By: Penny Gans | WAMS Staff
In her 20+ years as a mediator and arbitrator with WAMS, Michele Sales has earned the respect of plaintiff and defense counsel alike for her understanding of legal issues, her ability to put injured parties at ease in highly stressful situations, and her diligence in following through after the mediation to resolve any remaining issues. As one of her long-time clients puts it, “Michele does more to get a case settled than any other mediator I have ever worked with.”
Michele believes that “most cases should settle, and sooner than a week before the trial.” She values the mediation process for “forcing people to talk to each other sooner than they otherwise might and for helping attorneys settle cases without risking being seen as weak.” She believes successful mediation requires the mediator to have experience in the subject area and come to the table thoroughly prepared. Michele says that although the mediator can’t know everything about the case, it is important to demonstrate to both client and attorney that she is engaged and actively listening. Settlement may depend on the financial situation of the parties, the influence of another similar case, relationships, desire for confidentiality, or other issues that are not initially evident to the mediator. Michele is known for her persistence and encouragement of clients to keep working toward settlement if the case doesn’t resolve at mediation. As the complexity of her mediation practice has grown in recent years, Michele has often found herself without enough time to fully resolve all issues requiring attention. As a result, she decided in 2011 to require clients scheduling with her to devote a full day to the mediation. Michele understands that some of her clients may not require a full day for all of their cases, but she is confident that most of the cases she mediates will benefit from having the additional time allocated.
Michele grew up in El Paso, Texas, polished her “convincing” skills in high school debate, and completed undergraduate and law school at Duke University. An active Duke alumna (particularly during college basketball season, when she “bleeds Duke Blue”), she has served as president of the Alumni Association Board of Directors and as a member of the University Board of Trustees. Duke Law School has asked her to serve as Referee and mediator for major medical product liability class action suits, as well as gender discrimination and sexual harassment class actions against national firms. On a lighter note, it was at Duke that Michele took her first golf lesson, beginning a lifetime of joy and frustration. Michele met Chris, her future husband, while he was a Naval officer stationed in California. His transfer to Italy during her last two years of law school meant summers and Christmas in Italy and an opportunity to spend time in the Navy’s Legal Service Office, assisting with courts-martial. After a move to Seattle in 1981, Michele joined the Oles Morrison firm and spent the next few years handling personal injury, insurance, and employment defense matters, plus “any case that needed a woman”. She became a partner in 1989, then left to establish Steele and Sales with Katherine Steele in 1990, specializing in asbestos litigation. Although Michele had been a WAMS neutral since 1988, it was in 2001 that she became a full-time mediator, focusing on employment, product liability, personal injury, and other areas involving complex legal issues.
Among the many community activities she has enjoyed, Michele singles out her involvement as a member of the Navy League committee to commission ships accepted into the Navy, a ceremony known as “bringing the ship alive”. In addition to working locally on the commissioning of the USS Shoup in 2002, Michele attended the commissioning of the USS Ronald Reagan in Norfolk, VA in 2003, watching Nancy Reagan formally bring the ship into the U.S. Navy. Through her association with the Navy League, Michele became involved with Seafair and served on its Board of Directors from 2002-2009. As Chairman of the Board in 2009, she delighted the friends and colleagues watching her waving graciously to the Seafair Parade crowds from the back of a bright yellow Corvette convertible.
Chris and Michele enjoy cruising in the San Juans and have recently traveled in Spain, Argentina, and New Zealand, sharing their highly entertaining travel blogs with friends and associates. They also try to attend the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas as often as possible – Michele is a Texas gal, after all!