A Brave Spirit, Some Genius and a Lot of Heart

The saying goes, “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.”

For Attorney Norman Yatooma, it was the death of his father that made him stronger.

“The loss of my father and the experience that followed were the most life challenging events I endured,” said Yatooma. “It’s through the grace of God that I got through it.”

Manuel Yatooma was shot to death while interrupting a carjacking in Detroit at one of his seven convenience stores, leaving behind four sons, a wife and litigations from more than 60 creditors. At 20, Norman Yatooma, while trying to grieve, found himself being a father to three brothers, ages 14, 13, and 11, as well as settling lawsuits before he’d even entered law school.

“From the time I was 5 years old, my father introduced me to people as, ‘my son, the attorney,’” said Yatooma. “After his death, becoming an attorney became more of a necessity than a wish.”

Yatooma, born in the United States to a Chaldean father and a Lebanese mother, attributes having attained the label of attorney to his ability to “talk too much.”

That’s awfully modest. Without a brave spirit and some genius, he couldn’t have gotten to where he is today at the young age of 37.

Yatooma founded Norman Yatooma & Associates, P.C. in August of 2000, after leaving one of Michigan’s largest law firms, Butzel Long, P.C. He has represented hundreds of businesses and individuals throughout the world, litigating for or against several Fortune 500 companies such as Adidas North American, Ameritech/SBC Communications, Athlete’s Foot Marketing Associates, Burger King Corporations, Capital One Financial Corporations, Denny’s Corporation, ExxonMobil Corporation, Federal Express Corporation, KFC Corporation, Mercedes-Benz USA, L.L.C., Nextel Communications, Inc., Pizza Hut, Shell Oil Company, and Sunoco.

What distinguishes him from other attorneys?

“Most lawyers falter because they think like lawyers,” said Yatooma. “They go through the motion without keeping in mind the client’s business purpose, their end in mind. Here we think like businessmen with the license to practice law.”

While this is a great philosophy, it is not the secret to his success.

The real secret lies in the following formula:
1) Prayer 2) Perspective 3) Perspiration

“I can do all things through Christ,” he said. “Nothing I face at the office will be an exception to that.”

And through it all, Yatooma never loses perspective on the importance of family. His relationship with his wife and 4 daughters help him manage stress and make him a better lawyer.

Crediting his wife, Nicole, for helping him become the person he is today, he adds, “Nicole is the best evidence I have that I’m an overachiever.”

The two have been together since childhood. They played on the same playground, went to the same schools and ultimately, Yatooma “followed her to college to make sure she doesn’t get away.”

The value he places on family is evident in his office, which is filled with family photos. To him, that value represents how he treats his clients. It’s also partly why he founded Yatooma’s Foundation for the Kids.

“As a father, I know that no one could offer my daughters what I strive to give them daily, but in my absence, I would certainly like someone to try,” he said. “So, indeed, we [the foundation] shall try.”

Launched on Father’s Day, 2003, ten years after his father’s death, Yatooma’s Foundation for the Kids is a non-profit organization, created in his father’s name and memory, and determined to fill some small part of the void left behind by the loss of one or two parents.

The Foundation’s mission is to “bring tenderness to tragedy and turn tragedy into triumph by providing practical, professional, and personal assistance at each stage of a child’s grieving and recovery process…. to give them the chance to remain children for a little while longer…. rather than thrust by their circumstances into the responsibilities and development of adulthood.”

“Unfortunately, when I lost my father, there was no organization like For The Kids to provide us with the much needed support,” said Yatooma. “The organization has been running strong since it began and it has received a lot of community support.”

While Yatooma admits that being an attorney is a stressful way to make a living, as everyday is a game day of battle and competition, he loves the law and advocacy part and he takes satisfaction being a mouthpiece for his clients – especially the underdog.

That’s one reason Yatooma agreed to represent Jonathan Bond, one of three children of the slain exotic dancer Tamara Greene, in a lawsuit against the City of Detroit. The suit contends former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and police officials covered up an investigation into Greene’s unsolved killing and suggests Greene may have been killed for her role in a never-proved party at the Manoogian Mansion. The case, with its trial set for January, seeks more than $150 million in damages.

“When Jonathan’s father called, I said no at first, but then he came in with Jonathan and I said yes,” Yatooma recalled. “As a young man who was 10 years old when his mother was killed and like me was left to be a parent at a young age to his siblings, I couldn’t turn down the case.”

As Yatooma’s father, the homicide of Tamara Greene has never been solved.

One can’t help but wonder how proud Manuel Yatooma would be of his sons, all four of them having led a successful and dignified life. Only his wife, Andrea, would know the answer to that – as she has had the chance to witness and enjoy the blessings every parent wishes for their offspring.

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