Daniel Rubenstein '10

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Can you trace your career path to Steptoe & Johnson LLP?

It’s an interesting story, to say the least.  One that involves music, a chance opportunity to work at a law firm, and an unexpected, but fateful left turn in the middle of the Great Recession.

As a little kid I would regularly ‘plead my case’ – whether it be explaining why I should receive a higher allowance, why I shouldn’t get in trouble (for something I surely did), or something along those lines.  So maybe it’s no surprise that I became an attorney.  But, I also liked building with LEGO® sets (sans instructions, by the way) and tearing apart computers and putting them back together again… so much so that I majored in Industrial and Systems Engineering in college.  The idea for putting engineering and law together came about a few years earlier when I was in high school.  Our high school’s chorus was invited by a law firm to sing for the holidays in one of the iconic Philadelphia skyscrapers where they had an office.  It was there that the Managing Partner invited one of us students to work at the firm as an intern for the summer and learn about a career in law.  As a likely very overdressed mailroom clerk, I got to know a few of the Intellectual Property (IP) attorneys and learned about their technical backgrounds and experience.  I was fascinated by the idea of IP and decided to follow in their footsteps.

Almost a decade later, in the midst of the Great Recession of 2008, I was a 2L in the IP Program at Maryland, just getting underway with the OCI process.  Bear Stearns had already gone under in the spring, and Lehman Brothers collapsed in September – coincidentally, the exact same week that I had scheduled about a dozen interviews with a number of IP and corporate firms in Baltimore and D.C.  The timing wasn’t great.  Those interviews, along with what would have been the entire summer class of 2009, were cancelled, leaving only a boutique Food and Drug law firm and a government agency interview the following week.  I excitedly took the Food and Drug position (happy to have a job), and so began my career as an FDA and food packaging attorney.  After nine years at that boutique firm, I moved to Steptoe, where we are continuing to build the firm’s expertise in this same space.

The path certainly wasn’t the straight line I had meticulously planned out for myself many years earlier as that intern/mailroom clerk.  To be honest, it rarely is.  But it’s certainly been an adventure.

Why did you choose Maryland Carey Law?

I wanted a public school experience in a major east coast city, at a school with an important combination of community engagement, an active alumni network, and proximity to local employers.  Maryland Carey Law checked all the boxes and then some. In what ended up being two significant advantages as my education and career took shape, Maryland Carey Law offered unique experiences such as participating in the IP clinic in College Park, and a nationally-recognized program in Health Care Law. That combination of having hands-on training and the strength of academics to back it up certainly helped pay dividends in the years that followed.

Was there a specific person or memory that you remember that made your time at Carey Law special?

Most definitely.  I had many mentors along the way that took me under their wing, had confidence in my abilities, and showed me how to reach my full potential.  Professors Patty Campbell and Julie Hopkins were always front and center in those efforts – always encouraging me to push further and reach higher.  I am forever grateful to them both. 

As a very food motivated individual (no pun intended), I can say with certainty that my favorite memories from my time at Maryland Carey Law always involved crab dip.  Yep, crab dip.  Alumni events, visiting scholars and diplomats, random Tuesdays – you name it.  Crab dip was always there, and it was my best friend.  It’s a quintessentially Maryland dish, and one that I hadn’t really experienced before moving to the area.  It also kept me and many of my classmates well fed as students on tight budgets.  While there were tremendous learning opportunities, community service events, educational programs, and social activities over the years that should be recognized in their own right, the thing that continues to stand out in my mind is crab dip.  So, to the administrators that made the wise decision many years ago to feature this wonderful high-calorie food group (crab dip is a food group) often, thank you for keeping us well fed.

We uncovered an old article you published in the Journal of Health Care Law and Policy  titled “THE EMERGENCE OF MANDATORY WELLNESS PROGRAMS IN THE UNITED STATES: WELCOMING, OR WORRISOME?” in light of the Covid-19 epidemic, do you have anything to add, any changes of heart, or have you not followed it since law school?

The fact that this question contains the words ‘uncovered’ and ‘old’ definitely puts the years into perspective!  All kidding aside, I was so incredibly excited when that article was chosen for publication, and I’m very grateful to my peers at the Journal of Health Care Law and Policy for that.  The idea for the article came from a family member who was working in the healthcare industry at the time, and had been told that a mandatory wellness program was under consideration.  It certainly got me thinking about the tightrope between an employer’s purportedly moral desire to keep their community (in this case, hospital staff) safe, and the potential for overreach when that desire had the potential of becoming a mandate for economic reasons.  It’s not at all difficult to draw a straight line between that line of thinking and COVID-19 vaccine mandates in healthcare settings.  Neither is an easy topic of discussion, and they are both highly emotional and sensitive issues.  Take a firm position one way or the other, and you’ll be sure to lose a popularity contest somewhere along the way.

The takeaway from the article – at least as I had intended it – was not to insert my opinion about whether mandatory wellness programs were a good idea or not, but rather, to start a discussion about the potential implications of taking policy positions that result in both intended and unintended consequences.  I wasn’t sure there was a ‘right’ answer then, and I’m not sure there’s a ‘right’ answer now.  Just combinations of outcomes, benefits and consequences, and the tradeoffs that inevitably come with each.  In fact, that sounds like a great idea for an aspiring Maryland Carey Law student to consider for a journal submission.

What impact did Maryland Carey Law have in your career?

I can only speak from my own experience, but one of the things that continues to amaze me is the practicality of the law program at Maryland Carey Law.  Real life as an attorney isn’t about theory and abstraction, but rather, it’s about practice and implementation.  Maryland Carey Law professors continue to teach law in a way that challenges students to learn how, and not just whyApplication, not just theory.  It’s an incredibly important distinction, especially when it comes time to begin a career and demonstrate competency in a given area of law.

Maryland Carey Law alumni look out for each other in a way that is truly inspiring.  As a student, and now as a professional, I constantly run into alumni that are welcoming of any opportunity to network, and are always looking to pay it forward to the next generation of law graduates.  The alumni network was there for me as a student, and continues to be there for me as a practicing attorney.  I strongly encourage students to find opportunities to reach out (even if just to say hello) and make those connections early and often.  You never know when they will come in handy, or vice-versa!

What is Steptoe’s Global Food Contact Materials Team?

We’re a unique combination of attorneys, scientists and environmental specialists that support the food packaging, food, and animal feed industries, and their suppliers throughout the globe.  We work with our clients to establish a suitable food or food-contact status for products and materials in the United States, the European Union (EU), China, South America (MERCOSUR), and other jurisdictions.  Many of our attorneys have technical backgrounds, and a number of our scientific and regulatory support specialists have prior experience working for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  We work closely with our clients, for example, to evaluate new and novel chemistries that they use to package food.  Some of these chemistries are designed to extend shelf life and reduce food waste; others are intended to be recyclable, lightweight, or more sustainable.  Where possible, we independently work to establish a suitable regulatory status for these materials, and we often provide legal opinion letters describing the basis for the same.  In instances where a regulatory submission is warranted (e.g., a Food Contact Notification (FCN)), we put together these dossiers and work with regulatory agencies such as the FDA and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) through the review process to help our clients obtain premarket approval to place new materials and substances on shelves.

Can you explain the Earth Day event that Steptoe has planned for April?

It’s going to be a lot of fun.  We’re inviting folks to come visit our Washington, D.C. office for a day and a half of interactive programing and conversation.  On the first (half) day, we will introduce attendees to the basics of food packaging regulation and compliance; on the second (full) day, we will place a special emphasis on "green" initiatives, including: reviewing the latest developments with respect to the EU Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP); addressing developments related to recycling and use of recycled materials; and discussing regulatory considerations for moving toward a "greener" supply chain. We also have invited outside speakers from FDA and trade associations to participate. After such a long hiatus from in-person meetings because of COVID, I’m really looking forward to reconnecting in person.  The event takes place on April 25-26, 2023, and the program is complimentary.  The link for registration is currently live on the Steptoe website. 

Any advice for current students?

One of my favorite quotes is “fortune favors the bold.”  It’s a saying I constantly remind myself to live by, both professionally and personally.  In practice, it means not to be afraid to take chances, especially early in your career as you begin to explore different areas of focus within the law.  Remember that the only difference between ‘junior’ and ‘senior’ lawyers is experience, and the only way to get that experience is to try new things.  Don’t be afraid to reach out and rely on your alumni network to get that experience.  LinkedIn is a great way to make an introduction, even if you seemingly have nothing else in common but a shared experience at Maryland Carey Law.  Be bold, make use of it, and let’s connect!

Any other thoughts or things you’d like to cover?

Remember to take time to step back, take a breath, and enjoy.  Most lawyers, by definition, are Type A individuals that are used to taking on tasks to the best and fullest of our abilities, and not accepting failure as an option.  That’s great – but there’s an important balance between professional success and personal fulfilment, and that balance only gets harder to achieve as our careers progress.  Develop healthy habits now, and stick with them.  Make sure to carve out some “me time” every day, and treat that responsibility the same way that you would treat any other.  Your older self will thank you for it. Oh… and be sure to enjoy some crab dip from time to time.