The Honorable Rita F. Lin was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to serve as a Superior Court Judge for the County of San Francisco, State of California, in 2018. Judge Lin is currently assigned to the criminal courthouse, presiding over felony and misdemeanor criminal trials. Before that, for the last two years, she presided over a felony preliminary hearings calendar, which involved holding evidentiary hearings on motions to suppress and probable cause and ruling on a variety of pretrial motions. Judge Lin reports that she enjoys her criminal law assignment and finds the work to be deeply rewarding.
Judge Lin was a summer associate at Morrison and Foerster. After clerking for the Honorable Sandra Lynch of the First Circuit Court of Appeals, she joined MoFo in 2004 as an associate and was elevated to partner in 2012. During her tenure at the firm, she focused her practice on financial services litigation and primarily handled complex litigation for banks and lenders who faced consolidated multidistrict litigation or waves of related class actions and/or government enforcement actions around the country. Additionally, she occasionally worked in intellectual property litigation, focusing mostly on software copyright and patent matters, a nod to her background in software engineering from her college days.
As a part of her active pro bono practice, she gained national attention for her work as co-counsel with Lambda Legal in a lawsuit challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which refused recognition of same-sex marriages. The statute was declared unconstitutional by the United States District Court in California. Judge Lin has said that arguing and winning that case remains one of her proudest career moments from her time at MoFo.
Judge Lin credits MoFo alumnus James McGuire and MoFo partner Michael Jacobs as having the greatest impact on her practice and serving as strong mentors during her time at the firm. From her first days at MoFo, McGuire and Jacobs taught her the value of thinking strategically about the end-game of the litigation from the very outset of the case. From them, she learned the value of not only understanding the client’s goals but also of putting oneself in opposing counsel’s shoes to understand what the opposing party wants to achieve and how. Judge Lin reports that this skill set is one that she continues to use daily in her work as a judge, and that it aids her in trying to craft practical solutions that satisfy all parties’ goals, as well as the broader goals of the criminal justice system.
Always an advocate for women, Judge Lin was on the Women’s Initiative Committee at MoFo and started a group for working parents to share tips and support there. MoFo’s maternity leave and reduced hours policies were an important component of her ability to succeed at the firm, and she wanted to make sure those policies would continue and be improved upon for attorneys who were coming up through the ranks. Judge Lin utilized MoFo’s industry-leading maternity leave and reduced hours benefits following the birth of each of her two sons. Although managing a caseload with a preschooler and a baby at home was never easy, she told us that she always felt that the firm had her back in terms of believing in her long-term success and wanting to make sure she had the flexibility to care for her family in the way that was important to her. The firm elevated her to partnership and nominated her to a leadership position in her practice group halfway through her second maternity leave, which, to her, spoke volumes about its commitment to those principles.
As the legal industry shifts with respect to the inclusion of women, Judge Lin is hopeful that progress will continue to be made to promote and nurture strong women attorneys. Judge Lin has seen a growing number of judges require that junior attorneys, and specifically women attorneys, be given an opportunity to argue motions in state and federal court. In addition, both women and men in the current younger generation of lawyers are more open about their need for workplace flexibility that accommodates family life. Judge Lin remains optimistic that, as a side effect of the pandemic, legal workplaces are becoming friendlier to remote work, as well.
Judge Lin’s advice for attorneys who aspire to become a judge? Remember that nothing is more important as an attorney, and later as a judge, than your integrity. As an attorney, you should always be candid with the court and opposing counsel and be careful not to overstate or misstate the law or facts. If you make a mistake and need to correct the record, admit your mistake forthrightly and fix it at the first opportunity. Everyone is human, and how you handle your mistakes is one of the clearest indicators of your character. Judge Lin also encourages attorneys to follow their passion in their career choices. Don’t be afraid to make an unconventional career move or try a new area of the law because, if you are passionate about what you are doing, you will find satisfaction and success in whatever you do.
Learn more about our MoFo Alumni community and their many contributions and achievements here.