Mostly known for his high profile cases and aggressive nature in the courtroom, Norman Yatooma has earned a reputation for being a tenacious attorney with integrity and compassion for his clients. In an intimate interview with Ambassador publisher (and fellow attorney) Denise Ilitch, Norman Yatooma reveals his keys to success and explains how his roles as devoted husband, proud father and philanthropist have all played a part in making him the man he is today.
To what do you attribute your success?
Success is measured differently in different aspects of life, of course, but my most valuable and most precious successes have been in my home. No matter, the principles of those successes, whether personal or professional, remain the same. They are perspective, purpose, perseverance, prayer, and perspiration. You simply cannot place too high a value on knowing where you’ve come from and knowing where you’re going. On your way there, keep your head down, your eyes up, and your nose to the grindstone. If that doesn’t work, just marry someone better than you deserve; then everyone will know you’re an overachiever. In my experience, marrying well has cured most ills.
What is the guiding principle you live by?
I can do all things through my God who strengthens me. Add to that, take your work seriously, but not yourself. And finally, there’s really no substitute for a full head of hair.
What do you know now that you wish you knew earlier in life?
How to have daughters.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
Having four daughters and having them all look like my wife.
What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career as you?
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.
Who is your mentor and why?
My father – for doing so much, for so many, with so little. After he died, we found file cabinet drawers full of thank you notes from all of the people he had helped in his lifetime. We never heard it from him, he just did what he could, because he could. And as great men often do, they impact even more people in their death than they could during their lifetime. As such, our Foundation, founded in his name and memory, carries his legacy and continues the work that he started, helping kids who have lost a parent. And also, my mother – for she has the strength of Job. She lost both her father and her husband to gun violence and has somehow been made better for it. She is an inspirational lady who sets out her every day with the single purpose of making someone else’s day a little better.
What was the toughest situation you faced and how did you deal with it?
No question, the toughest situation I have faced was the murder of my father. It was a frightening and uncertain time. Dad was lost, and with him, everything we cherished in our present and hoped for in our future. We lost a mentor, provider, and protector. We were overwhelmed and unaware. As we covered the front windows with poster boards so that my baby brothers could walk freely to the bedroom, and as we spiraled from relative financial security to total monetary chaos, and as we became victims of the legal process long before I was a lawyer, I remember thinking it would have been so much easier to have just gone with him. But all things do work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose, and this was to be no exception. You’ve heard it said that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” well, what kills someone you love makes you stronger still. These are our perspective-changing and purpose-defining events in life, and while I miss him terribly and would do anything to bring him back, I know that our loss has offered us more to give.
What is the most important lesson you have learned in being a lawyer?
Don’t let them get you by the textacles. Pick up the phone and save yourself a subpoena.
How do you motivate others?
Typically, by suing them.
What do you think are the key traits for a leader?
Being willing to laugh at yourself, out loud and often. A good leader is a great servant. Otherwise, again, it’s perspective, purpose, perseverance, prayer, and perspiration.
What is your idea of a perfect day off?
It is exactly what I thought it would be when I was in high school – a day at the beach with five beautiful girls. What I didn’t know then is that those five beautiful girls would be my wife and four daughters. Really a day with them anywhere, doing anything, is a perfect day off. Indeed, when you live with five ladies, being well manicured doesn’t make you feminine, it makes you a good daddy.
What is the mission of “Yatooma’s Foundation for the Kids” and how can our readers get involved?
Our mission is to bring tenderness to tragedy and turn tragedy into triumph for kids who have lost a parent by providing practical, professional, and personal assistance at each stage of the grieving and recovery process. Quite simply, we’re bringing a soft touch to these families after mom or dad have died, helping them with everything from filling up the refrigerator, through our volunteers – to filling in for dad, through our big brothers – to filling in the blanks, through our grief counselors. We’re trying to touch their tragedy with tenderness and to help turn that tragedy into their own personal triumph, so that they too can have their own beautiful silver lining on an otherwise dark cloud left behind by the loss of a loved one. So many of our families have already triumphed over their tragedy with beautiful personal success stories, ranging from starting their own charities, to having kids on scholarship, to finding other special ways to touch the lives of others. Each of their successes makes our own silver lining brighter still. As for how your readers can get involved, there are countless ways. We need more volunteers, big brothers and big sisters, grief counselors, and help in every walk of life, as we help these families stand back up on their own two feet and re-engage their walk through life, changed as it is.
You have spent a lot of time and showed enormous tenacity on the Tamara Green case. Will the truth see the light of day? Do you believe truth prevails in legal cases?
Sadly, the truth does not always prevail in legal cases, but I know it will here. Good things come to those who wait, and these kids have waited quite long enough. While there are more questions still to be answered, we know that there are many willing hearts out there that have those answers, still struggling to get their minds to the table. We are confident that they will come and that these young clients of mine will have their justice.
Justice is important to you. Why? What experience led you to focus on such an important issue?
Again, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and what kills someone you love makes you stronger still. Almost ten years to the day before Tammy Greene was gunned down, I lost my father to an unsolved shooting in the City of Detroit. Unfortunately, that justice is now out of my reach, so I will focus my energy on that which isn’t. Mike Cox called me a mercenary. A mercenary is a professional soldier. For some of us, our soldiering is not just professional, it’s personal. I just pray God will grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Do you have a favorite Detroit moment?
I do. It was the day that Kwame Kilpatrick left the Mayor’s office. Oh, and the ’84 World Series brings back a cherished father/son moment – though Dad would have appreciated Kwame’s resignation even more.