Spartan Lawyer Summer 2018


After six decades in practice, Norm Lippitt still commands the courtroom.

Norman Lippitt started college as a walk-on football player at Michigan State University. With over 100 scholarship players ahead of him, Lippitt quickly realized that he’d be warming the bench for four years. Instead, he transferred to the University of Detroit, where he played football and ran track. When it came time to start thinking about careers, he weighed his options with his customary pragmatism.

“My dad was in the jewelry business. I knew I didn’t want to do that,” explained Lippitt. “And I knew that I wasn’t qualified to be a doctor, so law seemed like a good choice.”

As it turned out, law was a good choice for Lippitt. He attended Detroit College of Law (currently Michigan State University College of Law), graduating in 1960. In that era, most young attorneys set out to become the archetypal “well-rounded lawyer” – the generalist, handling cases in every arena – and that’s the path Lippitt’s career took. He became Assistant Prosecuting Attorney for Wayne County, where he tried over 100 major felony cases before the age of 30.

“If not for the law college, where would I be?” he asked. “In my dad’s jewelry business, probably.”

He’s watched the legal landscape evolve over the last halfcentury. “Kids who graduated in the last twenty years will never have that kind of experience,” said Lippitt. “Old trial lawyers like me are pretty much dinosaurs.”

Lippitt has tried between 200 and 250 full jury trials to conclusion in his storied career (he’s stopped counting). He’s seen the courtroom from every side: as a prosecutor, a defense attorney, and a judge on the Oakland County Circuit Court. He’s tried civil and criminal cases in state and federal courts. He’s been a public servant and founded a private law firm.

Throughout his career, he’s always given back to his law college. He lectured from time to time, and served as a trustee for over twenty years, helping to guide the school from its previous home in Detroit to its new location on the campus of Michigan State University. Lippitt recalled the transition as “an entirely cordial process” on all sides.

As he formulated his estate plan, he included an exceptionally generous gift to Michigan State University College of Law: a bequest of $5 million. It is one of the largest planned gifts in the history of the law college. It was motivated, he said, by his loyalty to an institution that prepared him for decades of success.

“If not for the law college, where would I be?” he asked. “In my dad’s jewelry business, probably.”

While it’s been over six decades since his college football days, Norm Lippitt still isn’t interested in sitting on the bench. He continues to practice at the firm that he co-founded, Lippitt O’Keefe Gornbein, PLLC, and is currently preparing for an upcoming trial.

When asked if he’s planning to retire, his answer was immediate – and definitive: “Nope. I’m gonna die on the job.”