Mary Wilson, ’92: Managing Partner Maintains Practice while Focusing on Inclusion

Mary Wilson

Earlier this year, Chicago-based Mary Wilson, ’92, became the United States managing partner of Dentons, the world’s largest law firm, which has approximately 1,000 lawyers and professionals in the US. Her portfolio in her new position is expansive, including joining with the firm’s US CEO and its leadership team to further grow Dentons’ US presence, sustain excellent client service, expedite technological advances, and further the firm’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Wilson will continue the career she has built as an acclaimed authority in the financing and governance of tax-exempt organizations, where she has worked on billions of dollars of financings throughout the US. “I fully support the idea that firm leaders should maintain their practices, even though it sometimes makes things challenging,” she said. “It means that you are directly experiencing the issues that are crucial for sustaining a top-quality organization, not just hearing about those issues in meetings or reading about them in reports.”

She’s well prepared for her new role, having served for more than five years as the managing partner of Dentons’ Chicago office, been a member of the firm’s US board, and served as cochair of the firm’s associates development committee. She led the Chicago office’s move into new office space in 2015, an exercise that she says highlighted many of the changes she’s seen in the legal profession. “Law practice is a business and in many ways it’s a more demanding business every day, so we looked at everything from a holistic business perspective, which included managing costs while creating a superior environment for staff and clients,” she recounted. Among other things, all office spaces are the same size (Wilson’s own new office was considerably smaller than her previous one), corner offices were turned into collaborative spaces, and natural light was maximized even into interior spaces.

Wilson began her career with Gardner Carton & Douglas and joined Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal in 2005. Sonnenschein merged with UK-based Denton Wilde Sapte in 2010 to form SNR Denton, and as the firm continued its global growth it was renamed Dentons in 2013. “Our roots in Sonnenschein are significant,” she observed. “That firm was founded by Jewish lawyers who were excluded from many established firms, and there was a deep commitment to equitable treatment of everyone who worked there. We have worked hard, and continue to do so, to make sure that an ethos of diversity and inclusion prevails here.”

Attending a weekend program at the Law School for admitted women was part of the reason she chose UChicago. “I could tell that many of these women were people I wanted to get to know,” she recalled, “and I was right about that. What a great group!” She added, “Many of my classmates, women and men, have become long-term friends of mine, and I still find that they’re among my best mentors or advisors, because we’ve shared so many common experiences at the Law School and in our careers.” She also lauded her experience with the Bigelow Program, noting that its lessons in clear writing and knowing one’s audience have served her well throughout her career.

An active contributor to the life of the Law School, she cochaired her most recent class reunion, is a member of the Law School’s Women’s Leadership Network, and has participated in several panel discussions at the Law School about career advancement for women and the business of law firm management. “I will continue to give back to the Law School in as many ways as I can,” she said. “I consider that a small repayment for all the ways it has made my life better.”