Patricia A. Shlonsky has shattered the glass ceiling at her law firm, although she doesn’t often think about it in those terms.
An employee benefits lawyer and the partner-in-charge of Ulmer & Berne LLP’s Cleveland office, she is the first woman to hold that position in the firm’s history. In addition, Shlonsky, 62, was the first woman to serve on the firm’s management committee and is the longest tenured female partner at the firm.
She said she doesn’t give her own gender a lot of thought, but she does address gender issues when they arise at the firm.
“I don’t make decisions in a vacuum,” Shlonsky said. “I care what other people have to say but ultimately decisions I make – I make based on what I think is right.”
A member of The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood, Shlonsky lives in Shaker Heights.
Born in Columbus, she was raised at Congregation Agudas Achim in Bexley and then Temple Israel in Columbus.
“So, we went from an Orthodox synagogue to Reformed synagogue,” said Shlonsky, who graduated from Bexley High School. She then graduated from Miami University in Oxford and from Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University in Columbus, where she met her husband, Steve Hinkle.
When she first came to Cleveland, she worked at Price Waterhouse for a year.
A couple of years later, she became a member of the board for Dress for Success Cleveland, where she served as board chair.
“I had seen a segment on Dress for Success on ‘60 Minutes’ focused on the New York branch,” Shlonsky recalled. “And I just couldn’t get over how the organization empowers women who need just a little boost of confidence and helps them take control of their lives. And I remember watching that segment, and specifically looking into Dress for Success.”
Most recently, Shlonsky is now in her second term on the board of the Cuyahoga County Public Library where she previously served as board president.
Shlonsky said she is committed to serving on that board because of the work the library does in attacking problems at their root.
“It’s an organization that broadly improves people’s lives,” she said. “They have education programs. They have programs for kids. They have programs for seniors. They do tutoring. They help people with job searches. They’re there for everybody at every stage of life, offering all kinds of services that nobody else offers.”
Shlonsky also serves on the board of The City Club of Cleveland.
She was first attracted to it because “I was moved by their programming, the sustainability of free speech, support of democracy, all while trying to avoid getting too political.
“But as our past four or five years have shown, I don’t think it could be much more important to show different perspectives and engage people in open discussion,” she said.
Shlonsky serves on the board of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio for its support of reproductive rights.
“This is the least I can do to try to make a difference in that area,” she said.
Shlonsky serves on the retirement fund committee at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, which she called “a natural fit” based on her legal expertise.
When Shlonsky was a young woman, Judge Janet Burnside, who had an office in the same building as Ulmer & Berne, asked Shlonsky to be treasurer of her campaign.
Shlonsky said that experience allowed her to see a woman who “had a lot of grace, a lot of calm and a lot of patience about her, but also strength.”
It also allowed Shlonsky to meet people in Cleveland and helped her build confidence.
“At this point,” Shlonsky said, “I’m pretty comfortable being me.”