Robert “Bob” Josefsberg traces his legal skill set all the way back to his upbringing. As a teenager in Brooklyn he attended Lafayette High School, an institution which, as the Podhurst Orseck senior partner readily discloses, has since closed “because it had the lowest graduation rate and the highest crime rate of any school in New York.” But for all of its faults, Josefsberg maintains the school gave him the most valuable education he ever received.
“I learned more about talking to jurors at Lafayette High School than I did at an Ivy League college and law school,” Josefsberg said, adding many of his childhood friends did not have the means of his peers at Dartmouth College and later, Yale School of Law. He believes his ability to empathize with people regardless of their background or disposition — as well as his lack of a “big vocabulary” — accounts for his decades of success, not only as a trial lawyer, but in his personal life as well.
“I get along with juries because I enjoy talking with them,” Josefsberg said. “That’s also a key to my relationship with my grandkids — I talk on their level.”
Since graduating from Yale Law School in 1962, Josefsberg’s gone on a veritable odyssey as a litigator. Besides his longtime base of Miami, he has worked in Los Angeles and Tallahassee while representing clients ranging from rock stars and high rolling corporate executives to the indigent. Although he’s best known today for his work as a commercial and criminal litigation lawyer, Josefsberg spent an early chapter of his career as an assistant U.S. attorney with the Southern District of Florida and a stint serving as special counsel to then-Gov. Bob Graham.
“As I look at my case list, they’re all people who I want to win for on a personal level, because justice is on our side,” Josefsberg said of his diverse clientele. “I represent a lot of lawyers on bar grievances. I represent law firms when they’re sued, and when I’m court-appointed, I’ll represent anyone.”
But his long list of clients have included international icons, like Jim Morrison of 1960s rock band the Doors. Morrison employed the attorney after he’d been after accused of indecent exposure during a concert at Coconut Grove’s Dinner Key Auditorium in 1969. About five decades later, Josefsberg continues to speak warmly of the late rock star.
“He was a lovely, humorous human being and he was very kind and considerate,” Josefsberg said. “Jim and I had a lot of fun and he behaved for three weeks, which I required [of him.]”
Josefsberg regards the case itself as a fascinating one due in part to the obscenity issues at hand.
“In selecting the jury I was allowed to ask all of them, including nice old ladies, ‘Does the word f**k offend you?,’” Josefsberg said, joking that many potential jurors fell out of their seat.
At 80 years old, Josefsberg’s proclivity for playfulness hasn’t waned. He quips that he went astray while raising his two daughters who entered the legal profession — one of whom is a prosecutor while the other specializes in pro bono work. “One’s on the wrong side, the other one gives it away for free,” he said.
But his daughter’s not alone. Josefsberg has a history of charitable work and pro bono legal representation. In 2010 he was given the Tobias Simon Award, Florida’s highest honor for pro bono work. He’s passionate about providing counsel to disadvantaged children, who he feels are “entitled to a fair break.”
“They don’t get everything that that many of the well-off get, but I like to help them when I can. I love those cases,” Josefsberg said. “Afterwards I don’t get any money, but a kid says to me ‘Thank you, you saved my college scholarship. I really appreciate it.’ And to me … that means a lot more than money.”
Reflecting on his career, Josefsberg is thankful he moved to Miami at the urging of his wife, Marlene, who wanted to be close to her family in the city.
“I wanted to go to L.A., my wife wanted to go to Miami,” he said. “We made a chart with all of the details and Los Angeles won. And she said to me, ‘Bob, fair is fair, you won. But when you’re working all day with lovely people, I’m going to be home alone with a baby and no family. And don’t be surprised some nights if you come home and I’m crying.’ At which time, we ripped up the chart and she pushed me into one of the greatest decisions of my life to come here.”
Beyond the idyllic scenery Miami lent as he raised a family of four, Josefsberg considers the city “one of the best around” for litigation.
“This community is a great community,” Josefsberg said. “It’s got its faults and its problems but we have lawyers here I’d match man for man, woman for woman, with any other place in the country. You’ve got tennis courts, you’ve got swimming pools, you’ve got sunshine. … There’s a lot of talent down here, and it’s understood there’s something more important than Wall Street or Washington. … There’s a life.”
Robert “Bob” C. Josefsberg
Born: Sept. 23, 1938, Brooklyn, New York
Children: Amy, Kenny, Karen and David
Education: Dartmouth, B.A., 1959; Yale Law School, J.D., 1962
Experience: Partner, Podhurst Orseck, 1981-present; Counsel to Florida Gov. Bob Graham, 1980; Pearson & Josefsberg, 1967-1980; Special Counsel to the Grand Jury of Dade County, 1966–1967; Nichols Gaither Beckham Colson Spence & Hicks, 1965-1966; Assistant U.S. Attorney, Southern District of Florida, 1963–1965; Bolles & Prunte, 1962