The long view: Attorney's stick-to-itiveness pays off in asbestos cases


 By Jeanine Matlow

Legal News
Problem solver, debater and history buff are just a few descriptors for Michael B. Serling, who tried one case in his early thirties that would lead to an entire career. 
Back then, the attorney with Michael B. Serling PC in Birmingham and Allen Park, came across a client who had lost her husband at age 52 from mesothelioma, cancer of the lining of the lung caused by exposure to asbestos. 
“As a young lawyer, I tried referring the case to more experienced practitioners only to discover that it was the first case of its kind in Michigan,” says Serling who graduated from Michigan State University College of Law, then known as Detroit College of Law.
“I did the research and handled the claim, which turned out to be the first successful result in the state of Michigan,” says Serling, who has received thousands of cases since his initial success. 
Today his firm specializes in asbestos products liability and property damage cases as well as failed medical devices, such as hip replacement and transvaginal mesh products.
Serling also received cases early on from property owners, whose buildings were contaminated with asbestos, causing significant environmental problems and extreme property value reduction. 
“I successfully handled a class action for most of the public school districts in Michigan,” says Serling who also began representing other building owners, both locally and around the country whose properties were significantly impacted by the presence of asbestos. 
His follow-through skills have served him well. 
“In the field of asbestos litigation the plaintiff must be able to prove which companies’ products the victims of asbestos disease were actually exposed to,” explains Serling. “This can often require a Sherlock Holmes-type investigation into who the real culprits were that caused the plaintiff’s disease.”
Still, he reflects, “It is extremely rewarding to resolve a case for a family whose loved one has been victimized by asbestos diseases that are almost always fatal.” 
In his spare time, Serling enjoys exploring his family genealogy. He is working on a publication that will include photos of his ancestors from the early 1800s through the current generation, which he hopes will be a keepsake for generations to come. 
“Being a proud grandfather, this project means a great deal to me,” says Serling who has been married to his wife Elaine, a registered nurse and singer/songwriter/author, for more than 44 years. 
They have two children, Alizah Forman, who works in her father’s bookkeeping department and is married to Adam Forman, an employment lawyer. The couple has two children, Alexis and Danielle. Serling’s other daughter Dana is a physician assistant and professional photographer based in New York City.  
Serling has been a board member and executive committee member of the Anti-Defamation League, one of the oldest civil rights organizations in the United States. 
“I have helped to develop a multi-ethnic teen dialogue program which has become quite effective in breaking down prejudice and bigotry,” he says. “This is especially gratifying since I was a school teacher in Detroit for several years before embarking on a law career.”
One of his passions has been developing the Jewish Studies Program at Michigan State University. Since 1996, Serling has worked with faculty and the university to help build a program that now includes the participation of 12 professors, four core positions and a very strong study abroad program in Israel. 
“Hundreds of students enroll for courses every year and we have sent more than 100 students to Israel in the past few years,” says Serling who lived in Israel for a year when he was first married and even passed the Israeli bar.
“It’s a small but rigorous program,” says Steve Weiland, professor of higher education and former director of the Jewish Studies Program at Michigan State University who finds Serling’s enthusiasm remarkable. “That applies to whatever he does. He is devoted to academic success. He’s very committed to it.” 
He also credits Serling with having extraordinary collegiality. 
“He’s terrific at bringing people together,” says Weiland. “He moves very easily between different professional communities.”
Serling’s persistence makes a definite impression. 
“He stays with things. The key is perpetuity, for the program to be here forever. He always had the long view. He is incredibly determined and he wanted to do things that would last,” says Weiland.
The two have become very good friends. 
“The most important thing to me is his friendship,” Weiland says. 
Nearly four years ago, Serling was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Today, the survivor is back to normal activities, hobbies and enjoying friends and family to the max. 
“The experience helped me to appreciate life and all its blessings more than ever,” says Serling who has also enjoyed mentoring other cancer patients just as he was mentored during the toughest part of his battle.