Mediation maven: Attorney creatively guides opposing parties to legal solutions

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Attorney Patricia Nemeth was not initially a big fan of mediation.

“I believed it was just another step in the litigation process that would cost my clients money with no benefit,” she says.

But participation in the process as an advocate showed her how effective mediation could be—and ultimately, she became a certified mediator, focusing her practice on all forms of civil mediation and on employment and commercial arbitration. 

“I was drawn to mediation initially as a tool to use in my litigation practice,” she says.  “Mediation provided new tools for looking at a dispute, through talking with the parties and seeing the dispute through their eyes.

“I enjoy mediating disputes because it provides me with an opportunity to act as a catalyst for bringing people together rather than pushing them apart—which happens in litigation. If I can bring a bit of peace into others’ lives by helping them resolve a disagreement, that’s a very rewarding feeling.”  

Founder and partner at Nemeth Law in Detroit, which celebrated its silver anniversary in 2017, Nemeth notes people involved in a dispute are in the best position and have the best insight for how to bring things to a satisfactory close.

“It’s my job to follow their lead and creatively guide them toward a resolution,” she says. “It’s about focusing their interests on the future and collaborating about how to get there, while also helping them let go of the ‘bloodletting’ that may have happened prior to the mediation.”

The techniques Nemeth uses depend on the nature of the issues and the people involved.

“You never know what kind of personalities await you,” she says. “You may have people yelling at you because they can’t yell at the other party. And they may need to vent. This requires the mediator remain grounded and not take it personally.

“But after some amount of venting, it’s time to get to work to resolve the dispute. Each mediation and the approach taken is completely different.”

Her employment/labor dispute cases have included workplace violence, sexual harassment, disability discrimination, discharge for theft, discharge for fighting, contractual interpretation of overtime issues, contractual interpretation of compensation issues, discharge for absenteeism, and discharge for embezzlement. Commercial and other disputes have involved construction issues, exclusive franchise rights for a cable company, medical malpractice, attendant care benefits, drunk driving, fire loss, and breach of contract (such as non competes). Multi-party mediations have involved construction issues, exclusive franchise rights, a medical malpractice claim where one party brought a claim against the pharmacy and physician, and a personal injury claim where one party brought a claim against the insurance company and the drunk driver individually.     

A member of the International Mediation Institute and American Arbitration Association, Nemeth recalls a particularly challenging high profile case with a number of moving parts. Several defendants and plaintiffs were embroiled in litigation and the case had the potential to blow up and go on for years. Nemeth was an advocate for one of the defendants.

When several days of mediation attempts were unsuccessful, the parties came before a judge, who also tried to mediate the case.

That’s when the mediation skills Nemeth had learned proved invaluable, and she served as a de facto mediator, moving between the various parties to work out a resolution.

“The parties were very creative in crafting an agreement everyone could support, and as a result, the parties saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in litigation costs and lost productivity,” she says. “Prior to my mediation training, I wouldn’t have had the necessary skills to assist the parties in reaching an agreement.”     

Nemeth, who earned both her juris doctor and Masters of Labor Law from Wayne State University Law School, has found that her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Michigan to be a definite asset. 

“Attorneys may look at a dispute from a number of different angles, such as looking at very specific facts and contradictions in those facts or heavily researching a case and relying on case law,” she explains. “My approach is to look at and try to understand the person. What—or who—is motivating this person to continue the dispute?  What would motivate the person to resolve the dispute?

“How people make decisions differs depending on the circumstances. Change in circumstances over time can lead people to resolve a dispute in one week that they would not agree to resolve today. Understanding all of those factors and how they affect this particular person’s decision about this particular dispute is very interesting to me.”