by Adina Genn

As managing partner of Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, headquartered in Ronkonkoma, Joseph N. Campolo brings to his work all of facets of his background, including his experience in law, business and as a U.S. Marine. He spoke about all of that, what he likes about business on the East End and more with LIBN. 

What led you to open a law firm? It started out as just me 10 years ago, [now we have] 53 people. I had been with some of the larger Nassau County firms early in my career, and then in-house general counsel for a technology company and then president of that company. In November 2006, we sold the division I was president of. I was out of a job. I wasn’t sure what I was going to be doing and said, let me represent some clients while I figure out the next steps. And 10 years later, here we are.

Did you have a specific concentration? Ten years ago, I didn’t have clients. It was with my background in the tech space, mergers and acquisitions that I started representing a lot of tech firms that were doing a lot of private equity. My first partner was strong in litigation. I had to add talent to continue the base we had – it all grew organically.

How did you choose your locations? My whole career had been in Nassau County. Everything was pushing east – there was no commercial real estate in Nassau County. I saw a great growth opportunity … from Hauppauge to Montauk for attorneys with good law and litigation experience. I picked Ronkonkoma, and we’re expanding. I picked this building right at the entrance of MacArthur Airport because of the anticipated economic development looking to occur here and with the Ronkonkoma Hub, the economic development on Veterans Highway – a lot of companies are located around here and it’s very convenient to get to.

And with Bridgehampton? There’s so much activity going on in the Hamptons. We want to be where there is economic activity and money. There weren’t a lot of law firms out there. We saw it as a great opportunity to go east, when everyone is going west.

Does your military background play a role in your business today? People think if you have a military background, you’ll run your business like a boot camp. That’s not true at all – it’s the opposite of what I have implemented here. The basic principles include extensive training programs at every level – we take it seriously, whether it’s operations, management, business development, legal training. There’s very robust training that, to me, is very important. It’s important that everyone has to be on the same page and trained. Otherwise, there are fiefdoms battling things out. Instead, we have a cohesive team.

How does it help in mentoring new employees? I lead by example. I take my job and responsibilities very seriously. I work to be a role model for younger people in the firm and set an example. That comes from my Marine Corps training, setting and communicating goals to people in an organization. We have a retreat every year and set our goals. You have to involve everyone, keeping them in the loop. It breaks morale if people feel they are not involved. The military promotes that troops eat first, and management has to wait. It’s counter-intuitive to the way Wall Street works, where the crumbs trickle down. Our growth over the last 10 years has been shared with our employees in terms of generous bonuses and investing in the firm.

What else? I’m not afraid to delegate things out. We have professional administrators and accounting people managing the business of the firm. A law firm is like a professional sports team. The talent are the lawyers – they win the cases, get results, close transactions. You wouldn’t expect athletes to win the game and then mail out flyers. Our way has been critical to our growth.

Did the firm do anything special to mark its tenth anniversary? I just celebrated with a party for the entire staff. We would not have gotten here if the firm hadn’t been designed for growth. I invested heavily so that the structure would be there.

Are you planning to open additional offices? Right now we’re looking in Riverhead for office space. It’s the halfway spot between Ronkonkoma and Bridgehampton.

How else are you looking to grow? I’m open to anything. We are looking for smaller practices that are seeking to merge. I’m certainly open to speaking to anyone.

Who are your next hires? We have a summer associate program – we’re gearing up now for a handful of law students from the law schools here so they can explore areas of the firm, and [meet] judges and elected officials in the area. That’s where a lot of our attorneys are hired. In the last 10 years we had very little turnover. We have such a unique way of training, we want to get them into that system as quickly as possible.

Why is it a priority for your partners to serve on boards? A huge part of our philosophy is that we are very public-service oriented. We typically give hundreds of thousands of dollars to over 100 charitable organizations. For the most part the attorneys and partners serve on the boards there and are very important to us. Our philosophy is simple: It’s about karma. If you give, you shall receive. Long Island is the goose that lays the golden egg. Our clients are here for the most part on Long Island. By giving back to the Long Island community, and keeping rates reasonable, we’re doing our fair share to contributing to Long Island and keeping the goose healthy so that it keeps laying golden eggs.

Is this a good time to go to law school? To me being a lawyer and getting a law degree is the best thing you can do in life. I practiced law, ran a business, and now I’m doing both. It’s great. I see too many people go to law school who have no interest or passion in being a lawyer. When you’re a lawyer, you have to have a passion for practicing law. To practice law – it’s not easy. When things go well, clients take credit. When they go bad, they blame the lawyer. If you don’t have the passion to be a lawyer, I would strongly suggest not going down that path. It’s a very consuming career. If you have the passion, it’s a great time to be a lawyer.

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