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Celebrating Our 175th: Foley’s Growth as an International Firm

05 September 2017

Our Beginnings in Milwaukee

September 8, 1842. Wisconsin was still a territory, and Milwaukee was a bustling frontier town with nearly 800 buildings and 50 stores. Immigrants arrived by steamship to be greeted by the sound of cowbells from animals wandering the muddy "downtown" streets. But it was here, in this mecca of Midwestern progress, that Foley & Lardner’s founders, Asahel Finch and William Pitt Lynde, became partners in the practice of law.

Milwaukee skyline, 1800s

From its earliest years, Finch & Lynde's practice focused on land issues, bankruptcy and agriculture. But corporate work soon dominated the firm’s business with the Milwaukee and Watertown Plank Road Company becoming an early client. The company provided the wooden planks for the road that connected Milwaukee to adjacent agricultural counties. But when the Iron Horse came to the area in the 1850s, the partners stepped in and became avid railroad company investors, directors and legal counsel.

This golden age of industry eventually brought many more clients to their doorstep, including:

  • Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc., now an international financial services firm
  • Milwaukee Gas & Light Company, the providers of the first gas lights in the city
  • First Wisconsin National Bank of Milwaukee, today a part of U.S. Bank

Additionally, the Milwaukee office partners were instrumental in organizing one of the first bar associations in the nation. They also worked to serve the area's large German community, helping to charter the first of Milwaukee's Turnverein organizations, which were powerful social and political groups that carried a torch for liberty and democratic forms of government. Both were involved in politics, including Lynde who became Milwaukee's mayor in 1860. During his tenure, the city purchased its first fire department steamer, delivered after Lynde personally guaranteed payment.

Evolution of Our Name

Over the next 127 years, numerous women and men helped grow the Milwaukee office into the largest law firm in the state. During that time, the name changed numerous times as the leaders of the firm changed:

1844 – 1845 Hubbell, Finch & Lynde
1845 – 1857 Finch & Lynde
1857 – 1890 Finches, Lynde & Miller
1890 – 1895 Miller, Noyes & Miller
1895 – 1900 Miller, Noyes, Miller & Wahl
1900 – 1906 Miller, Noyes & Miller
1906 – 1951 Miller, Mack & Fairchild
1951 – 1960 Fairchild, Foley & Sammond
1960 – 1969 Foley, Sammond & Lardner
1969 – Foley & Lardner

While the name may have changed often, the office's commitment to serving its clients, its co-workers and its communities did not.

Foley's headquarters are in Milwaukee's U.S. Bank Center

Recruiting Top Counsel

Backtrack to 1945. In the wake of World War II, the United States found itself on the verge of phenomenal economic growth. Industry was thriving and corporations were expanding their reach across the county, changing the way Americans did business.

It was during this period that the firm, then known as Miller, Mack & Fairchild, was placed under the leadership of Leon Foley and Lynford Lardner, Jr. -- the two men who would become known as the architects of the firm’s national expansion.

Foley and Lardner began their mission by focusing heavily on recruiting returning military veterans, as well as students from a number of prestigious law schools, including The University of Chicago, Harvard and Yale.

Over time, an impressive pool of new hires were brought to the firm and organized into “teams” led by senior attorneys. These teams eventually became known by practice and carried the firm through periods of great demand for legal counsel in areas including, taxation, labor, litigation and insurance throughout the 1950s and 60s. With this new structure, the firm could provide clients with a breadth and depth of legal services competitive with larger firms in the Midwest.

Expanding to 19 Offices

By January 1971, two years after taking Foley & Lardner as its official name, the firm opened its first expansion office in Washington, D.C. This addition not only brought the partners' vision to life, but also made Foley & Lardner the first law firm in Wisconsin to establish an office beyond the state’s borders.

Though credited as a major success for the company's growth, the move to Washington, D.C. was not easy. A former partner once remarked on the early years, "Being from Milwaukee was not a helpful factor in the climate of Washington, D.C." The challenge was clear. In order for the D.C. office and other future offices to thrive, the firm would have to find a way to gain quality connections in the communities to be competitive with other long-established local law firms.

Over more than four decades later, Foley has blossomed into a full-service international law firm with 19 offices across the United States, Europe and Asia. By partnering with existing law firms in each new city it has entered into, Foley has been able to provide its clients across the globe with the best of both worlds: thoughtful strategies and legal solutions that are supported by the resources of a large international firm paired with the tailored and perceptive approach of a local firm.

Our Present and Future

Today, Foley offers its clients a diverse range of legal services across a number of industries. While Foley continues to be recognized as one of the most recommended law firms in the United States, the key to its longevity and success is the firm's strong dedication to its clients and communities.