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Ariel Rief, Esq.


  • J.D., University of San Diego School of Law

  • B.A., University of California, Los Angeles


  • State Bar of California

  • United States District Court - Southern District of CA


  • State Bar of California

  • San Mateo County Bar Association (SMCBA)

  • SMCBA Criminal Law Section (Chair)

  • San Mateo County Private Defender Program

  • SMCBA Barristers Section

  • California Public Defenders Association

  • California Attorneys for Criminal Justice


Attorney Ariel Rief.jpg

My Story

Earlier in my career, I was a criminal prosecutor—a deputy district attorney (DDA) first with the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office (2011-2012) and, second, with the Amador County District Attorney's Office (2012-2015). It's worth noting that in and after law school, I also completed four prosecutorial clerkships at three government offices: two with the San Diego County District Attorney's Office, one with the United States Attorney's Office, Criminal Division (Major Frauds Unit), and one at the San Diego City Attorney's Office (Land Use and Environmental Section).


As a DDA, I handled a wide variety of cases—from common misdemeanors to more serious felonies—and gained valuable litigation and jury trial experience along the way. Today, as a defense attorney handling cases ranging from DUI to murder, I believe my experience being behind the scenes of multiple DA's Offices and working together with law enforcement from several agencies gives me a helpful knowledge and perspective that's beneficial for my clients when preparing their cases.


My path to becoming a trial lawyer began after I graduated college from UCLA. I initially worked in the mortgage industry, but I was appalled by the rampant level of deceitful business practices where I worked. I spent most my time convincing potential refinancing homeowners that the loans my coworkers were pushing were actually not financially smart decisions. My bosses at the brokerage weren't thrilled with my brutal honesty. I decided to leave and go to law school. I felt my path in life was to help people and that law was a suitable way for me to achieve that purpose. 


While at the University of San Diego School of Law, my interest in criminal law and litigation sparked after achieving top grades in my Criminal Law, Legal Research and Writing, and Negotiations courses. That interest grew into a passion after clerking in several prosecutor offices and participating in, and winning First Place, in three consecutive Mock Trial Tournaments, which led to me competing in a national tournament in a Chicago federal court. I additionally clerked for a year at Thorsnes Bartolotta Maguire, a well-respected San Diego firm handling civil litigation.


In 2015, I moved to the Bay Area and initially joined a civil firm representing plaintiffs in consumer breach of warranty (lemon law) cases against automobile manufacturers. Although I have a passion for consumer protection, I wanted to return to criminal law, so I founded Rief Legal, my own law practice, in 2016. As a defense attorney, I've earned a reputation as a skilled and trusted negotiator as well as winning trial lawyer. Each year, I am honored to be trusted by hundreds of clients as I work to help get them through what's often the most difficult times in their lives. It's the greatest reward to see clients move forward in their lives after their charges have been dismissed or reduced. Each year, clients have trusted me to fight their cases to trial when necessary, and it's paid off with juries repeatedly returning Not Guilty verdicts (acquittals) every year.


Additionally, my office now handles Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) cases. With a criminal defense practice, I've seen firsthand many of the corresponding challenges people face (which incidentally often lead to criminal cases in the first place), such as addiction problems and financial crises. A particular challenge so many clients (or their loved ones) face is disability, meaning a significant physical or mental illness preventing gainful employment. Modest financial disability assistance to keep people afloat—namely SSDI—is often denied. (The Social Security Administration denies about 70% of applicants.)


Statistically, your chances of success on an appeal from a denial of benefits are substantially increased with the help of a lawyer. But how does one afford to pay a lawyer? The good news is that SSDI cases are handled on a contingency basis, meaning you do not pay me anything upfront; instead, I have to win your case first, at which point a portion of your awarded backpay covers my fee. At no point do you pay out of pocket. And if your appeal is unsuccessful, you are not on the hook for any fee.


Whether it's a criminal or a disability case, I don't play games with your life. My intention is always to advise with compassion, straightforwardness, smart strategy, and pragmatism. 

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