Bloomfield Hills mediator will chair State Bar's ADR Section

 by Sheila Pursglove

Legal News
 
Attorney Toni Raheem recalls a mediation where two attorneys – former colleagues whose business relationship had gone awry – refused to be in the same room, cursed each other profusely, shouted across the hall at one another, and insisted a resolution was impossible. Calmly and persistently shuttling between the two conference rooms, Raheem urged the parties to explore creative options, until the matter was resolved. 
“I learned never to give up,” she says.
 
Persistence is one of the hallmarks of a great mediator, she notes. 

“While many attorneys feel they have to sound tough and create the impression that there is nothing they would like better than a big juicy court battle, most... know the time, cost, risk and often dissatisfaction that accompanies litigation – though no mediator should pressure parties into a resolution. A mediator must learn when to push, when to let go.”

President of Resolutions By Raheem and Law and Mediation Offices of Antoinette R. Raheem in Bloomfield Hills, Raheem has more than 30 years’ litigation experience and a decade of Alternative Dispute Resolu-
tion experience, and is the new chair of the State Bar of Michigan (SBM) ADR Section. “I’m excited about all the great ADR professionals from around the state that make up our council as well as the 700-plus section members – and growing – that we serve,” she says. “We’ll undertake several educational, legislative, and diversification efforts in the coming months, geared toward supporting and spreading ADR throughout Michigan.” 

A board member of the local Association of Conflict Resolution, she is active with the Professional Resolution Experts of Michigan (PREMi); a co-chair of the Mediation subcommittee of the Federal Bar Pro Bono program for the Eastern District of Michigan; and on the ADR committee and Domestic Violence committee of the Family Law Section of the State Bar.

She is also active in Oakland County’s Collaborative Practice community, a growing form of ADR in which, among other aspects, parties agree to negotiate, with specially trained attorneys, before initiating any court proceeding. 
 
“Collaborative practice is yet another form of ADR that I hope the public becomes more aware of and uses to better resolve conflict,” she says.
 
Listed in Michigan Lawyers’ Weekly as Lead Counsel for the prevailing party in a trial with one of the state’s largest verdicts, Raheem was the recipient of the State Bar ADR Council’s George Bashara Jr. Award in 2008 and honored by the council again in 2011 for her co-facilitation of a statewide task force on Diversity in ADR. In 2012 she received the Straker Bar’s Trailblazer Award and in 2013 the Businesswoman of the Year award from the Negro Business and Professional Women’s Association.
 
She has served on several Supreme Court committees that either drafted ADR-related court rules or proposed policy changes in  ADR. 

“One of the most rewarding aspects was being in the room with some of the greatest minds in the state in the field of ADR – all people on the front lines of ADR practice in Michigan, seeing the problems with certain ADR practices first hand and having valuable insights into possible improvements,” she says. “I got to hear from judges, Friend of the Court personnel, attorneys, mediators and more. I learned so much and had an opportunity to contribute to the rich give-and-take.”

Her articles on ADR and diversity have been published in Michigan Lawyers’ Weekly, the Oakland County Bar magazine Laches, the State Bar of Michigan’s ADR Quarterly and others. She has also appeared on legal talk shows on small community stations. 
 
“I joke with my husband that he, I and the insomniac down the street were probably the only ones who watched me, but it was fun,” she says. “My thought is that if even one person is made aware that they have options in dispute resolution that they did not know they had and that might be better for them, then I did a little something.”

Drawn to the law in a quest for change and justice, Raheem headed to Columbia University School of Law under two very strong influences—Brown vs. Board of Education and Perry Mason. 

“I thought law was the way to fight for right and was an exciting way to do it.” 

Her first job – for legal aid in an economically depressed area of Pennsylvania – was a wake up call. 

“The big battles were not the only way, or maybe even the best way for some, to effectuate change,” she says. “I realized that just maybe the battle of keeping someone with three kids from... having their car repossessed so they could get to work, was important too. As a result of that exposure I began to reassess the grandiose ideas I had about which battlefield I wanted to fight on.”

Initially she wanted to be in the courtroom – where the action was, as she then saw it.  

“I was a rather bookish student and I knew that if I wanted to draw out the ‘fight’ in me I had to throw myself into the ring – it worked.”

As a litigator, Raheem found her own style of “fighting” – and realized that “fighting” isn’t all-powerful. She saw less and less fruit born from court battles where parties rarely got a voice. 

“Truth was often obscured by procedure and the focus was placed primarily on ‘winning,’ even if it had little correlation to solving problems,” she explains.

Hooked on ADR from her first mediation training, she was amazed to find there was a way to resolve problems by people just listening and talking to each other. 

“My experience is that most people want to rise to a higher level,” she says. “They want to respect the other party as they seek to resolve a conflict and they want to be respected. They want to find a mutually satisfying resolution and they want to have a voice while they do it. And most of all, they do not want to have a ‘resolution’ forced on them. Most people never knew they had an option to abrasive, attack-mode, costly litigation.”

In one memorable mediation case, estranged siblings fought over who would take care of their aging mother. After they set their egos aside for a few hours and really listened, the mediation ended in resolution and tearful reunions. 

“You don’t see those kind of moments at the end of most trials,” Raheem says.

A third-generation entrepreneur, Raheem learned valuable business lessons from her father and grandfather – to respect everyone, no matter how big or small; to work hard, and to conduct business for the service before the money. “There are undoubtedly easier ways to make a living, but none of them, I believe, are what I am called to do.”

Raheem provides volunteer mediation services for the Community Dispute Resolution Centers of five  counties; and teaches Basic Mediation and an ADR Overview course at Cooley Law School. She previously taught at Wayne Law; has presented and moderated at the Institute for Continuing Legal Education (ICLE); and given basic and advanced Mediation trainings at three national ADR Conferences.
 
In her leisure time, she is active in her church, volunteers at Children’s Hospital, supports various homeless shelters, and enjoys reading and gardening. “I’m the neighborhood ‘crazy flower lady’ whose flowers seem to get more numerous every year,” she says with a smile.

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