The Letter of the Law
Former Morristown postman Sal Simeone strives to make a difference for families
Published in 2013 New Jersey Super Lawyers magazine
on March 15, 2013
Updated on April 9, 2013
For nearly 11 years, from Washington Street to Fairview Place, Sal Simeone delivered the mail in Morristown. When a hard day’s work was done, he changed out of his postman uniform—and got ready for school. “When I saw people working in the post office and raising families of three and four—I think a full-time salary at the time was like $43,000 to $44,000—I could only imagine how they struggled,” Simeone says. “I wanted to try to do better for my family.”
All of his degrees—associate, bachelor’s and J.D.—were earned at night. His day job served as motivation. “All along Washington Street, which was 65 percent of my route, [there] were many lawyers, accountants and doctors,” Simeone says. “Every day I was delivering mail to professionals. It just reinforced for me that was what I needed to do: I needed to raise myself up and do better.”
Simeone would get up at 6:15 a.m., spend the day outdoors, come home at 3:30 p.m., scramble to change clothes and grab a bite to eat before school. “In a way, I wouldn’t change it for a million dollars because the journey made everything so much more satisfying,” he says.
When Simeone graduated from Seton Hall University School of Law in 1994, one of his first steps was the first stop of his mail route: 60 Washington St., Larry Cutler’s law office. He inquired about working for the firm. Though Cutler didn’t want to expand his solo practice at the time, he invited Simeone to dinner two years later. For dessert, he asked him to join his law firm. Simeone agreed.
Eventually Simeone became part-owner of the firm. “Larry opened up many doors for me, introduced me to all the big matrimonial lawyers, helped me get my name out there, and ultimately showed me how to grow a practice, as he’s a great entrepreneur and marketer,” Simeone says. Those skills helped Simeone start his own firm with Dave O’Sullivan in 2008, which later became The Simeone Law Group. In 2012, the firm joined with Weiner Lesniak.
Through all of the changes, Simeone has maintained a passion for the practice area he started in right away, with a clerkship with Judge Catherine Langlois in the Superior Court’s family division. “I didn’t just want to be a run-of-the-mill lawyer. I wanted to do something where I could make a difference, and family law was what I thought would be it,” Simeone says. “Going on 20 years later, I feel like I have made a difference.”
Simeone’s fervor for family law has translated into taking on cases other attorneys avoid. “A lot of lawyers don’t like to do custody work because it’s very difficult. There are children involved and [these are] highly charged, emotional cases,” Simeone says. “It was something that I just gravitated toward.”
Simeone has developed a subspecialty: winning custody for fathers. “In the old days, fathers would accept every other weekend, and maybe a day or something, dinner during the week, but many of the younger dads now seek half custody, or actually go for full custody where they’re the custodial parent and mom is the visiting parent,” he explains. “That’s happened in many cases with me, at least 10 in the last four years.”
That area of law can be tough because of the emotions involved. “To me, custody and domestic violence are the two most emotionally charged areas of matrimonial law,” says Simeone who, every year, along with others in his firm, dedicates pro bono time to domestic violence cases for Jersey Battered Women’s Service. “You can always split the money up. … You can take a house and you can sell it and maybe one person gets more money than the other. You can split a pension up. But you can’t split a kid in two.”
In these tough cases, Simeone relies on his empathy. “One of the things that’s helped me become a success in my career is that I’m very sincere and very candid with my clients,” he says. ”I give my clients a true assessment of their case when they sit down in front of me. And I think that my clients can feel the sincerity across the table.”
It pays off. “When it’s about money they are grateful, but I find that the most grateful clients are the ones [who have] children. Whether it’s custody issues or parenting time issues, or there’s substance abuse issues involved,” Simeone says, “that’s where you make the most difference—when you help them protect their children.”