With a strong academic background and a solid record in divorce litigation, Smithtown native Joseph DeMarco has emerged as one of Long Island's leading young matrimonial lawyers. He's part of a cadre of young partners at the Garden City firm of Schlissel Ostrow Karabatos, long one of the top family-law firms in the state. For starters, the 41-year-old DeMarco and his colleagues handle many of the most contested and complex divorce cases on Long Island today. Remarkably, he's worked nowhere else, and he was recommended to the firm by a judge formerly on the Supreme Court, Appellate Division; both reflect the confidence many have in DeMarco, who today plays a key role at the Schlissel firm.
In many respects DeMarco - even-tempered, hardworking, with a record of volunteer commitments - represents a new generation of skilled New York attorneys in family law; he'll likely be a leader in the specialty for years to come. DeMarco says "My parents gave me my work ethic - I've held some kind of job since I was 12 years old." When he wasn't working at his part-time commission sales job, he played ice hockey for his Smithtown High School team. Overall, "I always kept very busy with school, work, close friends and family." He chose Wake Forest ("Not much bigger than my high school"), in part, he says, to "take a different path" than many of his classmates who attended college in the Northeast, and to experience a "traditional college atmosphere"; he roomed down the hall from basketball legend Tim Duncan, majored in sociology, minored in psychology, taking undergraduate courses that would later help him in his matrimonial law practice. He was a mentor at a local Boys Club, "making it a point," he says, to do volunteer work that "helped influence a person's life." He adds, "I was always pretty solid academically," something of an understatement as he graduated near the top of his class - and in three years.
He contemplated a career as a FBI special agent, and a law degree was part of that thinking. Still, before law school he spent a year as a legal assistant at the Manhattan office of Morgan Lewis & Bockius, assisting in the firm's big M&A deals; later at Tulane Law he took courses in matrimonial law, and "I just found that working for and helping individuals, and litigating on their behalf, would be more satisfying. I was more motivated by the idea of helping people with real-life problems." In law school he interned for a Judge sitting in the Matrimonial part of the Nassau Supreme Court, who spotted DeMarco's potential as a family lawyer. That year DeMarco was referred to attorney Stephen W. Schlissel, whose firm has been a force in divorce law for decades. DeMarco joined the firm that would later be known as Schlissel Ostrow Karabatos, PLLC even before passing the bar in 2002; for the last 15 years he has handled more and more of the firm's most contentious and complex cases for clients. His influences have been his colleagues - Schlissel (A "brilliant innovator"), Elena Karabatos (A "skilled litigator and extremely persuasive advocate") as well as the late Ronald Poepplein, whose "encyclopedic knowledge" of the law and trial practice was well known and respected inside and outside the firm.
Today there are seven lawyers at the firm - one of the largest divorce law firms in the region - "there's no question we're a diverse group of personalities," but "we haven't developed our approaches and styles in a vacuum. There are a lot of positive and productive influences in our firm." DeMarco too has a strong grasp of case-law - "New York's family case-law is about as dynamic as there is - it's fascinating for any lawyer, always challenging. It's been a perfect fit for me." DeMarco has few illusions about all the social change of the American family: When asked about same-sex marriage - "No surprise - it will have its share of same-sex divorce."
Well-rounded in his knowledge of the law, he has taught a business law courses at Nassau Community College and frequently lectures on various family law topics for continuing legal education courses. DeMarco and his wife Alida - they met in law school, and she is a native of Panama - have two young children.