Al Abrams 2013-03-20 10:04:20
Ask veteran Detroit lawyer Norman A. Yatooma to tell you his best career decision and he quickly replies, “The best – becoming a lawyer.” Then ask him what was his worst decision, and without missing a beat he quips, “The worst – becoming a lawyer.” That unique sense of humor and ability and willingness to not take himself as seriously as many of his fellow practitioners is what sets this veritable treasure of the Detroit legal community head and shoulders above the pack. He is comfortable with presenting a persona very much in contrast to the media-perpetuated image of a lawyer who, in sound bites on the 11 p.m. newscasts, is frequently shown blasting someone. There are so many facets of Yatooma’s colorful life and career to explore, that a detailed dossier could easily fill the pages of this entire magazine. Since founding Norman Yatooma & Associates P.C., in 2000, he has earned an international reputation for his litigation practice in the fields of franchise, class action, serious injury, corporate and employment law. His counsel and representation is highly sought after whenever significant state and federal court litigation and arbitration is required. Widely heralded by his peers as an outstanding negotiator, Yatooma has achieved excellent results for his clients including large settlements, successful contracts and business ventures, and other highly advantageous transactions. His list of clients and adversaries reads like a “Who’s Who” of the corporate world and includes such business heavy weights as: 7-Eleven, Adidas, Art Van Furniture, AT&T, Athlete’s Foot, BEHR Corporation, Burger King, Capital One, Citadel Broadcasting, Denny’s, Detroit Masonic Temple, the Ernie Harwell Estate, Everycontractor, ExxonMobil, Federal Express, Hour Media, J. M. Smucker, KFC, Mercede-Benz, Nextel, Papa Romano’s Pizza, Paul W. Smith, Pizza Hut, Shell Oil, Sunoco, The Thomas Kinkade Company, The Word Network, William Beaumont Hospital, Wireless Toyz, Ziebart and more. However, Yatooma is also just as comfortable in his role as Santa Claus on a sled for the event his Yatooma’s Foundation for the Kids (named in memory of his late father) provides every year. But most of all, Yatooma is a devoted father and husband. Asked to name the accomplishment of which he is proudest, he replies “Having four daughters and having them all look like my wife.” Yatooma’s personal life was shaped by a horrific tragedy, the still-unsolved murder of his devoted father, Manuel S. Yatooma, in a Detroit carjacking on March 11, 1993. This occurred while the younger Yatooma was still a 20-year-old undergraduate at Taylor University in Indiana – and on the day after he was elected as student body president. “My father raised me to be a lawyer,” recalls Yatooma. “He would always refer to me as ‘My son, the attorney’ because he thought I talked too much and he hoped I could make a living out of it. This was dad’s design, and as the patriarch of an old-school Arabic household, his will was not to be challenged.” But Yatooma did go against his father’s wishes that he attend the University of Michigan, instead following his wife-to-be Nicole to Taylor University. He recalls that after his election, he believed his father would have “begrudgingly approved” of his choice, but was unable to relate the news of the election victory to his father before learning that his father had been murdered. Yatooma was now suddenly thrust into the position of being the male head of the household and responsible for his three younger brothers, Jeff, then 14, Greg, who was 13, and 11-year-old Christopher. Their father had been shot twice in the head. “He died violently, but instantly,” recalls Yatooma. His brutal slaying crystallized Yatooma’s future law career. It not only provided Yatooma with motivation, but many of the cases he has taken stem from this personal tragedy – certainly there are parallels that are reflected in his representation of the family of Tamara Greene. Both Yatooma and the children of Tamara Greene lost their parent to unsolved gun violence in Detroit. Yatooma is extremely candid in discussing what followed his father’s murder. “It was a living hell, and we quickly went broke and lost most everything. Like so many other immigrants, my father had come to America with nothing and worked so hard to provide a better life for his family. The Cadillac he proudly bought ultimately resulted in his death, and even that was repossessed. Our house was repeatedly threatened with foreclosure. My mother was hospitalized with physical ailments five times in the early years following Dad’s death.” “Every one of my father’s business partners and creditors surfaced – there were 63 claims filed against my family.” While navigating his way through law school, Yatooma was also navigating through the litigation surrounding his father’s estate. Following his graduation from Indiana University and after several clerkships, Yatooma was hired by the venerable law firm of Butzel Long, P.C. “For the first time, I was earning a real living, I had a real income and I could now buy real orange juice instead of the frozen variety. That’s when I bought a car that wouldn’t stall every three blocks. I was lucky enough to try my first case a month after getting my law license.” That’s also when he first formulated the idea for the Foundation to help kids going through similar experiences that Yatooma and his brothers had endured following the loss of their father. of Manuel Yatooma’s death, the charity’s mission is to help families in situations where kids 18 or younger have lost a parent to death. It was an incredible accomplishment for Yatooma to take something as horrific as his father’s death and see it manifested into a multi-faceted charity that provides a full gamut of services from paying rent and other bills for the family to providing grief counselors – all at no cost to the recipients. Included among the incredible range of services is an Extreme Christmas Makeover, including an Ed McMahon-sized check to pay off their winter bills, new furniture for their home provided by Art Van, and food to fill their cabinets and refrigerators by Kroger. As Yatooma puts it, “That’s the ying to my yang: the Foundation makes folks happy in contrast to our law firm which endeavors to make our adversaries miserable.” But those who only see Yatooma as a pinstripe suit and pocket silk do not often visualize him in his preferred Santa suit. He has become on-the-street recognizable through his representation of Tamara Greene’s family which has thrust Yatooma into the media spotlight in a case involving the official obstruction of a homicide investigation where Yatooma wasn’t afraid to take on the Kwame Kilpatrick culture then prevalent in Detroit. “The issue here was and has been denial of access to the courts. The rights of three children have been deprived,” explains Yatooma. Nor was he hesitant to take on now-disgraced restaurateur La-Van Hawkins. “He stiffed me, so I seized everything he had,” adds Yatooma. Yatooma notes: “It is ironic that because of my public perception and identification with certain high profile clients that even some members of the legal community do not know that our firm practices in many fields of law. We are more than a group of personal injury lawyers, criminal lawyers, and constitutional lawyers. We cover the entire legal gamut from Appellate Advocacy to Regulation Z (truth in lending) and everything in between. We are a full service, Bloomfield Hills-based law firm providing a panoply of legal and consultative services to clients in Michigan, the United States, and in other countries of the world.” To this end, Yatooma is aggressively seeking additional “Of Counsel” affiliations to serve more clients with varying needs. The Yatooma Firm has franchised Art Van Furniture, Pure Sleep and Battery Giant among others and handles franchise litigation across the country, to include California, where they are the only law firm to acquire not only multiple franchise damage awards against the Thomas Kinkade Company, but multiple, multi-million dollar franchise damage awards. Honors have naturally flowed Yatooma’s way as his expertise was quickly noted by media outlets. He has been interviewed by “60 Minutes,” Fox National News, ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates, as well as People Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Times, Money Magazine, Fortune Small Business, CNBC Business News, Bloomberg News and many others. He was named a Super Lawyer by Super Lawyer Magazine, chosen as one of the top “Forty Under Forty” by Crain’s Detroit Business, a Top Lawyer in Metro Detroit by dbusiness, featured in The Franchise Times as one of the nation’s preeminent franchise lawyers, and received the coveted Corp! Magazine Diversity Award. Yatooma received his Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Taylor University, where he received the United States Achievement Academy’s All-American Scholar and National Collegiate Student Government Awards. He received his Juris Doctorate degree from the Indiana University School of Law in Bloomington, where he graduated with honors and was named to the Order of Barristers. Yatooma was also a recipient of the Sherman Minton Moot Court Competition First Place Award (which honors the late distinguished member of the Supreme Court of the United States) and the prestigious Moot Court Best Oralist Award, both judged and awarded by the late William Rehnquist, the former Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He has often served as an alumnus Moot Court Judge. Yatooma’s widely renowned sense of humor shines when he is asked what advice he has for those who want to have the same career as that in which he has distinguished himself. Replies Yatooma, “Go to Med School instead. I’ve never heard a patient complain that a surgeon took a quarter hour too long on his surgery, you can cut out what you don’t like, and you don’t have any opposing surgeons hiding the vital organs from you.” Indeed, it is reflected in his response to name what he sees as being the key traits for a leader. Says Yatooma, “Be willing to laugh at yourself, out loud and often. A good leader is a great servant. Otherwise, most things come down to perspective, purpose, perseverance, prayer and perspiration.” In order to really capture Yatooma’s personality, one has to understand what this writer would term as Yatooma’s Law 101 – lessons not taught in law school, but what he has learned from his legal cases and career. Among the highlights are these pearls of Yatooma’s legal wisdom: • A winning litigation mantra can only be – a head for an eye and an arm for a tooth; • The best way from A to Z is not always to travel the length of the alphabet; • Trust has to be earned over time, but can be broken in an instant; • Be responsible and take responsibility when you are not; • Money doesn’t lead, it follows; • If you have a problem, offer a solution; • Arguing with a stupid person makes you look stupid; • Good lawyers aren’t making friends, they’re making progress; • The best lawyers aren’t just lawyers, they’re business people practicing law; • Don’t represent the big guy or the little guy, just represent whomever is right; • Demand perfection, but settle for excellence; • Lawyers are like taxes – nobody likes them until they get their return; • The proof of your calling is the opposition you are facing; • We’re measured by our results, not by our efforts. • The darkest tragedies are often the gateway for the brightest triumphs; • Save a pit bull, hire a mercenary; • With all things except faith and marriage – have a back up; And, • In God we Trust – all others we sue. Yatooma is married to his grade school sweetheart, Nicole, a former teacher at Detroit Country Day School. They have four daughters: Olivia, 11; Gabriella, 7; Sophia, 4; and Ava who is 2.
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