Joseph Braunstein, 84; bankruptcy attorney, mentor for young lawyers

Mr. Braunstein received the Boston Bar Association’s first Lifetime Achievement Award.
Mr. Braunstein received the Boston Bar Association’s first Lifetime Achievement Award.

In the law offices where he handled bankruptcy cases during a career that spanned more than 55 years, Joseph Braunstein spoke with colleagues and staff about any number of topics that had nothing to do with legal work, from tomato plants to model airplanes.

“He had that talent of remembering what everyone’s interest was and had such a nice, open and friendly way about him that he always connected with people,” said Stanley Riemer, a managing partner at Mr. Braunstein’s firm who knew him for four decades or more.

When Mr. Braunstein and his family went out to dinner, it was difficult for his wife and children to finish a meal without interruptions because he often stepped away to greet friends and colleagues who entered the restaurant.


“We could barely eat with them,” said his son Barry of Weston.

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Mr. Braunstein, a longtime senior partner at Riemer & Braunstein, died of a heart attack Sept. 25 near his home in Boynton Beach, Fla. He was 84 and before moving recently to Chestnut Hill had lived for many years in Weston, and for years spent part of his time in Florida.

In 1998, the Boston Bar Association recognized Mr. Braunstein for his work in bankruptcy law with the organization’s first Lifetime Achievement Award.

“I just do my job, do my work, and it’s gratifying to see how well recognized it is,” Mr. Braunstein told the Boston Business Journal after receiving the award.

The late M. Ellen Carpenter, a respected bankruptcy lawyer who at the time chaired the association’s bankruptcy law committee, told the journal at the time of the award that Mr. Braunstein was “someone who the young attorneys watch in the courtroom and can learn a lot from.”


During the 1970s, Mr. Braunstein became a key partner at Cohn, Riemer & Pollack and the longtime head of its bankruptcy department. The firm became Riemer & Braunstein in 1979.

He was “tremendously successful” as a bankruptcy lawyer and was a role model for other attorneys, Riemer said. Mr. Braunstein, he added, enjoyed being a teacher and mentor to new attorneys who joined the firm.

“He expected a high level of performance from people and expected it of himself at all times,” Riemer said.

Mr. Braunstein was born in New Bedford and grew up in Newton, where he graduated from Newton High School.

He received a bachelor’s degree from Suffolk University in 1950 and subsequently graduated from what is now called New England Law, Boston.


Mr. Braunstein was young when his father died. Afterward, he thought of his future father-in-law and Newton neighbor, Ralph Cohn, as a mentor and role model during his teenage years. He married Cohn’s daughter, Sally, in 1951.

‘He expected a high level of performance from people and expected it of himself at all times.’

During the early 1960s, the couple began living in Newton, where they raised their three sons, all of whom became lawyers, before moving to Weston during the late 1970s.

More recently, they moved to Chestnut Hill. Over the years, Mr. Braunstein would only spend weekends in Florida during some months in order to accommodate his wife’s work schedule.

In 1953, Mr. Braunstein began his law career as a traditional collection attorney at Cohn, Riemer & Pollack. He left the firm briefly to establish his own law practice in Essex County before returning to Boston, where he worked for the rest of his career.

“In a sometimes harsh environment, everyone had just praise for him,” said his son, who is a senior partner at Riemer & Braunstein. “I think it’s just the way he treated people.”

A service has been held for Mr. Braunstein, who in addition to his wife and son Barry leaves two other sons, Alan of South Natick and Ron of New York City; a brother, Robert of Sharon; and seven grandchildren.

Away from work, Mr. Braunstein liked to go golfing with his wife and fly radio-controlled planes with friends.

“He saw people for what they were,” his son Barry said. “He was an everyman’s person.”

Mr. Braunstein never retired. He served as a court-appointed bankruptcy trustee and was affiliated with the American Bar Association, the American Bankruptcy Institute, and the Massachusetts Bar Association.

He was elected to the American College of Bankruptcy, for which he was a member of the pro bono committee.

“He was praised by judges for being incredibly deferential to anybody,” his son said. “He treated everyone with caring, kindness, [and] thoughtfulness.”

Michele Richinick
can be reached at