The Marin Lawyer recently sat down with Rob Epstein, City Attorney for San Rafael, who somehow manages to be both City Attorney and in private practice as well as have a family and life outside the law. Find out how he does it!

Why did you decide to become a lawyer?

I have been an avid reader my entire life and also love writing. I wanted to pursue a career in which I could be of service in some way to others. I did not think I had what it took for medical school, although I always have been fascinated by medicine and health care. At some point, I figured out that the law would be a good fit for me. Also, I majored in rhetoric at Cal, where we had a lot of pre-law students.

What is your practice area?

I love being in court and have handled a wide variety of civil litigation and trials. I particularly enjoy working with expert witnesses. My focus in recent years has been trust and estate litigation in probate court. Each case involves the history of a family, and each family’s story is interesting and unique. Because the cases are so personal, the relationship with the client often becomes very close. It is a privilege to be able to help clients resolve these cases.

How do you balance managing a law firm as well as being a city attorney for San Rafael?

I am thrilled to have recently formed a new partnership — Epstein + Holtzapple LLP — with my friend and colleague of 30 years. Bob Holtzapple and I met when we were new associates at Farella Braun & Martel in San Francisco. Bob made partner at the firm and managed their litigation department for many years. He has contributed tremendous energy and the highest level of competence to our practice, which has been so helpful to me. We have an amazing team of attorneys at our firm who have earned the trust and confidence of our clients and the courts, and the respect of our opposing counsel. I also have full-time staff at the City, in particular, our Assistant City Attorney, Lisa Goldfien. Most of the litigation filed against the City is handled by various outside counsel whom Lisa and I supervise. My role at City Hall is focused on attending City Council meetings and providing legal and strategic advice to the elected officials and senior staff.

Why do you live in Marin?

The older I get, the more I appreciate how lucky I am to have grown up in San Rafael and to be able to continue to live here. I love to get outside and can enjoy terrific trails a few steps from my door. I have lifelong friends here and my commute is two minutes!

What do you love to do when you’re not busy practicing law?

This past year, I have been spending a lot of time on my new electric bicycle, which provides the opportunity for exercise without sweating! I have frequently ridden to Court in my suit and tie and also ride constantly around downtown San Rafael. I have taken longer weekend rides to Petaluma, Bolinas, and points beyond. I am biking substantially more than I did on my old non-electric bike.

Tell us about your family.

My wife Lisa and I are the proud parents of Noah (23), Zoe (20), and Adam (17). We anticipate that our sweet dog Louie will soon be our only child at home. We are still trying to get used to that idea.

If you could pursue any other career besides law, what would it be and why?

I think I would have made a good psychotherapist. My late father-in-law was a psychiatrist and I admired him so much. My best friend is also a psychiatrist. Their work fascinates me, and in some ways I think we attorneys employ similar skills with our clients (especially those who are in litigation).

Why did you join the MCBA?

I joined immediately when I began my Marin County practice 25 years ago. I especially appreciate the MCBA’s support of Legal Aid of Marin and of our local judges.

If you had to pick a single highlight of your career, what would it be?

The trials are highlights, especially those in which I had the opportunity to work with and learn from extraordinary trial attorneys (including Dave Freitas, Ralph Thomas, and Herb Rowland). But the most memorable for me was a wrongful death case — a Kaiser arbitration — in which I was unsuccessful. It was a tragic case that involved a husband and father in his late 30s who died shortly after he was discharged from the hospital emergency room. I tried the case with Paul Melodia, who had provided me my first law clerk job at his firm 30 years prior. Paul has more than 400 jury trials! The way that Paul organized and delivered his closing argument will always stay with me. Such talent is truly extraordinary. (I still think we should have won the case.)