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 Toni Raheem

Mediation Marvel

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Attorney Toni Raheem recalls a mediation where two attorneys — former colleagues whose business relationship had gone awry - refused to be in the same room, cursed each other profusely, shouted across the hall at one another, and insisted a resolution was impossible. Calmly and persistently shuttling between the two conference rooms, Raheem urged the parties to explore creative options, until the matter was resolved. 

“I learned never to give up,” she says.

Persistence is one of the hallmarks of a great mediator, she notes. 

“While many attorneys feel they have to sound tough and create the impression that there is nothing they would like better than a big juicy court battle, most good attorneys know the time, cost, risk and often dissatisfaction that accompanies litigation — although no mediator should pressure parties into a resolution. A mediator must learn when to push and when to let go.”

President of Resolutions By Raheem, and the Law & Mediation Offices of Antoinette R. Raheem in Bloomfield Hills, Raheem has more than 30 years of litigation experience and a decade of Alternative Dispute Resolution experience — and is the new chair of the State Bar of Michigan ADR Section.

“I’m excited about all the great ADR professionals from around the state that make up our council as well as the 700-plus section members — and growing — that we serve,” she says. “We’ll undertake several educational, legislative, and diversification efforts in the coming months, geared toward supporting and spreading ADR throughout Michigan.” 

A board member of the local Association of Conflict Resolution, she is active with the Professional Resolution Experts of Michigan (PREMi); is a co-chair of the Mediation subcommittee of the Federal Bar Pro Bono program for the Eastern District of Michigan; and is on the ADR committee and Domestic Violence committee of the Family Law Section of the State Bar.

She is also active in Oakland Country’s Collaborative Practice community, a growing form of ADR in which parties agree to negotiate their conflict, with specially trained attorneys, outside of court before initiating any court proceeding. 

“Collaborative practice is yet another form of ADR that I hope the public becomes more aware of and uses to better resolve conflict,” she says.

Listed in Michigan Lawyers’ Weekly as Lead Counsel for the prevailing party in a trial with one of the State’s largest verdicts, Raheem was the recipient of the State Bar ADR Council’s George Bashara Jr. Award in 2008 and honored by the ADR Council again in 2011 for her co-facilitation of a statewide task force on Diversity in ADR. In 2012 she received the Straker Bar’s Trailblazer Award and in 2013 the Businesswoman of the Year award from the Negro Business and Professional Women’s Association.

She has served on several Supreme Court committees that either drafted ADR-related court rules or proposed policy changes in the field of ADR. 

“One of the most rewarding aspects was being in the room with some of the greatest minds in the state in the field of ADR — all were people on the front lines of ADR practice in Michigan, seeing the problems with certain ADR practices first hand and having valuable insights into possible improvements,” she says. “I got to hear from judges, Friend of the Court personnel, attorneys, mediators and more. I learned so much and had an opportunity to contribute to the rich give-and-take.”

Her articles on ADR and diversity have been published in Michigan Lawyers’ Weekly, the Oakland County Bar magazine Laches, the State Bar of Michigan’s ADR Quarterly and The Family Law Journal. She has also appeared on legal talk shows on small community stations. 

“I joke with my husband that he, I and the insomniac down the street were probably the only ones who watched me, but it was fun,” she says. “My thought is that if even one person is made aware that they have options in dispute resolution that they did not know they had and that might be better for them, then I did a little something.”

Drawn to the law in a quest for change and justice, Raheem headed to Columbia University School of Law under two very strong influences — Brown vs. Board of Education and Perry Mason. 

“I thought law was the way to fight for right and was an exciting way to do it.” 

Her first job — in a legal aid office in an economically depressed area of Pennsylvania — was a wake up call. 

“The big battles were not the only way, or maybe even the best way for some, to effectuate change,” she says. “I realized that just maybe the battle of keeping someone with three kids from being evicted, or from having their lights shut off or their car repossessed so they could get to work was important too. As a result of that exposure I began to reassess the grandiose ideas I had about which battlefield I wanted to fight on.”

Initially she wanted to be in the courtroom — where the action was, as she then saw it.  

“I was a rather bookish student and I knew that if I wanted to draw out the ‘fight’ in me I had to throw myself into the ring — it worked.”

As a litigator, Raheem found her own style of “fighting” — and realized that “fighting” isn’t as all-powerful as she was led to believe; she saw less and less fruit born from day-to-day court battles where parties rarely got a voice. 

“Truth was often obscured by procedure and the focus was placed primarily on ‘winning,’ even if it had little correlation to solving problems,” she explains. “I always loved a good jury trial though, because that’s where real people made decisions based on real life-not legal procedures, not legal precedent, but how they saw a situation or a person.  They might be right, they might be wrong, but a jury was real.”

Hooked on ADR from her first mediation training, she was amazed to find there was a way to resolve problems by people just listening and talking to each other. 

“My experience is that most people want to rise to a higher level,” she says. “They want to respect the other party as they seek to resolve a conflict and they want to be respected. They want to find a mutually satisfying resolution and they want to have a voice while they do it. And most of all, they do not want to have a ‘resolution’ forced on them. Most people never knew they had an option to abrasive, attack-mode and costly litigation. When people create their own solutions, they are more likely to abide by them.”  

In one memorable mediation case, estranged siblings fought over who would take care of their aging mother. After family members set their egos aside for a few hours and really listened to each other, the mediation ended in resolution and tearful reunions. 

“You don’t see those kind of moments at the end of most trials,” Raheem says.

In another mediation, a parent fought to get certain special needs services for her child, which school personnel disputed would be of use. After the case was resolved to the satisfaction of both sides, Raheem received a thank you note and the child’s photo from the mother. 

“She told me that just my presence gave her the strength to speak up to the throng of more educated and more numerous school personnel and that my presence helped to balance the playing field and give her a sense of allowing justice to be done,” Raheem says. “That felt good.”

A third-generation entrepreneur, Raheem learned valuable business lessons from her father and grandfather — to respect everyone, no matter how big or small; to work hard; to put family first; and to conduct business for the service before the money. “There are undoubtedly easier ways to make a living, but none of them, I believe, are what I am called to do.”

Raheem provides volunteer mediation services for the Community Dispute Resolution Centers of five southeastern Michigan counties; and shares her expertise by teaching Basic Mediation and an ADR Overview course at Cooley Law School. She previously taught Professional Responsibility and Pre-Trial Litigation at Wayne Law; has presented and moderated at the Institute for Continuing Legal Education (ICLE) on Trial
Practice and on Advanced Mediation issues; and given basic and advanced Mediation trainings at three national ADR Conferences and for Washtenaw, Wayne and Oakland Community Mediation Centers. 

“I love it when students tell me they are happy to discover there are alternative ways to help people resolve conflict that can really make a difference.”

In her leisure time, she is active in her church, volunteers at Children’s Hospital, supports various homeless shelters, and enjoys reading and gardening. 

“I’m the neighborhood ‘crazy flower lady’ whose flowers seem to get more numerous every year,” she says with a smile.