Stroud Willink & Howard
Guiding Business for Generations

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History

The origins of Stroud, Willink & Howard, LLC, go back to the formation of a law partnership by John M. Olin (1851-1924) and Harry L. Butler (1866-1936) in 1892. By 1913, the firm had grown to one of the largest in Madison with the addition of Ray M. Stroud (1884-1972), a recent graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and Byron H. Stebbins (1876-1967), who had spent several years as Assistant District Attorney in Brown County, Wisconsin.

The firm held a regional reputation for excellence in business practice, the representation of utilities in their rate-setting negotiations and litigation. Even though utilities work was his specialty, Harry Butler took a year of sabbatical from the firm to go to Detroit to assist Henry Ford in the development of his estate plan.

In 1938, after the death of Harry Butler, the utilities practice was discontinued and the business and tax law practice of the firm burgeoned under the name of Stroud, Stebbins, Wingert & Young. During the War years, the firm employed as an associate attorney one of the first women to have engaged in the private practice of law in Madison, Anna C. Davis.

After the War, Donald R. Stroud, the son of Ray M. Stroud, returned from Army service to become a member of the firm. He had graduated from the Michigan Law School and practiced law in Milwaukee before he "joined up" on the eve of Pearl Harbor. He was a participant in the Battle of the Bulge. Don's arrival at the firm was timely for, in 1946, partner James Ward Rector (1903-1979) was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

1950 was a year of significant change. In that year, George Young (1915-1981) withdrew from the firm to join the faculty of the Wisconsin Law School, of which he later became a longstanding Dean. In the same year, Ray M. Stroud suffered a severe heart attack and was medically excluded from the office for several months. This prompted Ray's oldest son, Seward R. "Dick" Stroud, to leave his practice in Milwaukee and to join the firm. Dick was also a Michigan Law School graduate and had served in the Army from 1940 through the duration of the War in both the Intelligence and Judge Advocate services.

Long time partner, Emmert L. Wingert (1899-1971), was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1956, and the name of the firm was changed to Stroud, Stebbins & Stroud. The firm continued to use that name until the death of Byron H. Stebbins in 1968. For a brief period thereafter, the firm was named Stroud, Stroud, Stroud & Howard, which included C. Vernon Howard, who had joined the firm in 1962.

Over a period of several years, Vern Howard, Dale R. Thompson, and Donald D. Willink had become acquainted through their activities in the Presbyterian Church. Willink and Thompson were also veterans of the Army in World War II, Dale as an aviator taken prisoner in Germany and Don as a combat infantry soldier in Northern Europe during the final months of the War. Both were honors graduates of the Wisconsin Law School and each held a solid reputation for excellence in the practice of law.

The business practice of both the Stroud firm and Willink & Thompson were expanding and both perceived a common culture of client service. The merger of the two firms in 1970 was one of the first to succeed in Madison. For the ensuing three decades the firm was known as Stroud, Stroud, Willink, Thompson & Howard.  Lawyers who became partners in our firm during that period include Ron Todd (1973), Rob Stroud (1977), Dale Peterson (1981), Bob Schwab (1983), and Carolyn Hegge (1986).

The firm's offices had traditionally been located in the Central Bank and Trust Building. When that building was razed in 1926, the firm temporarily moved out of its top fourth floor office suite and returned to occupy the top seventh floor office suite of the "new" Bank of Madison Building (now, M&I) that still stands. The newly merged firm was hard pressed for office space and, when AnchorBank expanded its edifice in 1977, the firm moved into its present custom-designed quarters at the West end of the same block on Main Street.

The firm has always maintained strong ties with the University of Wisconsin. Its client base includes large numbers of active and emeritus faculty in addition to members of the University's administration. From near its inception, Ray M. Stroud provided legal services to and later became a trustee of The William F. Vilas Trust. During the 1940s, Mr. Stroud also was one of the founders of the University of Wisconsin Foundation. The firm continues to perform general legal services for the Vilas Trust and special assignments for the UW Foundation on a regular basis.

Other foundations represented by the firm, such as The Oscar Rennebohm Foundation and Kelab, Inc., are major contributors to the University. For over 25 years, Vern Howard provided legal counsel to the University of Wisconsin Medical School and was instrumental in the conversion of the clinical practice into its present form.  Carolyn Hegge is a former director of the foundation supporting Crew and a member of the "W" Club. Dick Stroud, Don Willink, and Vern Howard have taught at the UW Law School.

The firm converted its organizational structure to a limited liability company in 1999. At that time, the name was shortened for convenience and to commemorate the names of long standing members of the firm, Dick Stroud, Don Stroud, Don Willink, and Vern Howard.  Since our reorganization, Joe Bartol became a member in 1999 and Peter Richter became a member in 2004. In 2005, Norm Farnam became a member of the firm, while John Laubmeier became a member in 2012.