads for rebates. It was the Progressive period when reformers set out to curb the dangerous power of trusts and protect consumers.

The Early 20th Century

After the death of B.K. Miller in 1898 and the departure of other partners, the law firm in 1906 was renamed Miller, Mack & Fairchild, a name it retained for 45 years. George P. Miller was one of B.K. Miller's sons. Edwin S. Mack was one of the few Jewish law partners in the early 20th century. Arthur Fairchild, the son of a prominent Wisconsin lawyer and politician, used his outgoing personality to attract new clients.

New clients chose Miller, Mack & Fairchild as their legal counsel, including Briggs and Stratton, Federal Rubber, West Bend Aluminum, Oscar Mayer and Company, and the Kresge retail store. Wills and estates also kept the firm busy. For example, George Miller for years represented the New York estate of Robert Graham Dun of Dun & Bradstreet fame.

During World War I, the firm represented railroads in their lawsuits against the federal government's regulatory efforts. The three main partners bought war bonds and supported the war effort, which antagonized Milwaukee's antiwar Socialist politicians and many in the German community.

In the 1920s Milwaukee's prosperity brought new business to the law firm. Edwin Mack played a key role in creating Wisconsin's Children's Code to cover juvenile lawbreakers, social programs for children, and child custody rules. He also promoted state legislation in 1927 that required Wisconsin attorneys to have at least two years of college.

In 1921 Leon Foley joined the firm. He had served in the Navy during World War I and then graduated first in his class at the University of Wisconsin's law school. Fred Sammond, who joined the firm in the 1920s, was the last partner who served an apprenticeship instead of going to law school. George Miller died in 1931, leaving the law firm under the leadership of Edwin Mack and Arthur Fairchild.

The Great Depression, World War II, and Early Postwar Period

By 1933 Miller, Mack & Fairchild had grown to eight partners and 20 support staff. During the Great Depression, the firm helped banking clients deal with New Deal legislation, such as the Glass-Steagall Act and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in 1933. It also helped many of the state's banks that failed during the Depression. Because of the 1935 federal Wagner Act that empowered unions, the law firm developed expertise in labor law as a way to help their corporate clients.

World War II resulted in several partners and associates leaving the law firm to serve in the military, while others received deferments for providing technical or managerial assistance to clients producing war goods.

Lynford Lardner, Jr., joined the firm in 1940 at age 25 after earning both a business and law degree from Harvard. In 1942 Edwin Mack died, just a few months before the firm celebrated its centennial.

As soon as World War II ended, Miller, Mack & Fairchild began recruiting new lawyers. Under Foley's leadership, the partnership decided to recruit more attorneys from nationally ranked schools and develop practices in other areas. By 1958 the firm had grown to 18 partners and 20 associates. In the 1950s the firm gained several new clients in the movie industry, including RKO, Paramount, Warner Brothers, and Twentieth Century Fox that faced antitrust allegations.

In 1960 the firm's name became Foley, Sammond & Lardner. It was shortened in 1969 to just Foley & Lardner after the death of Sammond in 1966. In 1964 the Milwaukee Braves baseball team decided to leave the city, so Milwaukee County hired the law firm to try to keep the Braves from moving. That attempt failed, but years later the firm helped bring the Milwaukee Brewers to the city.

Expansion in the 1970s and 1980s

Foley & Lardner in 1971 became the first Wisconsin law firm to open an office in another state when it founded its Washington, D.C. branch. That office grew in 1974 with the merger of Hollabaugh & Jacobs, a five-lawyer Washington, D.C. firm specializing in antitrust and trade regulation.

In 1975 the firm began its second expansion office in Madison, Wisconsin, where it initially represented the First Wisconsin National Bank and the Wisconsin Housing Finance Authority, an agency the firm had helped create to borrow money for public housing.

In 1986 the Madison office expanded with the merger of Walsh, Walsh, Sweeney & Whitney, which helped make the Foley & Lardner branch office the largest law firm in Wisconsin's capital.

Foley & Lardner began its Florida operations in 1981 and then in 1985 merged with the Orlando firm of van den Berg, Gay, Burke, Wilson & Arkin, P.A. Three years later it merged with the Tampa firm of Hill, Hill & Dickenson, P.A. Finally, in 1991, the Jacksonville law firm of Commander Legler Werber Dawes Sadler & Howell, P.A. merged with Foley & Lardner.

The firm's expansion into Florida reflected the increasing population from migrating workers and retirees and the economic growth of the so-called sunbelt, at the same time many states in the rustbelt of the northeastern states suffered job losses and declining industries.

Foley & Lardner started new practice specialties as well as new geographical offices. After the federal government passed the 1970 Clean Air Act and the 1972 Clean Water Act, the firm began a small environmental law practice that later increased as new environmental laws and regulations were implemented. In 1983 the firm started its intellectual property practice and five years later merged with a firm of 14 attorneys who specialized in that area: Schwartz, Jeffrey, Schwaab, Mack, Blumenthal & Evans in Alexandria, Virginia. The firm's health law practice also began in 1983 in response to hospital clients dealing with federal laws that created Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s and other state and federal legislation.

Foley & Lardner's major expansion in the 1970s and especially the 1980s was part of a nationwide trend as many law firms became more business-oriented. Two developments helped create this business atmosphere. First, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that professional associations' restrictions against advertising violated the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech and also antitrust laws. From then on, more professionals, including lawyers, increased their advertising and marketing.

That competition was enhanced by the second event. Steven Brill in 1979 began publishing the new magazine the American Lawyer, spotlighting attorney salaries and other internal operations of various law firms. With that added information, law firms increased hiring of experienced attorneys from other firms instead of simply hiring new law school graduates and keeping them throughout their careers. This new trend was called lateral hiring or raiding other law firms. Lateral hires often took their clients with them to the new law firms.

During most of the 1980s general economic health and many acquisitions and mergers also stimulated the growth of law firms such as Foley & Lardner. Many corporations expanded nationally and overseas, thus increasing the need for law firms with national and international capabilities.

The 1990s

To deal with its clients' overseas concerns, Foley & Lardner in 1990 organized GlobaLex, a strategic alliance with two other full-service firms: Nicholson Graham & Jones in London and D. de Ricci-G. Selnet et Associes in Paris, with branches in Singapore and Taipei. In early 1991 Stuttgart's Thummel Schutze & Partner joined GlobaLex, which totaled over 550 attorneys in 20 offices in six nations.

By the early 1990s, law firms faced a slowing economy, and one study concluded that large corporations in 1991 cut spending on outside attorneys by 24 percent. Meanwhile, the nation's largest law firms, including Foley & Lardner, continued becoming more business-oriented by hiring communications or marketing directors and publishing firm brochures, tax guides, and newsletters, and sponsoring speakers and seminars on legal issues. Founded in 1986, The National Association of Law Firm Marketing in Northbrook, Illinois, grew to 1,100 members by 1993.

The Chicago Stock Exchange (CSE) in July 1993 dissolved its inhouse legal department and retained Foley & Lardner to be in charge of its legal matters. However, in 1998 the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission ruled that the CSE had allowed the law firm to develop a conflict of interest involving Chicago-based Scattered Corporation. Using for the first time civil court principles instead of federal securities rules, the SEC decided that Foley & Lardner could not act impartially as the CSE's investigator in its disciplinary actions against Scattered while at the same time defending the stock exchange in a lawsuit filed by Scattered. The firm remained an outside counsel to the CSE but was no longer its general counsel.

In 1995 Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Kirkwood ruled that lawyers for Foley & Lardner and Chicago's Winston & Strawn should receive ten percent of the $188 million they won from the state of Florida in a class-action lawsuit filed for 650,000 drivers who complained the state had discriminated against them by charging excessive fees for registering out-of-state cars. Kirkwood's decision, based on the Florida Supreme Court's 1994 decision that the fees were unconstitutional, was appealed by the government to the state Supreme Court.

Foley & Lardner in late 1995 began its merger with the 75-lawyer Los Angeles law firm of Weissburg and Aronson Inc., specialists in counseling hospitals, nursing homes, and healthcare providers. With more mergers and acquisitions involving operations in the Midwest and East, Weissburg and Aronson needed the help of another law firm. On the other hand, Foley & Lardner wanted to expand its healthcare practice and have offices in California to serve its clients in Japan and South Korea, most of whom needed help with intellectual property issues. "They like to have lawyers accessible on the West Coast. Milwaukee or Washington, D.C., where a lot of the intellectual property work is done, is too far away," said Foley & Lardner Chairman Michael Grebe in the November 7, 1995 Sacramento Bee.

The completed merger with Weissburg and Aronson in 1996 created the nation's 15th largest law firm with 550 attorneys. Foley & Lardner's combined healthcare practice included over 100 attorneys.

In 1998 Foley & Lardner opened its 14th office in Denver. Originated to focus on medical organizations in the Denver area, the new office was located in the same building as one of the law firm's clients--Catholic Health Initiatives.

In 1998 Bud Selig, the recently elected commissioner of Major League Baseball, and Paul Beeston, baseball's president and CEO, chose Foley & Lardner partner Robert A. Du Puy as the sport's chief legal officer and executive vice-president for administration. Du Puy for about 20 years had worked in commercial law, notably in real estate investments for the then First Wisconsin Bank, JI Case's acquisition of International Harvester's farming equipment division, and the AllisChalmers Corporation bankruptcy. In the 1990s he helped baseball executives deal with various controversies, such as antitrust charges and removing Commissioner Fay Vincent in 1992.

Du Puy also had served as counsel to the Milwaukee Brewers when Selig was the team's president; that close association was crucial in Du Puy accepting the position with Major League Baseball. After that appointment, Du Puy moved to New York City where baseball was headquartered, but he also remained a Foley & Lardner partner. In case of any conflict of interest between the Brewers and Major League Baseball, Du Puy said he would stop representing the Brewers.

Also in 1998, the law firm created a new lobbying and public affairs section. In response to client demands, the firm hired two top individuals to head this effort to influence state and federal lawmakers: Scott Klug, a nonlawyer and former Wisconsin congressman, and John Matthews, Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson's chief of staff. To make this new effort bipartisan, Foley & Lardner in January 1999 hired three Democrats, including former state Representative Rosemary Potter.

Although Foley & Lardner changed in many ways over the years, it remained focused, as the new millennium approached, on serving business clients, the firm's original purpose when it was created in 1842.

Further Reading:

  • Burke, Sue, "Foley Trains 'Zero Tolerance' for Sexual Harassment," Business Journal-Milwaukee, April 15, 1995, p. 8A.
  • Buss, Dale D., "Goin' South: Wisconsin Service Firms Make Forays to Warmer Climes with Mixed Success," Corporate Report Wisconsin, October 1993, p. 15.
  • Deutsch, Glenn, "Full-Service Law Firms Tap New Arsenal to Defend Their Turf," Business Journal-Milwaukee, May 1, 1993, p. 9.
  • Ferraro, Cathleen, "2 Giant Law Firms May Join Practices," Sacramento Bee, November 7, 1995, p. E1.
  • Freyer, Tony, "Foley & Lardner, Attorneys at Law, 1842-1992," Business History Review, Winter 1993, p. 664.
  • Gallagher, Kathleen, "SEC Decision a Disappointment to Foley; Ruling Involves Dual Roles in Law Firm's Work for Chicago Stock Exchange," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 12, 1998, p. 1.
  • Hoeschen, Brad, "Baseball's Barrister," Business Journal-Milwaukee, January 1, 1999, p. 3.
  • Langill, Ellen D., Foley & Lardner: Attorneys at Law, 1842-1992, Madison, Wis.: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1992.
  • "Lawyers in License Fee Case to Get $18-Million Series: Around Florida," St. Petersburg Times, July 14, 1995, p. 5B.
  • Mayers, Jeff, "Klug Will Lobby for Law Firm; Foley & Lardner Adds Two Other Republicans," Wisconsin State Journal, November 17, 1998, p. 1A.
  • Olson, Walter K., The Litigation Explosion: What Happened When America Unleashed the Lawsuit, New York: Truman Talley Books-Dutton, 1991.
  • Romell, Rick, "Partner at Foley Named Baseball's Chief Legal Officer," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 30, 1998, p.1.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 28. St. James Press, 1999.