Peace maker: Lawyer's solo practice focuses on mediation

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

After 42 years as a partner and shareholder with Fraser Trebilcock Davis and Dunlap in Lansing, Peter Dunlap celebrated New Year 2011 by launching his solo firm, Peter L. Dunlap P.C, focusing solely on mediation and arbitration.

“Bringing litigants together and seeing their relief at ending the stress of a lawsuit is its own reward,” says Dunlap, who facilitates active and prospective civil lawsuits in federal and state courts. “In short, it’s fun!”   

It can also be challenging, as was a memorable suit between a law firm and an ex-partner. Late into the evening, with the two sides close to an agreement, the ex-partner plaintiff mentioned the firm’s $1 million life insurance policy on the life of each partner with the firm as beneficiary. He wanted it cancelled as to him.

“The firm said, ‘No way’ – and we didn't settle,” Dunlap says. 

Another memorable case was a business “divorce” between two brothers, with a few small roadblocks. The father had recently died, leaving one son 49 percent of the business and the other 51 percent.

“One brother had filed a criminal complaint against the other for allegedly stealing from the firm’s pension plan – his ‘source’ was an ex-wife employee of yet another family member,” Dunlap explains. “To top it off, their mother owned the property where the business was located. Not surprisingly, no settlement.”

Dunlap, who studied at Michigan Technological University before earning his undergrad degree in political science from the University of Michigan, had intended to enter the U.S. Navy – but did well enough on the LSAT to receive admission from the U-M Law School.

“Plus, I was in love with my future wife so I chose to stay in Ann Arbor,” he says.   

He set his sights on personal injury litigation because of the excitement of the courtroom.

“And, like most people who were in athletics, I felt I still I had some fight in my nature,” he says. “The legal malpractice field was pure chance – a very close friend sued to collect a fee and was wrongly counter sued for legal malpractice. He asked his carrier to hire me.”

That case led to a long career in the legal malpractice area, and where his mentors at Fraser Trebilcock, Eugene Townsend and Everett Trebilcock, always taught him to make a fair settlement offer early – and never on the courthouse steps.

“I got into the habit of settling cases early or not at all,” Dunlap says. “This helped me gain some credence with other lawyers as someone who knew how to settle cases fairly which led me to begin a career as a mediator before the Michigan ADR Court Rule was ever adopted.”

Dunlap went through eight days of training in Toronto and was ready to go when Michigan started its ADR program. He also was included in the list of U.S. District Court Western District mediators at the early stages of that program.

A Certified Mediator of the U.S. Western District Court of Michigan, and a Certified Mediator in the Michigan Circuit Courts including Ingham and Eaton, he has participated in numerous seminars under the auspices of the U.S. Western District Court of Michigan.

A fellow of the State Bar of Michigan, and a member of its Alternative Dispute Resolution Section, Dunlap has enjoyed activities with the SBM and with the Ingham County Bar Association, where he has served as a board member and as treasurer.

“They’ve been a great way to know other lawyers on a personal basis and serve the profession,” he notes.

His years with Michigan Defense Trial Counsel began in its second year of existence and ended with him serving as a board member and president.

“It’s a wonderful group that gave me statewide relationships,” he says.

The MDTC honored him with the Trial Counsel Excellence in Defense Award in 2010. Other awards include the 2014 State Bar of Michigan Negligence Section Outstanding Achievement Award, the 2007 Michigan Association of Justice Respected Advocate Award, and the 2005 Ingham County Bar Association Leo Farhat Outstanding Attorney Award.

Named among Best Lawyers in America, Dunlap says his favorite part of a long legal career has been the people involved with the practice of law.

“Most of my lifelong friends are lawyers, frequently that I opposed in court,” he says.  “I’ve always found my colleagues, lawyers and staff, to be of the highest caliber and integrity.”

Early in his career, he enjoyed playing on a young lawyers softball team that ultimately included most of the Ingham County judges, prosecutors and a Supreme Court Justice.

“A good time was had by all, especially after the games – we were usually sponsored by a bar,” he says.   

He also played for the Legal Eagles broom hockey team after its creation by Judge Charles Filice. 

“Again, many cases were ‘mediated’ at Dagwood’s Bar afterward,” Dunlap says with a smile.

The Saginaw native commutes to Lansing from his home in Pentwater, on the shores of Lake Michigan south of Ludington. He and his wife, Mary Margaret, have three children and four grandchildren; their daughter Laura lives in South Carolina with her 17-year-old son, Sam; son Mark and his wife Marta live in the Dallas area with their children, Jessica and Jack; and son Ben and his wife Jennifer bought the Dunlaps’ Lansing house, providing a place to stay when the couple is in Lansing. Grandson Jared recently graduated with a degree in engineering from Western Michigan University.

In his leisure time, Dunlap enjoys crewing on a friend’s sailboat during off shore races on Lake Michigan. He also plays golf, pickleball, skis at Crystal Mountain, and is looking forward to an upcoming trip to Steamboat ski resort in Colorado.

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