Richard Meneghello promotes collaboration—in court and on the soccer field
Published in 2011 Oregon Super Lawyers magazine on July 11, 2011
Richard Meneghello was nervous. He’d spent weeks drafting briefs and crafting the oral argument for the fast-tracked Albertsons, Inc. v. Kirkingburg, a disability discrimination case that came before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1999.
The case involved a truck driver with degenerative vision loss in one eye who lost his commercial driver’s license. He had worked for Albertsons, but the grocery chain would no longer let him drive. The man obtained a waiver from the Department of Transportation as part of an experimental program, but Albertsons, citing safety concerns, would not rehire him as a truck driver. So he sued. Meneghello’s firm represented Albertsons.
The day of the argument arrived, but there was one problem: Attorneys are required to practice for at least three years before they can argue in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Meneghello was only 2 ½ years into his career. Thus barred from even the counsel table, he had to sit on pins and needles in the public seating gallery and watch the argument delivered by his mentor, Corbett Gordon.
“I doubt I would have given the oral argument even if I had been practicing longer. Corbett is incredibly brilliant,” Meneghello says. “Even though I have utter trust and confidence in her, it was like seeing a loved one perform on stage. You’re just white-knuckled and hoping things go well.”
Their teamwork paid off. Albertsons won the case, 9-0.
Meneghello, who moved to Portland with his wife, Kirsten, after graduating from Georgia State University College of Law in 1996, connected with Gordon almost immediately. “For several months in the summer while I was studying for the bar, I did contract research legal work for anybody and everybody, just to pay the rent,” he says. “[Gordon] ended up using me the most. She had her own small employment defense law firm and we got along really well.”
After he passed the bar, Meneghello worked briefly with another firm before a spot opened up at Corbett Gordon & Associates. The two attorneys have been colleagues ever since, including through a merger with Fisher & Phillips. He’s now a managing partner at the age of 39.
“Corbett definitely trained me not just in the practice of law, but in the management of an office and in the things you don’t learn in law school about becoming a partner in terms of marketing and watching the bottom line and mentoring younger associates and keeping clients happy,” he says.
He knew law was his calling early on. “I always found, out on the playground or while playing sports, that [people on] both sides of an argument would come to me and have me resolve it,” Meneghello says. “I realized I had this natural gift for being able to weigh both sides and come up with a resolution.”
Resolving problems—and preventing them from happening in the first place—is how he views his role as an employment and disability defense attorney. “When I’m driving home from work, the days I’m the happiest are the days when I have the self-awareness to realize that I really helped somebody solve a problem,” he says.
To Meneghello, a lawsuit isn’t just about case law and precedent. “It’s about people. In just about every case I have, there’s an underlying personality issue that’s just fascinating. No two cases are alike,” he says. “It requires you to delve into the psychological background of the people you’re defending cases against. What’s driving them? What’s motivating them? How can we counterbalance what they’re trying to argue?”
Meneghello counterbalances his job with time spent out on the soccer field, either cheering for the Portland Timbers—he traveled to Denver in March to support the team in its inaugural MLS game—or playing in recreational leagues. “I don’t profess to be a very good player. I’m as average as they come,” he says.
For those who occasionally ask if being on the defense side of labor law makes him the bad guy, Meneghello has a simple response: “Most of the time that I spend on the phone with my clients is trying to help them comply with the law and do things right. For every one lawsuit I’m defending, I’ve probably prevented 10 by giving advice to employers on how to stay on the right side of the law. So I sleep very well at night.”