With a unique and remarkable personal background, Sal Simeone has emerged in recent years as one of Northern New Jersey's leading matrimonial lawyers. Certainly he is among the New Jersey bar's most colorful, memorable - and indeed inspiring - attorneys: A one-time letter carrier for the US Postal Service, the Newark native worked nights to finish college - and then to complete law school. He built, and then re-built, legal practices in Morristown, becoming, in over two decades, a high-profile fixture of the county's divorce bar.
Three years ago, in September 2012, the partners at Parsippany-based Weiner Lesniak brought in Simeone to lead its growing family-law department; with the 56-lawyer firm's resources, Simeone's stature and reputation have grown further: Now in his 50s Simeone is a proven litigator, excellent with people, yet he's retained, rather appealingly, his Newark-Italian roots, the source of his natural passion and volubility. "I've always been known for being direct - even brutally honest sometimes," says Simeone today. "But I couldn't be any other way."
By his own estimation, growing up in the tight-knit Irish-Italian Vailsburg section of Newark "sheltered me from the real world, and when I got to it, I just wasn't ready." A freshman recruit to the Springfield College (MA) football team, Simeone got an early taste of life away from home: "I was #6 on the depth chart for running backs, and at 6-feet 190 lbs I thought I could match up. I was a pretty cocky kid. One day after practice I called my dad from a payphone on my way back to my dorm and told him I was coming home." His next round of college, at nearby Montclair State, hardly went better: "I'd take a pool cue to the campus game room, and left my books in the car. I lasted about a semester."
By age 25, and recently married, Simeone was hired by the Postal Service as a letter carrier in Morristown, NJ. His first stop on his mail route: Offices of Laurence J. Cutler, 60 Washington Street, Morristown, NJ, who struck up a friendship with the affable Simeone. "Larry was a great motivator and entrepreneur," says Simeone today. Within a few years Simeone re-started his academic career, modestly: He took night classes at Community College of Morris, and later transferred to after-hour classes at Rutgers-Newark. His academic performance improved "more than a lot," he says, spurred in no small part by a job situation he'd tired of: "Supervisors yelling at you every day, and people in the ranks making fun of you for going to school."
After a year at Widener's School of Law, Sal transferred into Seton Hall University School of Law, long a key institution for the state's legal profession: It was there that Simeone achieved a measure of professional credibility - and access to opportunities that had eluded him.
Simeone's first job practicing law was with the Morris Plains office of divorce lawyer Sheldon Simon. In late 1996, Cutler had an opening and offered it to Simeone. Over 12 years, Cutler and Simeone built a strong divorce practice, based in offices overlooking Morristown's Green. "It was a pretty good run but we grew too big too fast - we encountered some growing pains."
Simeone built a reputation as an effective advocate for what he calls the "supported spouse" - usually the wife, who had the least financial control in the marriage. In 2008, after his own divorce, Simeone made the decision to leave Cutler, Simeone and began his own practice with his ex-wife's boyfriend ("an interesting arrangement") until he launched The Simeone Law Group in September 2010, again in offices overlooking the Green in Morristown. Two years later, in September 2012, Simeone was recruited by Paul Weiner, Managing Partner of Weiner Lesniak. Simeone and nearly all of his people joined the firm to start Weiner Lesniak's matrimonial department. Since then Simeone re-joined an old colleague, Christopher Garibian, and today they are driving the firm's growth in Matrimonial Law.
Most recently, Simeone has made strides to re-define himself - no longer simply a street smart, aggressive litigator but also now a consigliere to clients who, like Simeone himself, are self-made professionals, including attorneys, physicians and business owners. In many respects, joining Weiner Lesniak "gave me the chance to create the kind of small, sophisticated practice I was always looking for." By his own estimation Simeone says he's mellowed a bit: "In the early years I was very aggressive - probably too aggressive - when I got into the courtroom. But it was all genuine, sincere. My clients wanted their honor protected, defended, and I was more than capable of doing so. I am still very assertive, but I have tempered myself - and that's only made me a better, more effective attorney. It's hard work - I don't appreciate or want any lawyer jokes."
Today Simeone, re-married to his high school sweetheart, Cindy, has a daughter, Alex, attending the University of Pittsburgh this September and a son, Sal Jr., who attends Whippany Park High School. He lives in nearby Florham Park. "I didn't exactly take the traditional path - but my clients see that I work hard for them. And I call them as I see them. That's the only way I know how to be."