Different tune: Once a musician, litigation attorney now specializes in dispute resolution

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Litigation can be stressful, disruptive, and expensive - and working with clients to resolve issues can be challenging but also rewarding.

That's the word from Miller Canfield attorney Pamela Enslen, a fellow of the Litigation Counsel of America who has extensive expertise in employment litigation, including federal and state employment contract, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, whistleblower, and disability claims.

She also has a long and impressive track record in commercial and environmental litigation, and handles employment-related and commercial lawsuits for corporations, municipalities, universities and colleges, medical facilities and practices, and others.

"I enjoy the excitement of litigation and being in court on a regular basis - but what I find the most fulfilling is working to solve problems for my clients," says Enslen, a University of Michigan alum. "As a frequent mediator, I've learned to understand even more clearly that the resolution of a dispute, even a resolution that neither side is completely happy with, is often better than continued conflict, stress, and expense.

"I find the exercise of analyzing the law, the facts, and the motivations and needs of the parties to be a fascinating challenge. Thirty years after law school, I feel fortunate to still love the law and being a lawyer."

Enslen, who served as a Federal Public Defender from 2001 to mid-2003 and continues to practice white-collar criminal defense law, primarily in federal courts, found being in federal court several times each week as a federal defender to be a welcome change from an exclusively complex commercial litigation practice where court hearings can be infrequent.

"I've always enjoyed public service, and consider it to be very important to 'give something back' to my profession and community," she says. "Federal criminal defense as a federal defender is very difficult and very rewarding. I've always particularly enjoyed the study of constitutional law, which is intimately involved in everything a federal defender does on a daily basis."

A trained and certified facilitative mediator, she is experienced in dispute resolution, and serves as a neutral mediator in cases in federal and state courts, as well as matters not yet in litigation.

"I find the work of understanding not only the law and factual circumstances of the dispute, but also the motivations and needs of the parties involved, to be very interesting and challenging. As a neutral mediator, it feels really great to be part of the solution of problems, and to have parties walk out of a mediation relieved that their dispute is finally over," she says.

"Being a mediator is difficult and very hard work, but I've believed for over 25 years that it's frequently the best way that we, as a society, can resolve our disputes."

A trained arbitrator, Enslen has conducted arbitrations through the American Arbitration Association. Arbitration is more adversarial, but acting as a neutral arbitrator in a decision-making capacity is also very fulfilling, she says.

"Where a mediator has no power to compel the parties to reach a certain resolution, the arbitrator has authority to impose a result on the parties. Both dispute resolution mechanisms impose on the neutral mediator or arbitrator a great deal of responsibility to be thoughtful, careful, and fair."

A frequent speaker on alternative dispute resolution and employment, commercial, and criminal law, she also taught a course on the subject in the mid-'90s at Cooley Law School.

Enslen, whose awards include being named Michigan Super Lawyer, Best Lawyers in America, and Michigan Lawyer of the Year, got hooked on litigation while working for the City of Detroit Law Department as a legal law clerk through most of her time at Wayne State Law School and for a time after.

"It was a really great experience," she says. "Working with smart litigators at the city helped put my law classes in perspective and really helped me appreciate the meaning of the cases and statutes I was studying. It also helped me decide to become a trial lawyer."

She later clerked for the Michigan Court of Appeals and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.

Enslen has spent more than two decades with Miller Canfield.

"I feel very fortunate to have spent so much of my career here," she says. "I've worked with the best lawyers in Michigan and learned so much in the process. I've been privileged to have a somewhat diverse practice, and am very thankful I'm in a firm that has given me those opportunities.

"The firm has also been very supportive of my significant work with the American Bar Association, which is another very important way in which I've had the opportunity to make a contribution to my profession".

While Detroit is Enslen's much-loved hometown, she enjoys living and working in the Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids area, with her husband Richard, son Gennady--"and two fairly out-of-control puppies. The west side of Michigan is just beautiful, and has so much to offer in the arts, education, and lifestyle."

In her leisure time, she enjoys exercise, primarily Pilates, kettlebells, running, and biking.

"I love to read, although finding the time can be difficult," she says.

She serves on the Board of Directors of the Kalamazoo Kiwanis, and on the Board of Gryphon Place, a Kalamazoo nonprofit that provides help-line, suicide prevention, and free mediation services to several counties.

Enslen, who holds bachelor and master's degrees in music performance from the University of Michigan, and who performed with many groups in the Detroit area, serves on the Board of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra.

"In my former life I was a musician--oboe was my instrument and I logged countless hours playing symphonic and chamber music. When the opportunity to become involved with the Kalamazoo Symphony presented itself, I jumped at it and I'm so happy I did. This particular symphony, in addition to having talented and inspiring musicians, is extraordinarily involved in the community and in educating children in innovative ways of using music, which is so important."

She is also on the Board of Trustees of the Michigan Women's Foundation, whose goal is to empower women and girls in areas including education, health, poverty, violence and discrimination. "I initially became involved by attending MWF functions, which are always so inspiring, and talking to others who were involved," she says.

"The MWF is literally transforming the lives of Michigan women and girls and I consider myself privileged to be allowed to be a small part of this effort. It's just a great organization."

Published: Thu, May 17, 2012