Diverse interests: Local attorney among advocates of ADR work

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Alongside a photo of the firm’s founders, attorney Tim Patterson has practiced law in Waterford since 1968, the year he graduated with honors from Wayne State Law School.
 
Photo by Robert Chase
 
By Tom Kirvan
Legal News
 
Location.
 
Real estate agents know full well the importance of the eight-letter word when selling a house or a plum piece of property. It can produce a quick sale as well as a certain sort of satisfaction that can yield dividends for years to come.

Tim Patterson, fresh out of Michigan State University in 1964 and beginning a four-year stint as a court clerk for Oakland County Circuit Judge Fred Ziem, recognized the importance of diversifying his business interests early on in his professional career. 

“I thought it would be smart to obtain a real estate license as a means toward supplementing my court clerk income,” Patterson said of his early foray into selling homes and properties. “I figured Oakland County would be in a growth mode as the suburbs gained in population, and I wanted to be in a position to capitalize on that.”

Patterson, who graduated from Waterford High School, had deep family roots in Oakland County, where his father was a partner in a law practice and also owned a successful bookkeeping business. Through his work at the Oakland County Circuit Court, Patterson came to know many attorneys in the Prosecutor’s Office, which was populated with up-and-coming lawyers looking to find homes closer to their work.

“For a while, I had a pretty steady stream of county employees that I was fortunate enough to sell homes to in the area,” Patterson related. “It helped supplement my income until I could begin my legal practice.”

Now, some 46 years after he began his legal career, Patterson continues to value versatility, heightening his involvement with Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) work through his affiliation four years ago with the American Settlement Centers in Farmington Hills.

“I enjoy helping parties resolve differences outside of a trial by judge or jury,” Patterson said of his mediation and arbitration services. “ADR has been proven to save time, money, and aggravation, while also helping to unclog a court system that is already stretched to its limits because of funding constraints. There is something especially challenging and rewarding about bridging a gap and finding common ground among opposing parties.”

He began his work in the mediation field decades ago when then Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Edward Sosnick helped launch a pilot program to encourage ADR as a means of settling disputes.

“I’ve always been a big believer in facilitated mediation,” Patterson said. “It is good for the client and it can be good for the profession to not be tied so much to the billable hour.”

Born in Detroit, Patterson has developed a wide-ranging practice that includes contracts, real estate law, civil and commercial litigation, estate planning, environmental law, and survey and boundary disputes. The firm, which was founded in 1956 by his father, Calvin, and his partner, Douglas Booth, built much of its early reputation in the field of municipal law, representing a number of cities and townships in Oakland County.

Patterson’s father owned and operated a bookkeeping/tax business before deciding at age 36 to attend law school at Wayne State. 

“He was admitted to Wayne Law School based on his business background and experience,” Patterson said. “It was a unique admission practice back then.”

Patterson took the much more conventional route to law school, graduating from MSU after transferring from Albion College, a small private school west of Jackson that is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. His decision to transfer to MSU was due in large part to romance. His future wife, Julie, was a student at MSU and the couple had dated since their high school days in Waterford.

“Let’s just say that I got tired of the drive from Albion to East Lansing,” Patterson said with a smile for the reasons behind his move to MSU.

Upon graduation from Michigan State, Patterson intended to go to law school at the University of Michigan and was accepted for the summer term there, but opted instead to attend Wayne Law School when his wife was unable to find a teaching position near Ann Arbor.

“It turned out to be a great decision for me because Judge Ziem needed a court clerk and working for him through law school was a tremendous experience in terms of preparing me for my legal career,” Patterson said.

It also allowed Patterson and his wife, a former school teacher, an opportunity to begin raising a family that now includes two daughters (Amy and Beth) and five grandchildren.

“We have been blessed with a wonderful family, two great children and two terrific sons-in-law,” said Patterson, who is an avid outdoorsman and golfer. “And, of course, our grandchildren have been the icing on the cake for us.”

One of three brothers, Patterson has handled “more than my share of civil litigation matters” over the course of his career, both on the plaintiff and defense sides. He has gained a statewide reputation for his expertise in lake use and lake access cases, particularly as they apply to environmental law and boundary disputes.

“I was involved in one of the first contested cases involving the Inland Lakes and Streams Act,” Patterson said of a dispute between property owners along Walnut Lake in the mid-’70s. “One of the interesting facts arising from that case was that there is a population of whitefish in Walnut Lake. Most people believe that whitefish are only found in the Great Lakes, but we discovered during the case that they have habitats in some inland waters that are very deep.” 

Long active with the Oakland County Bar Association and the State Bar of Michigan, Patterson has been civic-minded throughout his career, serving on the board of the Waterford Foundation for Public Education since its inception in 1984.

“It has grown into one of the premier school foundations in the state,” Patterson said of the Waterford Foundation. “We have developed an endowment of more than $1.2 million and have awarded more than $1 million in educational grants over the years that we’ve operated. It’s been great to be involved in such a worthy program.”

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