Laurence “Larry” J. Cutler works hard. As founder and managing partner of Cutler, Simeone, Townsend, Tomaio & Newmark, a Morristown matrimonial law firm, he has to. But he plays just as hard—dashing off to Montana a couple times a year to ride horseback or spending his weekends flying a Cessna Skyhawk through the skies of New Jersey. The man is in perpetual motion.
“What is surprising about Larry is that he has so many interests that he can keep going,” says Gary N. Skoloff of Skoloff & Wolfe in Livingston. “He runs his firm, handles his practice, loves his family … and it wasn’t enough that he was riding a horse up and down mountains—he had to take flying lessons.”
And even flying is not enough; he has to engage in combat. “It’s a World War II dogfight,” he says of the aerial re-enactments he enjoys, his eyes darting with excitement. “You take a plane through various maneuvers, fire with a laser at the other plane. If you hit it, smoke comes out. Then you do a turn and realize the G-5 forces at work on your body.
“I like a challenge.”
Cutler works in a seventh-floor corner office, his tall windows overlook the roofs of the historic town and its encircling hills. On the opposite wall hang large color photographs of Crazy Mountain in Montana. In typical Cutler fashion, one photo of the mountain wouldn’t suffice. Instead, he displays shots from seven views, which are mounted next to a relief map.
Cutler flies to Big Sky Country at least twice a year, where he rides horseback “six days a week, six hours a day.” He says, “It’s a basic kind of place—nothing fancy, no swimming pool—we all eat at sawbuck tables family-style.”
Cutler’s longtime friend and colleague Jeffrey P. Weinstein of Weinstein Snyder Lindemann Sarno in Roseland calls him “the Hopalong Cassidy of matrimonial law.” The two met in day camp when they were 10. “He was immature then and he’s immature now,” Weinstein says with a laugh. To which Cutler responds, “I’m a bit of a maverick to begin with. I do what makes me happy.”
Robert J. Durst II, chairman of the divorce group at Stark & Stark, marvels at his friend’s energy. “As close as we are, like brothers, I don’t know what his motivation for all the activity is,” he says. “He does everything with a passion.”
The way Cutler sees it, he’s just making up for lost time. “When I was younger, I didn’t do a lot of things,” he says. “I don’t want to be on my deathbed wishing I had done more.”
Cutler has done plenty in his legal career. A legend in matrimonial law, he was the first lawyer to be both the chairman of the family law section of the New Jersey State Bar Association and president of the New Jersey chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. He literally helped write the book on family law, collaborating with Skoloff on the five-volume New Jersey Family Law Practice, which is now in its 11th edition.
“I really enjoy my work,” the 61-year-old says. “I think of retirement only in the abstract.”
Not that divorce law doesn’t have its frustrations. He is distressed by litigants who are “so easily headed for self-destruction in their quest to hurt the other person,” he says. “Too many lawyers don’t lean on clients not to self-destruct. I lean on them.
“I’ve always preached the virtues of early settlement, getting people out of the system. Divorce cases can change month to month, week to week, and now the response time is down to minutes.”
Cutler backed into matrimonial law. After growing up in Morristown he set his sights on becoming an electrical engineer. “I didn’t get into Harvard,” he says, “so I went to Oregon State.” But after a few semesters of analyzing circuits, he left Oregon to study political science at American University and interned for U.S. Rep. Peter Frelinghuysen of New Jersey’s 5th District. “Those were the days when Adam Clayton Powell was making big news. It was an exciting time for a young intern.”
The University of Kentucky Law School was next. (He actually didn’t get accepted there, but appealed, argued his case and won.)
“My grades had never been great,” he says. “I’d always had trouble with tests, but suddenly I had a law school average of 84.5; an A was 85. That’s when I caught fire.”
After graduation he returned to Morristown. “I opened an office in April 1971. It was just a little space with a secretary and waiting room. The rent was $100 a month. My father was in construction and he and I fixed the ceiling. I had only $200 in the bank. I took anything that came in the door,” he says.
As the new kid on the block he was asked to be the county’s legal aid lawyer. He struck a deal to handle legal aid trials and started to build his own practice by taking clients who were “too rich for legal aid and too poor for a real lawyer.” Then fate intervened.
“The Divorce Reform Act of September 13, 1971, changed the landscape, and I started to get a lot of business,” he says of the legislation that provided for the equitable distribution of marital assets. “Gary Skoloff took me under his wing. Then about 10 years ago I decided to start my own firm. We now have 13 lawyers and are the fifth-largest stand-alone matrimonial law firm in the country.”
On weekends Cutler saddles up Rusty, his registered quarter horse, and heads for the woods. “On a crisp autumn Saturday there’s nothing better than riding. … I see deer, sometimes a fox. I’ve just started to take lessons. … I wanted to get to the next level where you hardly use the reins at all. It’s about training me how to communicate with the horse, how the horse moves.”
Cutler loves his blue jeans, which he sometimes wears to the office—and his boots. But he also takes pleasure in his fine suits, his custom-made French-cuffed shirts and Brioni ties. “It’s a little bit of an incongruity,” he admits.
But not to the people who know him. Just ask his pal Skoloff.
“Most people live in a small square,” he says. “Larry lives on the planet.”