Partner-in-charge, Cleveland office, Ulmer & Berne
By Jennifer Kuhel
Patricia Shlonsky modestly describes her life’s path as a series of events that have happened to her. “I sort of fall into things,” she says. Yet at her core, the partner-in-charge of the Cleveland office of Ulmer & Berne is anything but a passive bystander.
Shlonsky, a Shaker resident for more than 30 years, is a vice president of the Center for Community Solutions (a nonpartisan think tank focused on solutions to health, social, and economic issues), a board member at both The City Club of Cleveland and Business Volunteers Unlimited, on the retirement planning committee at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, and is currently six months into a two-year term as president of the the board of trustees of the Cuyahoga County Public Library.
She also writes regularly for her blog, FromBriefstoBooks.com, which she started at the urging of Ulmer & Berne’s marketing director who thought Shlonsky’s passion for reading was worthy of sharing with a broader audience.
Reading led her to earn an undergraduate degree in English from Miami University and ultimately, prepared her for law school at Ohio State. She and her husband, Steve Hinkle, have a collection of signed books in their Malvern home and now, thanks to her service at the Cuyahoga County Public Library, Shlonsky receives advance copies of many books. She says serving on the board of trustees for the Cuyahoga County Public Libraries has been “the greatest experience ever” and, thanks to the Library Foundation’s Writers Center Stage Series, has put her in the company of her “rock stars”: authors such as Maria Semple, Margaret Atwood, and David Grann.
None of this work detracts from her day job, which is to oversee the day-to-day operations and development of Ulmer & Berne’s Cleveland office, and to serve as the firm’s Employee Benefits and Tax Practice Group Leader. Shlonsky admits that she doesn’t sleep as much as she’d like, but she doesn’t expect to.
“I think if you’re a woman in our world, you just have to do it better, smarter, and faster,” she says, adding, “And I’ve been fortunate to work in an environment at Ulmer & Berne where hard work is recognized.”
“Patty is uniquely able to balance running a business with attention to the bottom line while maintaining a deep, genuine compassion for our people.”
When asked what is it about Shlonsky that makes her ideal to be partner-in-charge of the Cleveland office – Ulmer & Berne’s largest – Scott Kadish, Ulmer & Berne’s managing partner, says, “It isn’t one thing, it’s many. Patty is uniquely able to balance running a business with attention to the bottom line while maintaining a deep, genuine compassion for our people. She has the respect of everyone in the Cleveland office. Moreover, she works well on a team, finding a way to make sure we make the right decision while making everyone feel like they have contributed to the decision and their opinions were valued. And Patty is the smartest person I know.”
When Shlonsky joined Ulmer in 1986, the firm had fewer than 40 attorneys, one office, and no female partners. Today, the firm boasts approximately 160 attorneys across five offices and nearly 20 female partners. With no women in leadership to serve as role models for her early on, Shlonsky says she felt fortunate to meet Janet Burnside, who then was an attorney who had been appointed by Governor Richard Celeste as a Common Pleas Court judge.
“I didn’t know Janet that well, but when she ran for re-election, she asked me to be her deputy treasurer,” Shlonsky remembers. Saying yes to Judge Burnside was the start of something special, as Shlonsky went on to serve as her treasurer for more than 20 years. “It was this amazing mentoring relationship and she was such a strong role model. I don’t think I thought about it that way then, but now I understand how important that was.”
Now that Shlonsky is in a leadership position, she is reflective about serving as a mentor to her peers in the legal field and beyond. “To the extent that someone wants to do this job, I hope they see that hard work and being good at what you do are important, but there’s also this other piece, the community engagement piece,” she says.
“As lawyers, I believe that we’re all very fortunate: We are educated, we all work in this amazing environment where we don’t have to worry about things that many others have to worry about, and we can take care of our families. I believe we have an obligation to give back. And that’s where I hope to make an impact.”