A pro's pro: A respected, respectful lawyer honored by OCBA


By Barry Malone
Legal News

The words “courteous” and “respect” come up a lot when veteran litigators are asked about Joel Serlin. And with good reason.

The Oakland County Bar Association (OCBA) recently recognized Serlin with its Professionalism Award. He is the first and only Oakland County Circuit Court Ombudsman and a senior partner with Seyburn Kahn in Southfield.

Serving as Ombudsman since 2011 and over the course of his 47-year legal career, Serlin has had the opportunity to impress many, including the judiciary.

“Joel represents the best there is in the legal profession,” said Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Wendy L. Potts. “He has the ability to be the consummate gentleman while effectively advocating for his client. Joel’s finest attribute is that he is a problem solver, taking the most complex matters and creating a resolution. Judges trust and rely on Joel and most also consider him a dear friend.”

Serlin cares deeply about the legal profession and professionalism.

“My philosophy is quite simple,” said Serlin. “In the legal profession, professionalism may mean many different things. To me, professionalism means respect for others. That includes not only your clients, but other lawyers including those on the opposing side; but importantly, respect for the court and our profession.”

He has a reputation for professionalism, too.

“Serlin exemplifies professionalism, both as a lawyer and as a person,” wrote former OCBA President Peter Alter in an e-mail. “He is a lawyer’s lawyer recognized by all for his intelligence, integrity and dedication to the law. It is those credentials, in part, which motivated the [OCBA] Board of Directors to nominate and for the Oakland County Circuit Court judges to select Mr. Serlin as the county’s first ‘ombudsman’ some years ago. In that capacity he has, as expected, done an outstanding job. The bench and the bar made the best possible choice in selecting Mr. Serlin as the first ombudsman,” said Alter, a partner with Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer, & Weiss.

Modeled after the program in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, the ombudsman post serves as an intermediary between the bench and the bar. Serlin has enjoyed his time as the ombudsman.

“Serving as the Oakland County Ombudsman has been a wonderful experience for me,” said Serlin. “I have had the opportunity to interact with many lawyers, and the court as well. It’s allowed me to be a liaison between the bar and the court, as a true neutral. It’s allowed me to be an independent voice on behalf of the legal community.”

Finding time to be committed to the profession as “pretty easy,” Serlin said, “I believe I have been very fortunate in my career, and anything I can do to be of service to others, I am happy to do. I think it’s important to point out there are many lawyers who devote themselves every day to the betterment of our profession through their commitment to the OCBA by volunteering their time for the good of our profession. In addition, the judges of our court are not only active participants in the OCBA, but committed to serving the public as well, not only in the courtroom, but in all aspects of our profession.”

Keefe Brooks, an OCBA board member, spoke of Serlin’s deep concern and respect for the court, opposing counsel, and all litigants.

“The best way I can put it is there are a lot of good lawyers and there are a few great lawyers,” said Brooks, a partner with Brooks, Wilkins, Sharkey, & Turco. “Joel is a great lawyer. Part of what distinguishes a great lawyer from a good lawyer is having the ability to be a vigorous advocate for your client without sacrificing your integrity and moral compass. Joel is one of those great lawyers that epitomize those qualities.”

In addition to his passion for the profession, Serlin is a devoted family man who cares deeply about his wife, children, and grandchildren. He and his wife are frequent travelers.

“My wife and I have been fortunate to be able to do a great deal of traveling,” said Serlin. “We’ve been fortunate to visit many other countries, and to have the opportunity to observe life in other cultures.”