Change of focus: Litigation specialist shifts to arbitration/mediation role

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

After nearly 12 years in the corporate world, attorney Jim Derian recently began charting a new course in his legal career that has spanned more than three decades.

A past president of the Oakland County Bar Association, Derian joined the Bloomfield Hills firm of Paesano Akkashian Apkarian (PAA) in November as an of counsel member. Derian made the move after accepting an early retirement buyout from Delphi Corp., now part of Aptiv, a global automotive supplier headquartered in Dublin, Ireland.

At Delphi, Derian was a litigation specialist. Now, he will deal with litigators in an altogether different role.

“My practice will be focused almost exclusively on arbitration and mediation services,” said Derian. “PAA is a business/litigation boutique firm that split off from Dickinson Wright about seven years ago.

“I’ve been a member of the American Arbitration Association’s panels of commercial and employment arbitrators and mediators for the past 15 years or so, but ADR was always a sideline to my law practice,” he noted. “My primary expertise is in resolving supply chain and other types of business disputes, and that's the principal market I hope to serve.”

A native Detroiter, Derian is of Armenian descent, and grew up in northeast Detroit and St. Clair Shores until age 15, when the family moved to Bloomfield Township.

“My parents always placed great value on education, seeing it as a ticket to a better life,” Derian said.

His father, Haig, was a dentist, using the G.I. Bill after his World War II Army Air Corps service to attend dental school at the University of Detroit. For years he operated a successful dental practice on Jefferson Avenue and later in Southfield.

“My father was always a heroic figure for me, and he was absolutely passionate about his profession,” Derian related.

His mother, Dorothy, was a Detroit teacher before becoming a school psychologist, a role that served her well later in life as she provided daily care for her husband, who died in 2015 at age 93 from the effects of dementia.

A 1977 graduate of the University of Michigan, Derian is the oldest of three children. His brother, Peter, works in an I.T. position at Wayne State University, while his sister, Lisa, is part of the design team for General Motors.

Following his graduation from U-M, Derian took his academic talents to Wayne State Law School, where he earned a spot on the Wayne Law Review. His immigrant grandfather, Alex, was a World War I veteran and a member of the fabled Michigan Polar Bear Division in northern Russia. His grandfather was the first in the family to become a lawyer, serving as the legal role model for Derian.

After practicing as a partner in a mid-sized firm for a number of years, Derian joined Butzel Long, spending six years there as a partner in the firm’s automotive practice group before being recruited in 2006 to an in-house position with Delphi.

Derian and his wife of 20 years now speak English together, but it wasn’t always so. In the late ‘90s, the then-divorced Derian traveled to the newly independent Republic of Armenia as part of a legal delegation assigned with the task of helping promote the rule of law in the former Soviet republic. After presenting a paper on product liability law to a group of Armenian attorneys, Derian was invited to a dinner reception where an attractive and talented pianist caught his eye.

“Despite my sketchy Armenian language skills, she agreed to go out to dinner with me the following night. We met one more time before I left,” Derian said.

“When I returned to the U.S., we talked on the phone and corresponded the old-fashioned way, by letter,” Derian said of the budding long distance romance.

Six months later, he invited her to the States for a summer visit. The hitch was that she would be staying with his parents while the two decided if their relationship was marriage material.

It was, and for that Derian is especially grateful, calling his wife a “true gem, an incredibly wonderful woman.”


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