A sharp mind. A hard worker. A tremendous business generator. Attorney Megan Mehalko is all this — and more, says Ira Kaplan, associate managing partner at Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff LLP. Mehalko has worked for the Cleveland law firm since 2000.
"She is the complete package," says Kaplan, who will become managing partner of Benesch in January.
The traits that make Mehalko an accomplished attorney were evident long before she earned her law degree. As a teenager, she spent her summer vacations at Myrtle Beach, S.C., with her cousins and uncle, a lawyer.
"He and I would have long discussions on the porch because we both loved to read," recalls Mehalko, who grew up in Shaker Heights. "He always said, ‘You would be a great lawyer.'"
But when Mehalko went to Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., she had no intention of heading into law. She declared a business major until she took her first political science course.
"I decided I loved our judicial system," says Mehalko. "When you're learning about it, the judicial system is really a work of art."
She graduated from Bucknell in 1987 with a dual major in political science and economics and a minor in art history.
Mehalko attended the Case West-ern Reserve University Law School to gain "a good knowledge base," she says. "Learning how to reason and analyze is something you can apply anywhere." When she landed a job with Cleveland law firm Nicola, Gudbranson & Cooper (NGC) in 1990, Mehalko expected to practice as an attorney for a while before starting her own business.
"The idea was to get practical experience and then leave after a couple of years," says Mehalko. "But lo and behold, I loved being a lawyer!"
She attributes much of her appreciation for the profession to her mentor, Robert Gudbranson, a senior member of NGC.
"His role with clients was more of a counselor," says Mehalko. "He had relationships and trust with his clients, and he showed me how to build that. It changed my view on practicing law."
After a decade with NGC, Mehalko joined Benesch as a partner. She is co-chair of the firm's Polymer group, which she helped start in 2002. She was named chair of the Corporate and Securities practice in 2006. In both areas, she helps companies with mergers and acquisitions, divestitures, joint ventures, intellectual property issues, supplier negotiations and more.
"I never wanted to be a litigator. I couldn't understand how you go to work every day prepared to fight," says Mehalko. "But helping someone achieve their goals, gaining trust and being part of their strategic plan is incredibly constructive and rewarding."
She has done that with hundreds of clients, including Myers Industries Inc., an Akron-based manufacturer of polymer products for the industrial, agricultural, automotive, commercial and consumer markets.
Throughout this year, Mehalko has advised the company's board of directors through its acquisition by GS Capital Partners, which is part of the Goldman, Sachs & Co. investment banking firm. The transaction is valued at more than $1 billion.
In addition, Mehalko serves on several committees at Benesch, including the Hiring, Professional Personnel and Lawyering committees.
"I wear a lot of hats. I'm a lawyer and a counselor," says Mehalko. "I'm managing 37 lawyers and their careers, and overseeing the strategic position of the Corporate and Securities practice, which is the largest practice area in the firm. And, I'm a mom."
Though she mentions motherhood last, it's first in her heart. Mehalko says raising her 11-year-old son, Taylor, and 8-year-old daughter, Kristen, is "the greatest experience." And she teases that parenthood has made her a better lawyer. "I'm much better at negotiating with opposing counsel," jokes Mehalko. "If I can negotiate with a 5 year old, I've got you down!"
Despite her busy schedule, Mehalko finds time to volunteer in the community, too. For more than a year, she's sat on the board of Seeds of Literacy, which helps adults improve their reading, writing and math skills. "I've always been an advocate of literacy," stresses Mehalko. "It is a life skill that helps families — more literacy, fewer problems."
Whether she's advocating literacy programs, helping her children with homework or counseling clients, Mehalko's priority is to foster strong relationships. And she takes that charge seriously at Benesch.
"As lawyers, we have a lot of influence over other people," she says. "The success or failure of the careers of younger lawyers, the ability of our clients to achieve their goals — really life-changing stuff. It's a significant responsibility. And it's also what makes the job rewarding."