Joe Kellerman was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania September 3, 1965. He moved to South Florida at the age of 10 and graduated from North Miami Beach High School in 1983. From there, after a two year stint at Emory University in Atlanta, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminology and Law from the University of Florida. He then returned to the Philadelphia area and was employed as a hi-tech machinist until he entered law school in 1988 at the University of Oregon. He came out to Oregon because, in his own words, "I liked the pictures in the brochure."
After graduating from law school in 1991, he accepted a fellowship/scholarship from the Ford Foundation and obtained an LLM degree in International Law and Marine Affairs from the University of Washington. Preferring a small town lifestyle, he and his future wife, Win, moved to Southern Oregon where he was employed by Blackhurst, Hornecker, Hassen and Ervin B. Hogan. His main motivation in accepting that employment was to learn under the tutelage of Ervin B. Hogan, then one of the premier litigators in Oregon. He became a partner with the firm in 1996. Thereafter, the firm merged with Cowling & Heysell to become Hornecker, Cowling, Hassen & Heysell, L.L.P., now Hornecker Cowling LLP.