//Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Michele Connell

Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Michele Connell

Managing Partner, Cleveland office, Squire Patton Boggs

By Sharon Holbrook

Michele Connell

Fernway neighborhood mom of three. Former State Department employee serving abroad. Managing partner of the Cleveland office of international law firm Squire Patton Boggs. It sounds like three people, but they’re all Michele Connell.

For 15 years, Connell has been firmly rooted in Shaker Heights, but she, her family, and her professional life are still enthusiastically engaged with the world.

Squire Patton Boggs was founded in Cleveland in 1890 and now has more than 1,500 attorneys across the globe. As head of the Cleveland office, Connell ensures that the gears run smoothly, everything from hiring and advancement decisions for the 110-attorney office to overseeing the large administrative staff, much of which serves not only the Cleveland office but also the firm as a whole.

Law may have a reputation as a stodgy, clubby occupation, but that’s changing. Women are advancing more than ever – 10 of the 12 partners just announced by the firm are women – and the firm is also focused on advancing diversity more generally. “Our Global Board of Directors is majority diverse,” says Connell. And that diversity, and the people and points of view it includes, are good for everyone.

Besides her administrative focus on law firm management, Connell continues her practice as a corporate mergers and acquisitions attorney, and also represents Squire as a member of several local nonprofit boards. Connection to and service to Cleveland are a high priority for the firm.

“That goes back to having been founded here 130 years ago. We have been a piece of the building of the city since the beginning, literally the physical building of the city.”

Connell is referring to the firm’s strong public finance and municipal bond practice, which still today gives Squire a hand in shaping the cityscape of Cleveland, most recently the building of the high-rise downtown Hilton and the reimagining of Public Square. Involvement with local nonprofits is a natural extension of this connectedness. “We’ve always been very involved in the city, the county, and the state. It’s very important to us. It’s where we work, where we live.”

At the same time, it was Squire’s international connectedness that initially drew Connell to the firm 15 years ago. She had come from a career working overseas for the U.S. Department of State, and she wanted a law practice that would build on that global experience.

“We’ve always been very involved in the city, the county, and the state. It’s very important to us. It’s where we work, where we live.”

As it turns out, the Connells’ Shaker Heights experience has also been an international one for their children, thanks to the Shaker schools’ International Baccalaureate Programme. But years before that, when Michele was still in law school at Case Western Reserve University, she and her husband Chris, a teacher, craved country living after years in large cities around the world.

“We bought a house in Geauga County, and we had a little over an acre by a horse farm. It was close to nothing.” After long commutes from the snow belt for a couple of years the Connells decided to move to Shaker Heights. At that time, their eldest, Abby, was about to start kindergarten, and they knew they wanted Shaker schools for their kids.

It wasn’t just Michele’s commute that prompted the move. “We wanted the sidewalks, the diversity, as well as the schools. As well as the convenience of having a lot of services closer.”

There’s been one more big Shaker bonus: its IB approach to education. It’s what their kids would have had if they’d stayed abroad, and it’s the approach Chris used when he taught internationally during Michele’s State Department years. The Connells already believed in Shaker schools when their oldest started kindergarten 15 years ago, but the District’s embrace of the IB curriculum in the years since has been the cherry on top. “I knew how challenging it was, I knew what an interesting approach and outlook on the world it was, and so I was very happy about it,” says Michele.

A senior in high school, the Connells’ son Jake is currently completing his IB coursework. Daughter Abby, who is now a sophomore at Columbia University, also earned her IB diploma at the high school. “It was a great fit for her learning style, and she felt extremely prepared when she got to Columbia.” The Connells have also been pleased that their youngest, sixth-grader Caroline, has been able to experience the IB program in her elementary years, too.

“It’s been great. It’s very impressive, and it’s very outward looking,” says Michele. Outward looking – you could say the same for Michele’s local and global work at Squire. For Michele and her family, both her professional life at Squire and her personal life in Shaker have been a happy combination of rootedness and connection with the world.

Originally published in Shaker Life, Summer 2018.