Criminal Defense Attorney Ariel Rief (2)

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

  • California Attorneys for Criminal Justice (CACJ)

  • California Public Defenders Association (CPDA)

  • San Mateo County Bar Association (SMCBA)

  • SMCBA Criminal Law Section (co-Chair)

  • San Mateo County Private Defender Program

  • SMCBA Barristers Section



My path to becoming a trial lawyer began after I graduated college at UCLA. I initially worked for a mortgage brokerage in San Diego, but I was appalled by the rampant level of deceitful business practices in the industry. Unlike the brokers and loan officers around me, I spent most my time convincing potential customers to not refinance their home loans because it was often a financially unwise decision. My bosses were not excited about my brutal honesty. So I left my job and instead pursued a legal career—a far more suitable role for me—to achieve my life's purpose to help people. 


In law school at the University of San Diego School of Law, my interest in criminal law and litigation sparked after achieving top grades in three particular classes: Criminal Law, Legal Research and Writing, and Negotiations. 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 the well-respected San Diego civil litigation firm of Thorsnes Bartolotta Maguire.

After law school, I started out as a criminal prosecutor—first as a deputy district attorney 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 prosecutor, I handled a wide variety of cases—from common misdemeanors to 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 benefits my clients. 


In 2015, I moved to the Bay Area and initially joined a civil litigation firm representing consumers in breach of warranty (lemon law) cases against automobile manufacturers. Although I have a deep interest in consumer protection, in 2016 I returned to criminal law—my first career passion—and founded my own office, Rief Legal. Additionally, a portion of my practice is dedicated to indigent defense cases appointed through the San Mateo County Private Defender Program, which enables me to defend individuals who do not have the financial resources to hire a lawyer.


As a defense attorney, I've earned a reputation as a skilled negotiator and winning trial lawyer. Each year, hundreds of clients trust me to help get them through what's often the most difficult times in their lives—a profoundly rewarding, yet weighty, responsibility. Whether that means negotiating the reduction or dismissal of criminal charges or fighting a case all the way to trial, I take whatever path is necessary to help clients get back on their feet and moving forward productively in their lives. My intention is always to advise with compassion, transparency, smart strategy, and pragmatism.