Ask Joe DeCotiis what his top priorities are and he’ll tell you, “Family is the most important, and then comes friends, then work.” But for Joe - who works at his family’s firm, and considers some of his Seton Hall colleagues “like family” - the lines between family, friends and work are often delightfully blurred and ambiguous – but are always strong.
Work is truly a family affair. He and his brother, Michael, a 1991 Seton Hall Law graduate, are co-Managing Partners at DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick & Cole – the firm his father, Bob DeCotiis, founded in 1984. But the work/family connection doesn’t end there. His uncle, Al, chairs the white collar criminal practice group at the firm.
The connection between the DeCotiis family and Seton Hall Law is both strong and multi-generational: Bob DeCotiis also graduated from Seton Hall Law, in 1969. Joe's cousin, Leigh, is currently enrolled and is in her second year. And then there’s Joe’s son. “My son Joe is a senior in high school now and he says he wants to go to law school someday,” Joe says. It’s my hope he’ll go to Seton Hall Law as well.”
Despite all this, Joe didn’t set out to become a lawyer. He graduated from Johnson and Wales with a degree in culinary arts and food service management. But with a wife and a baby on the way, he was soon looking for a career that wouldn’t require working nights, weekends and holidays.
“My wife and I decided I would only apply to one school and if I got in, I would become a lawyer. I chose Seton Hall because my family went there, but also because I knew that if I wanted to practice in New Jersey, Seton Hall would provide me with the network and contacts I would need to succeed,” he explains. “I would probably still be a chef if I didn’t get into Seton Hall.”
Fate may have been the reason Joe came to Seton Hall, but it was the welcoming atmosphere and the tremendous support he received that kept him there. “Right before my first set of exams freshman year, I went to [then] Dean Riccio because I still wasn’t sure that law school was the place for me,” he recalls. “He encouraged me to stay and stick it out and I ended the semester with a 3.6 GPA.” The two have remained close to this day, and Joe describes him as “like family.”
Joe cites the connections he made while at Seton Hall as one of the reasons behind his firm’s success. “My network of support is not limited to the people I met while I was in school,” he says, “It includes all the connections that my brother and father made as well.” Since it was founded in 1984, DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick & Cole has grown to a full-service, 80-lawyer firm that practices in a wide variety of specialties. “One of our newest areas is our solar energy programs,” Joe says. “We represent six or seven counties in an initiative to put solar panels on government buildings. We’ve bundled together a package that is a win-win situation for all the parties involved,” he explains. “The vendors earn a profit through tax breaks and the sale of their solar energy credits, and in return the towns purchase electricity at a guaranteed rate, which is up to 35 percent lower than their current utility rates.”
Joe and his family feel strongly about giving back to the school that gave them their start. Joe and Mike have served on the Seton Hall Law Board of Visitors since its inception in 2004. And this year, the DeCotiis family augmented their support when the firm made a substantial contribution to the Seton Hall Rising Campaign.
“We really respect Dean Hobbs and love all the things he’s trying to achieve for the school,” Joe says. “Supporting the Seton Hall Rising Campaign gives us the opportunity to support his vision and help him achieve it.”
The DeCotiis contribution will be used to make a number of capital improvements to create an enhanced meeting space for important events and symposia. The improved meeting space will be called The DeCotiis Boardroom in recognition of their family’s dedication to the school.
“We have a ‘family debt’ to Seton Hall Law,” Joe explains. “We all feel it is extremely important to give back to the school that gave us so much. This donation is a way to repay our debt with gratitude.”
Pictured from left: Bob DeCotiis '69, Joe DeCotiis '94, Mike DeCotiis '91 and Al DeCotiis..