Mediator serves as new chair of State Bar's ADR Section

 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.”  
Raheem 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.”
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.

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.
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. 
“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,” she says.