College of Law

Sheila Nolan Gartland '86

Optimizing Flexibility Creates Rewarding and Expanding Practice

Feb. 1, 2021

Sheila Nolan Gartland

Growing up with lawyers in the family, Sheila Nolan Gartland '86 was familiar with the legal profession but had not considered the law as an option for herself until later in college. Her strong desire to learn more beyond secondary education classes led her to explore and ultimately enroll in law school at The University of Toledo College of Law.

Sheila is a partner in the Columbus office of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP and is a member of the finance, energy, and real estate group. Her practice focuses on general real estate, real estate development, and real estate financing. She also represents clients in the energy sector with oil and gas transactions, solar and wind farm development, and energy project financing.

Sheila has obtained great satisfaction from her legal career thus far. She says, "If I have been able to noodle through an issue and find resolution or the beginnings of a resolution, I am thrilled—it gives me energy. Also, the ability to work on amazing projects with equally amazing clients and co-workers makes slogging through tough matters that much easier. I would be remiss if I did not mention both sides of mentoring. Having been mentored by several terrific, patient, and giving lawyers, I am grateful to mentor other lawyers and hope that they benefit from the long line of mentors who impacted me."

Sheila received her B.A., cum laude, in secondary education from the University of Dayton and her J.D. from The University of Toledo College of Law.

Q&A with Sheila Nolan Gartland

How did you find your way to Toledo Law for your education?
Toledo Law offered a great program at a lower tuition, and I could find affordable housing within a bike ride!

Do you have a favorite memory from attending Toledo Law?
I think of many memories, but the main themes relate to making good friends, learning with some crazy study groups, and making the best out of being in law school. I appreciated the collaborative effort among students and professors. You did not feel the pressure of competition as everyone wanted everyone else to do well and get through!

Did you have a favorite professor?
Openness and collegiality are two of the great advantages of Toledo Law. The openness and collegiality started from the top down. As such, many of the professors invited interaction on both academic and mentoring fronts. Professors Doug Chapman, Phil Closius, and Dan Steinbock taught me not only about future interests, federal tax, corporate formation, and procedure, but also about pushing outside your comfort zone, believing in yourself, and expecting to reach beyond your wildest expectations.

How did Toledo Law prepare you for your career?
It inspired, and at times demanded, teamwork. Most of what I do involves being on a team, working together, leading or following the lead, and providing the best result possible.

Have you worked at firms other than Vorys?
My first job after law school was at the national law firm of Arter & Hadden, where I was a trial lawyer. I took a hiatus from practicing law in 1992—when my time became consumed with three boys under the age of 16 months!

As you look back on your career, what were the turning points (in your education or career) that led you to where you are now?
I tend to go with the flow and remain flexible. While I set goals along the way, I learned that many times things fall outside your control, yet I kept a focus on pursuing the goals that were important to me at any particular time. I am a firm believer that you can have it all, but maybe not all at the same time!

In the excitement of starting our family, the unexpected twists of parenthood were not at the forefront of our minds, but we learned quickly. When our firstborn was only 16 months old, we were blessed with twin boys! There I was—holding two, little babies while bouncing a third in a bouncy seat, wondering when I could take a shower or go into the office! I realized soon enough that I could not be all things to all people. I resigned from my job, played with our three boys (and added a fourth son). In late 1995 (as we learned to manage the unexpected twists of parenthood), I returned to the practice of law with a different law firm, in a different practice area, and with different expectations.

As our children grew (and we added a fifth—a daughter in 1998), I learned to adapt to the needs of our family and of my work (and pull from a deep reserve of energy). When I look back, the "break" from the practice enhanced my insights, my energies, and my focus and made me a better lawyer.

After a short battle with cancer, my husband passed away when our oldest was 14 years old. The outpouring of support we received from family, friends, co-workers, clients, teachers, neighbors, and strangers certainly underscored the importance of good relationships. Simple acts of others helped us through dark and uncertain times. Further, while the tremendous support not only buoyed us, it also taught a strong lesson in compassion and giving back, reaching out, and helping out. It was a lesson on full display for our kids to witness and for others to embrace. That lesson is as important with personal undertakings as it is with careers. No matter what, we are never too busy to care about those with whom we live and those with whom we work. And it all comes back ten-fold.

At what point did you determine you would focus on finance, energy, and real estate?
The job opening at Vorys was for a real estate/finance lawyer. While I had been a trial lawyer during my first job, I was exposed to and had some experience with the transactional side of the practice. In addition, by following my "be flexible" philosophy, I was able to learn new areas of law and interact differently with clients. And, the skills and knowledge I learned in trying cases complement the transactional practice.

In 2001 or so, I was asked to help on an oil and gas transaction—as it was "just like real estate." The rest is history—I quickly learned that the oil and gas industry is "just like real estate," but with very interesting nuances and practices. However, the oil and gas industry—and the energy industry as a whole—offered a great way to expand my practice, serve additional clients, and continue to discover new uses for my skills.

What has been a career highlight?
I am fortunate that the Vorys law firm prides itself on having great lawyers, with great minds who provide great service to clients, to the legal industry, and to the communities where our offices are located. This atmosphere has allowed me to be involved in extraordinarily sophisticated matters for clients across the country and give back to both the legal profession and to the community.

I have had the ability to lead teams of lawyers in large-scale projects which require detailed coordination of multiple areas of law. These projects include real estate developments, acquisition, disposition and financing of oil and gas interests, and solar and wind projects.

In addition, I have had the opportunity to hold leadership positions at both the national and state levels in several industry organizations.

I was selected as a fellow to the American College of Real Estate Lawyers (an invitation-only organization for real estate attorneys who have demonstrated outstanding legal ability and notable expertise). Currently, I serve on its Board of Governors.

As past chair of the Real Property Law Section Council of the Ohio State Bar Association, I promoted goals that included diversity in leadership positions on the council and initiated a scholarship program for students attending an Ohio law school.

I have served on the National Recognition and Education Committees of CREW Network, the premier networking organization which works to transform the commercial real estate industry by advancing women globally.

I am a proud member of the Board of Trustees for Cristo Rey Columbus High School, where I sit on the executive committee and serve as chair of the finance committee. Cristo Rey Columbus is a college-preparatory high school that empowers students of all faiths who need a high-quality, affordable education.

Can you share a personal highlight?
Rearing five, amazing, curious, funny, inspirational children. As adults, they continue to delight me, thrill me, teach me, and challenge me.

In 1994, I, along with my late husband, John, founded the annual Halfway to St. Patrick's Day Party to benefit the Central Ohio Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in honor of John's two nephews who died from cystic fibrosis. I chair this grassroots initiative, which raises awareness and funds for cystic fibrosis. While the party's inspiration comes from a place deep in my heart, the party is a festive gathering that attracts over 300 guests. When John passed away in 2004, our five young children and I continued the party's mission in John's memory. In 2019, we celebrated 25 years of the party, which has raised nearly $750,000 for cystic fibrosis research. In 2020, we held an inaugural virtual party with a new partner, A Kid Again.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work as an attorney?
In the last several years, it has to be the rapid pace at which attorneys are expected to produce, respond, review, draft, and negotiate. While technology provides for near instantaneous communication, it creates unrealistic expectations. Managing such expectations is an art, not a science, and learning how to manage and address the expectations is a process.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
Playing and watching sports; traveling and hiking with my kids; cooking and having meals with lots of people; the occasional cocktail (just to see who is reading this far); and reading—such a luxury to find time for a good book!

What are you passionate about?
Many things, but tops on my list is my family.

Do you have any suggestions for current law students or new lawyers who might be interested in pursuing a career path similar to yours?
Work hard and make your head hurt (give each project the dedication and effort it requires—do not take the short cut, but use your brain to analyze the issue, even if it requires lots of mental gymnastics) be flexible; be kind to everyone; take advantage of all opportunities offered, as you never know what experiences you will gain; give back to the profession and to your community with passion and compassion. By doing these things, you should be involved with other people, meeting other people, engaging with other people—all who may be prospective friends, co-workers, employers, clients.

Last Updated: 6/27/22