Founded in 1920 by George L. Ruder, Ruder Ware exemplifies professional integrity and strategies shaped by the business vision of George Ruder.
Committed to the Wausau area, George Ruder aligned himself with the "Wausau Group," entrepreneurs who developed the north central region of Wisconsin. The earliest years of the firm were devoted primarily to the practice of real estate law and probate; by the mid 1920s the firm had begun a corporate law practice as well.
The early years of the law firm coincided with the historical period known as the "New Era." During the 1920s, after a short recession immediately following World War I, the country entered a period of widespread prosperity. Businesses expanded and merged at an unprecedented rate. When the country entered the Great Depression in 1929, George Ruder responded by familiarizing himself with laws relating to insolvency and bankruptcy. This enabled him to provide clients with the sound legal advice needed to survive the harsh years of the Great Depression.
Having practiced independently the majority of his career, Ruder sought the assistance of an able attorney to share and diversify his practice. Stanley F. Staples, Jr. left the FBI in New York to join the firm in 1954. In Staples' first years with the firm, he concentrated his practice on business law, estate planning, and probate, in addition to serving as an assistant city attorney.
The firm's growth during the 1950s and 1960s occurred against the backdrop of an expanding national economy in the midst of its longest economic boom. This sustained prosperity encouraged the establishment of new businesses as well as the expansion of existing enterprises. The national trends were mirrored in Wausau, where economic growth accelerated rapidly.
In 1965 the firm recruited G. Lane Ware, who concentrated his skills initially on corporate and securities law. As the firm's caseload continued to grow, the firm's horizons expanded, and in 1966 they hired Karen M. Wagner. Ruder & Staples became the first law firm in Wausau to hire a female attorney. The late 1960s offered the opportunity to hire two new associates, John F. Michler and John M. Forester, both instrumental to the firm's success.
After practicing law nearly to the end of his life, George Ruder died on December 4, 1970, leaving a void in both the firm he created and the community he loved. The legacy of George Ruder was extraordinary: honesty, integrity, hard work, personal independence, and service to the community.
The firm's remaining leaders were now forced to decide whether to disband and affiliate with other established firms or continue as the Ruder law firm. Staples left the firm in 1972 to pursue an opportunity in the nonprofit sector. The associates concluded that the risk was worth the potential gain. In 1972 they formed the law firm of Ruder, Ware, Michler & Forester, S.C. and elected G. Lane Ware as president, a position he held for 27 years. John F. Michler was elected vice president and treasurer, and John M. Forester was elected secretary.
By the end of 1975 the firm had doubled in size to eight attorneys, installed its first word processing system, and occupied space in the newly constructed First American National Bank building located in the heart of downtown Wausau.
As business owners attempted to counterbalance the spiraling inflation of the 1970s, a trend toward corporate consolidation came to dominate the national business environment. Wisconsin firms were often caught in the transition, which began to feature the purchase of state businesses by out-of-state conglomerates. When Wausau area businesses became involved in the wave of expansion, they frequently called upon the firm.
By the mid 1970s, it had become clear that in order to deal with all of the legal needs of its clients, the firm needed to acquire litigation capabilities. The firm established a litigation department in 1975.
Because of intensifying interest in environmental issues, the firm added qualified legal counsel in the area of environmental law. The firm's trust and estate practice, furthermore, was one of the fastest-growing areas of activity in the expansive 1980s. Ruder Ware's response was to enlarge the group under the leadership of Mark J. Bradley. At the same time, the firm took one more step toward becoming full-service by initiating an employment, benefits & labor relations law practice.
Ruder, Ware, Michler & Forester, S.C. continued to expand over the next decade and by the beginning of 1988 employed 24 attorneys with a variety of specializations. The increasing diversity of attorney talents underscored the need to formally establish its vision. Undertaking the task in 1988, the firm developed a strategic plan and adopted a formal mission statement incorporating objectives and strategies as a clear road map to be followed. Not long after the blueprint was drafted, John M. Forester announced his resignation in 1989. As a result, the firm reorganized itself as Ruder, Ware & Michler, S.C. In 1999, Lane Ware stepped down as president, assuming the position of chairman of the board, and Lon Roberts stepped in as the firm's managing partner. Mark Bradley succeeded Lon Roberts as managing partner in 2009 which he transitioned to Stewart Etten in 2013.
In 2005 Ruder Ware merged with the well-respected Eau Claire firm Garvey, Anderson, Johnson, Geraci & Mirr, S.C. A part of the Eau Claire community since 1945, the firm had dedicated itself to resolving complicated transactions and to providing personal service. With over forty attorneys in Wausau and Eau Claire, the firm has continued to blend a commitment to its clients and loyalty to the communities it serves.
In the legal profession, as in everything else, growth depends upon innovation and adaptability in response to changing circumstances. Nonetheless, integrity, whether corporate or personal, is also linked to the preservation of immutable core principles. The enduring legacy of George Ruder has been the firm's commitment to high-quality legal services and to community service. His wisdom has been essential to the firm's evolution as it responds to future challenges.