This year marks a milestone for one of our state’s great firms. Ruder Ware is celebrating 100 years serving clients and contributing to the social and civic life of the places it calls home. The firm is but one example of the many law firms, big and small, that have built their reputations and success by weaving themselves into the very fabric of their community.
No one individual has better personified for me this ethic of investing in and giving back both to the profession and the common good than our former State Bar President, the late G. Lane Ware.
Lane was one of the first members I met when I came to the State Bar. He was a striking individual; some of my colleagues referred to him as the “Cary Grant of the State Bar.” No one, it was said, looked sharper in a tux.
As I reflect back, my time with Lane had a profound impact in shaping and guiding my work. As he had done for so many others, he became my mentor. We would talk regularly. He was always generous with his time and talent.
Much of my early career at the State Bar focused on three things: establishing a leadership development program, bringing back the Annual Meeting & Conference, and reinvigorating and growing the Wisconsin Law Foundation. Lane was my inspirational and guiding hand for all three.
I remember spending an afternoon visiting Lane at his summer home in Minocqua. We discussed ideas for how the State Bar and the Law Foundation could partner to develop programming to identify, develop, and mentor the next generation of legal and civic leaders. It was one of Lane’s passions. How were we encouraging and supporting the next generation to step up in service to others? Shortly after his passing, it was a generous bequest from Lane that provided the establishment of the Foundation’s Ware Fund for Leadership Development. Today both our Leadership Summit (for young or new lawyers) and the Leadership Academy (open to every attorney) bear his name and are supported through the Foundation, including the fund he helped to establish.
I found a kindred spirit in Lane for bringing back the State Bar’s annual gathering. I remember him reminding me that the annual conference was not just about the programming, or even the networking. More fundamentally, its goal was to build and maintain a sense of community within the profession. This sense of community is what makes us an association, rather than just another fee-for-service nonprofit.
But maybe my proudest work with Lane was in revitalizing the Wisconsin Law Foundation. It was our very first meeting when he stated that the Foundation could not move forward, it could not grow without a plan to guide it. The directive was given and I began my work. In the last nine years, thanks to your support, the assets of the Law Foundation have grown 134 percent and will grant more than $55,000 this year to worthy programs across Wisconsin.
It is often said that we stand on the shoulders of others. Lane’s were broad and supported many over his 40 years as an attorney. His legacy continues and lives on through our work today. As I reflect back, I know Lane would be proud.