Litigation expert helps kids through Goodfellows Fund

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Youthful outlook

Mike Coakley, leader of Miller Canfield’s Litigation & Dispute Resolution group, enjoys the challenge of advocacy within the bounds of the law, ethics and civility, and putting together the pieces of the puzzle.

“While all cases have common elements, each case is as unique as the individuals involved,” says Coakley. “The challenge is to take up the client’s mantel without surrendering professionalism. I fight hard for my clients, but like to think I fight fair.”

Coakley, who has a history of involvement with one of the Detroit area’s most prominent youth charities, deals with securities, fraud, unfair competition, commercial transactions, banks and banking, insurance, and trademark litigation primarily in the areas of enforcement/protection of trademark owners’ rights.

“With trademark litigation I get to deal with recognized brands and cool products and services, from Major League Baseball, one of the original illustrators for Mad Magazine, designer fashion houses, professional hockey to household cleaners –it’s great variety with great clients,” he says. “There’s a public service element to it as well in preventing folks from getting counterfeit goods, and even a public safety element.”

In one case, counterfeiters added lye to a common household cleaner. While the real product posed no danger to children, the fake product was very dangerous.
“With the help of the federal court and the U.S. Marshals (Service), we were not only able to enforce our clients trademarks, but get the bad stuff off the streets,” Coakley says.

As leader of the Litigation & Dispute Resolution group, Coakley is at the helm of more than 100 professionals.

“For all of us, it’s all about the client,” he says. “As a testament to that, some of our clients we’ve had for all of our 160 years as a proud-to-be Detroit based global firm, and whom I have served throughout my 30 years with the firm.

“What I enjoy most about Miller Canfield is the people I work with – from file room workers, messengers, secretaries, staff, legal assistants, to the lawyers, we’re all one team working to give our clients the best service we can.”

Coakley is an arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association (including International) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, and is a case evaluator for the Wayne County Circuit Court and the Oakland County Circuit and District Courts.

Although arbitration and mediation are usually lumped together under the rubric “alternative dispute resolution,” they are very different animals, he says. Arbitration, with many fewer strictures than court litigation, is final and binding.

“Arbitration is more trial by the seat of your pants than court. For example, I’ve cross-examined experts in arbitration that I’ve not met before the hearing – that would never happen in court. It’s both frightening and exhilarating.

“Mediation is wonderful because when successful, the disputants control their own destiny and as the mediator I’m there to guide them to that. It’s very rewarding to see folks craft their own solutions rather than have it imposed by a third party, be it judge, jury or arbitrator.”

A native of South Amboy, N.J., Coakley earned his undergrad degree in literature and language from Richard Stockton State College in New Jersey; and his law degree from the University of Michigan Law School, where he has served as a moot court judge. He previously judged advocacy at Wayne State Law School, as well as lectured at the Midwest Securities Law Institute, and served as a faculty member for The Institute of Continuing Legal Education Trial Advocacy Seminar, among others.

“I’m constantly amazed at the talent and industry of the law students,” he says. “I’m challenged by them and always learn something from them. They may think I’m doing them a service, but the pleasure is all mine.”

Coakley was drawn to a career in law by the prospect of being able to make a real difference in helping people. In his first job after college, he was unable to provide help to one client, because of his employer’s policies.

“She hired a lawyer, who went to court and got her the help she needed. I thought ‘Wow, I want to be able to do that.’ Plus I like the idea of the rule of law. Some rules of law have been in place for hundreds of years and are still good law, which provides a measure of certainty and predictability in an uncertain and ever changing world.”
Coakley’s wife, Beth, is a senior partner and trademark specialist at Harness, Dickey & Pierce.

“Beth is a 2012 DBusiness Magazine Top Trademark Lawyer, Super Lawyer, and recognized by Best Lawyers in America. I couldn’t be more proud of her,” he says.
The couple, married 31 years, has two children: Jack, a junior at Tulane University studying cognitive sciences; and Annie, a senior at Detroit County Day School, who will be studying biology at Georgetown University this fall.

In his leisure time, Coakley is an avid reader of all genres; and he and his wife enjoy movies, theater, music, playing pool and all kinds of games, travel and art, including the DIA, Met, Louvre, and Prado.

Chairman of the City of Bloomfield Hills Zoning Board of Appeals, Coakley is also very involved in the Old Newsboys’ Goodfellows Fund of Detroit; introduced to the organization by his partners Clarence Pozza and Peter Waldmeir, he has been a member since 1987 and served as president last year.

“I love the fact that we’re a charity without overhead, every dollar donated goes to the kids we serve in the form of Christmas gifts, camperships, shoes, dental care and scholarships – that’s really rewarding,” he says. “We’re sending a strong message of hope and caring to 35,000 Detroit metropolitan school age children each year with the help of thousands of generous donors who give each year.”

Annual honorees have included Kid Rock, Alan Mullaly, Dick Purtan, Jennifer Granholm, Eleanor Josaitis, Sparky Anderson, Bo Schembechler, William Clay Ford, and Art Van Elslander among others.

“They’ve all been terrific,” Coakley says. “I’ve been struck by their humility and genuine commitment to the betterment of our children, particularly our Goodfellows kids. We can’t thank them enough for their kind and generous support.”