Harlan native Michael Wilder, UK grad named a 'Legend of the Law'

A Kentucky native, who originally dropped out of college, has been named a Legend of the Law.

Michael Wilder, a 1978 graduate of the University of Kentucky College of Law, was among 10 high-profile attorneys honored for their expertise and total body of work in a recent ceremony at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Wilder, general counsel and secretary at Marathon Petroleum Corporation, received a Burton Award, presented since 1999 for outstanding achievement in the law by the nonprofit Burton Foundation.

Growing up in Harlan, Wilder said he thought more about designing cars than studying legal briefs.

His first job was at a radio station where "Wildman" Wilder played records after school. His first attempt at college to study mechanical engineering was brief and was followed by stint working in a foundry.

There, he said, "I learned manual labor was really labor."

He found himself back at the radio job he'd held in high school and at a crossroads. He began to think of careers that might fit his strengths. He'd always had an aptitude for reading and the written word, so he chose law.

"I don't think I knew any lawyers," he said.

This foray into higher education proved successful. He graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1975 and went on to UK Law and in 1976 began his career at Ashland Petroleum Company. Today he oversees Marathon's legal department of about 80 people.

He thinks the real-world lessons he learned away from the classroom were simple but crucial. You have to be on time — you can't be late at a radio station — you have to meet deadlines, you can't be afraid to talk to people.

Wilder, who was nominated for the Burton Award by the law firm of Frost, Brown and Todd, also said he hopes his story can show young people drifting as he once did that if you find your passion, success can follow.