Joshua Rubenstein

The Specialist

Trusts and estates attorney Joshua Rubenstein ’79 is an expert of the highest order when it comes to helping clients achieve their wealth management goals

By Peter Kiefer

Spring 2012

Upon completing his undergraduate degree in Greek and Latin, Joshua Rubenstein ’79 was sure of one thing: “I knew with 100 percent moral certainty that I would never be a lawyer as long as I lived,” says the man who, at the time, had convinced himself it was necessary to resist the career paths of his father, grandfather, and great grandfather, all of whom worked as trusts and estates lawyers in New York City.

Within a matter of months, though, it became clear that his lineage meant any resistance would prove futile. Joshua Rubenstein was meant to be a trusts and estates attorney.

For the past 17 years, Rubenstein has headed up the trusts and estates practice at Katten Muchin Rosenman in Manhattan. And although his dreams of becoming a Latin professor were dashed, due in part to an inability to come up with a solid doctoral dissertation topic, he now admits he couldn’t be happier to have entered the family business. “Being a trusts and estates lawyer is kind of like being the legal equivalent of Marcus Welby, M.D.—a general practitioner,” he says, adding that the field allows him to build close relationships with clients.

“You can’t plan for somebody unless you know what they do. I work for artists, art collectors, writers, actors, composers, inventors, athletes, entrepreneurs.”

Seated in a Katten conference room and dapperly dressed in a Zegna suit with a purple silk tie, Rubenstein explains the characteristics that make a successful trusts and estates attorney. The job, he says, is part financial acumen and part legal jujitsu, with a heavy dollop of psychotherapy added in—just without the official training. “You do become an amateur psychologist doing what I do,” he says. The key to success in his field, Rubenstein adds, is the ability to listen effectively and fully understand clients’ intentions.

“Josh really is kind of like a Renaissance man,” says Nancy Gabel, a managing director of Evercore Wealth Management who worked with Rubenstein as an associate at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson in the early 1980s. “He pays close attention to whomever he is involved with at the moment, so he knows a lot about everyone he is dealing with.”

Rubenstein says he gets by on just five hours of sleep each night, which allows for all sorts of outside-the-office activities. He has taught at Brooklyn Law School and is a member of the professional advisory councils of nearly every major New York City cultural institution, including Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the New York Philharmonic. Rubenstein’s interests also extend to child health services. He refers to his tenure as president of the Irvington Institute for Immunological Research as one of the most gratifying of all his philanthropic efforts. 

An unabashed polymath and a father of five, Rubenstein beams with pride when discussing his children and their varied interests. His oldest daughter is a professor of religion at Wesleyan University, his oldest son a cartoonist. The other three are still in school, and it may be a bit too early to tell whether there is a lawyer among them. But Rubenstein has a hunch. When pressed, he predicts that his 19-year-old daughter (an undergraduate at Wesleyan) seems a likely candidate to end up in the family trade. “I would never press any of them, but I could definitely see that happening,” he says with a smile.

Peter Kiefer has written for The New York Times, among other publications.