1060 Maitland Center Commons, Suite 440, Maitland, FL 32751
Principal, Upchurch Watson White & Max Mediation Group
“You are just too young and too female. You won’t make it,” a seasoned lawyer told Michelle Jernigan when she shared her decision to evolve from litigation to alternative dispute resolution in the late ’80s. However, after a 10-year career in litigation, she was up for the challenge, and her perseverance paid dividends.
Now, after 34 years as a professional neutral, Michelle has been named a principal of Upchurch Watson White & Max Mediation Group, a firm dedicated to dispute resolution. As one of the mediator/arbitrators on the firm’s roster at its 1996 inception, her elevation earlier this year rewarded decades of dedication and determination to succeed in her field.
Her legal career began at the Orange County State Attorney’s office after she earned a juris doctorate at Stetson University College of Law in 1981, preceded by a bachelor of science degree in political science at Stetson University. Michelle prosecuted misdemeanor cases for a year-and-a-half before entering private practice with the law firm of Broad and Cassel (now Nelson Mullins Broad and Cassel). She specialized in commercial litigation until she left that practice to pursue a full-time career in dispute resolution.
After launching her mediation career in 1987, Michelle was one of the first mediators to be certified by the Florida Supreme Court in 1988. Since then, she has mediated thousands of cases throughout Florida – almost every type of civil dispute in federal and state courts, ranging from complex commercial matters to wrongful death cases. A mediation pioneer, she served as a consultant to the Florida Supreme Court as it established mediation mentorship rules and sat as a member of the Florida Supreme Court’s Mediation Training Review Board from 1997 to 2013.
Michelle has poured her professionalism, thoughtfulness, diplomacy and grace back into the dispute resolution community through decades of training new mediators. She currently serves as an assistant trainer in the Florida Supreme Court’s Certified Circuit Civil Mediation Training Program. Years ago, she developed and implemented mediation training programs for Orlando Regional Healthcare Systems (now Orlando Health) and Eckerd Corporation (now CVS Health). Michelle has trained hundreds of mediators in Florida, written numerous articles on mediation and is a recognized speaker in the field of dispute resolution.
Additionally, Michelle is a past editor and past treasurer for the Alternative Dispute Resolution Section of The Florida Bar and remains a member of the section’s executive council. She is a member and past director of the American College of Civil Trial Mediators and a founding member, past director and past president of the Florida Academy of Professional Mediators.
Michelle is also the proud and devoted mother of two grown daughters. Her devotion to her family harmonizes with her active membership in First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, since 1982, and her service on the board of trustees for the Heart of the City Foundation. Michelle says she has been called into the field of dispute resolution and believes: “Blessed are the peacemakers.”