Celebrating Our 175th: Looking Back

05 September 2017 Publication

On September 8, 1842, the founders of what would become Foley & Lardner LLP -- Asahel Finch and William Pitt Lynde -- opened the doors to their first office in Milwaukee.

At the time, Milwaukee was just a frontier town located in a territory that was six years away from gaining statehood. Over the next 175 years, Finch and Lynde’s two-person law firm grew along with Milwaukee and Wisconsin and has become the state’s largest law firm. Now an international firm with 19 offices in the U.S., Europe and Asia, Foley & Lardner has played an integral role in the growth of agriculture and manufacturing industries, especially in the U.S.

Notable highlights for Foley & Lardner throughout the past 175 years include:

  • In 1842, Asahel Finch and William Pitt Lynde created the partnership named Finch & Lynde in Milwaukee, a town with unpaved streets and a population of about 2,500. Finch studied law as an apprentice, while Lynde graduated from Harvard University. Finch was said to have helped hide runaway slaves traveling north on the Underground Railroad.
  • Finch and Lynde’s partnership grew through their representation of local railroad interests and maritime companies. By the time Wisconsin became a state in 1848, the firm was providing legal services to clients in manufacturing, banking, insurance, transportation, utilities and beer brewing industries. Both Finch and Lynde also invested in some of their clients, a precursor to today’s Foley Venture Fund.
  • A significant portion of Foley’s business was always within the farming industry, which was a particularly important industry during the Civil War as Wisconsin led the nation in producing wheat for the Union armies.
  • Major clients at the turn of the century included Northern Pacific Railroad, Wisconsin Central Railroad, First National Bank, Wisconsin Marine and Fire Insurance Company, American Express and Western Union.
  • In the 1930s, the firm helped clients address New Deal legislation and helped many of the state’s banks that failed during The Great Depression.
  • In the 1950s, the firm grew to 18 partners and 20 associates and also gained clients in the movie industry, including RKO Pictures, Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros.
  • Within Major League Baseball, the firm played a role in trying to keep the Milwaukee Braves from leaving, and when they left, played a role in attracting the Milwaukee Brewers.
  • After undergoing several name changes through the years as new partners joined the firm, the name Foley & Lardner was adopted in 1969. It is the namesake of Leon Foley, who joined the firm in 1921, and Lynford Lardner, Jr., who joined the firm in 1945. Foley joined the firm after serving in the Navy during World War I and graduating first in his class at the University of Wisconsin’s Law School. Lardner was 25 when he joined the firm after graduating with both a business and law degree from Harvard University.
  • In 1971, Foley & Lardner opened an office in Washington D.C., making it the first Wisconsin law firm to open an office outside of the state.
  • The firm grew to its present size through acquisitions of other firms. Throughout Foley’s continued expansion, the firm has always stayed committed to the ongoing growth and development of its clients and communities.