Lawyer, adjunct law professor, nationally known legal ethicist, humorist, author, musician — those are just a few of the adjectives that describe Michael Rubin, managing partner at McGlinchey Stafford.
“The most important, though, are husband, father and grandfather,” says the 64-year-old, smiling.
It’s his role as author that’s put him in the spotlight lately with his debut novel, “The Cottoncrest Curse,” which has Rubin and wife, Ayan, traveling the country to appear on radio and TV shows to promote the book, published by LSU Press. It’s the story of Col. Augustine and Rebecca Chastain, “who have met their deaths under the same air of mystery as the colonel’s father, who committed suicide at the end of the Civil War.” The local sheriff declares itinerant peddler Jake Gold the prime suspect in what he rules a double homicide. Gold is loosely based on Rubin’s great-grandfather, a Russian immigrant who left home at age 12 and began his life in America as an itinerant peddler.
Ayan Rubin came up with the title for the novel, which explores the questions of whether we can we ever know everything of significance about our family history and, if we did, would it change how we think about our family?
“Do we have an obligation to tell the unvarnished truth if it hurts some and helps others?” asks Michael Rubin. “Then translate that into a page turner.”
On their daily 4:30 a.m. walk, the couple discussed plot lines, character development and more as the book took shape. The name had to evoke plantation life in the Deep South as well as indicate the involvement of an aristocratic family, most of whom had family crests, and the location of the plantation at a high point on the river.
“The minute she asked, ‘Why not call it Cottoncrest Curse?’ we both instantly knew that was the perfect title,” the author recalls.
Married for 44 years, the couple met when Michael Rubin was a freshman at Amherst College in Massachusetts. Ayan was a student at nearby Smith College.
“We met the first week of classes and got married the week after graduation,” he says. “She’s my best friend, my best editor and my best critic.”
Michael Rubin played in a jazz band while at Amherst — four nights a week at a hotel on campus.
The girl who warmed up the audience for them was none other than Natalie Cole. And after graduation all the band members decided to attend law school, but Michael Rubin is the only one who’s kept up the music.
Michael Rubin grew up in Baton Rouge, son of Janice and federal Judge Alvin Rubin, and returned to Louisiana to attend law school at LSU. Because of the long shadow cast by his late father, he had no intention of staying here to practice law. “Yet, here I am,” he says with a chuckle.
He graduated from law school in 1975 and worked his way up to partner in the firm of Sanders Downing Kean & Cazedessus before founding his own firm, Rubin Curry Colvin & Joseph, in 1983. That firm merged with McGlinchey Stafford in 1993, and today Michael Rubin serves as a member of the firm’s managing policy committee and heads its appellate practice.
For the past 31 years, he’s been an adjunct professor at LSU, Tulane and Southern law schools teaching real estate, finance and ethics law. Ethics is one of the most frequent topics of Michael Rubin’s lectures around the country, Canada and England. He typically gives 20 to 30 talks a year and likes to incorporate a quick song or few moments at the keyboard into his presentations.
More often than not the songs he plays are his own compositions — he’s copyrighted about 40 tunes. He wrote the wedding music for his and Ayan’s wedding and also for daughters Bethany’s and Gillian’s weddings.
“I composed for a string quartet because the groom’s brother was a professional cellist and he was playing,” explains Michael Rubin. “For Gilllian’s, I composed for a 16-piece orchestra, and I played and recorded all the parts.
“I have no memory of not reading music,” he continues. “At age 4, my mom found me a music teacher — Naomi Singleton. I stayed at it until 12 or 13 when I decided classical music wasn’t for me.”
A lesson with the great jazz pianist Bill Evans’ brother Harry — himself a noted jazz pianist — got Michael Rubin hooked on jazz.
He started playing professionally at age 16.
“I always loved music, and I always played by ear and was able to compose,” he adds.
Along with a love of music, the lawyer has a love of writing that he comes by naturally.
“My father wrote wonderfully, and lots of articles have been written about his writings,” he says. “My mother was a fiction writer and poet, and was published in Ladies Home Journal. She’d write Haiku for me in my birthday card.”
He got started writing Pocket Parts, which updated the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedures Formulary.
“It’s a three-volume set lawyers used to draft briefs,” Michael Rubin explains. “I did that for years. It’s not something you want to read late at night unless you want to go to sleep immediately.”
With one book under his belt, he and his wife are now fleshing out the details for book No. 2 on their early morning walks.
“It’s called ‘Cashed Out,’ about a failed lawyer who’s divorced,” says Michael Rubin. “He has no money and no clients except for the dead one who just left him $5 million for safe keeping. When he refuses to defend his ex-wife even more things happen.”