A political life might have seemed a logical path for Brian Matsui, given his parents’ career choice. But the Morrison & Foerster partner and former Supreme Court clerk preferred a different adversarial process.

“My father was a lawyer before he went into elective office,” said Matsui, referring to his late father, U.S. Rep. Robert Matsui (D-Calif.). “That was a strong influence on me. When you are a legislator, you are working with law. But I never had the desire to be an elected official. I’m not sure why—maybe part of it was just growing up in Washington, D.C. I am far more interested in the on-the-ground interpretation of the law, and I like the adversarial process more in the litigation process.”

He doesn’t think his mother, U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui, is disappointed, he joked, adding, “Whenever I see my Mom, I think: ‘You’re a much better person than I am.’ It’s easy to criticize Congress, but what gets lost a lot is you have 435 people who really care about the country and it doesn’t always come through. They have fundamentally different perspectives.”

Matsui joined Morrison & Foerster about two years after the end of his 2002-2003 clerkship with Justice Anthony Kennedy. The lure was the opportunity to be part of building the firm’s appellate practice.

“Before I joined, I was at another firm where I was probably splitting my time 50-50 between appeals and trial work,” he recalled. “The Morrison & Foerster appellate group was pretty small at that time,” and Beth Brinkmann, then head of the group, seemed like a dynamic person to work with.

“I’ve been thrilled with the support of the firm and the way it has been dedicated to developing a first-class appellate shop,” he said. “And I’ve been thrilled with the type of work we have. It was a fun place to be and it still is.” Deanne Maynard now heads the group and, Matsui said, “She has been absolutely fabulous in growing the practice even more.”

Although he has yet to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court, Matsui has been author of numerous petitions, briefs in opposition and amici briefs. He is counsel of record on an amicus brief in this term’s Lozano v. Alvarez, in which the justices once again will examine the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. He represents the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment Appeals Project, the Battered Women’s Justice Project, Legal Momentum and others. The case will be argued next month.

Maynard is generous with Supreme Court work, he said. “She has been supportive in advocating that I should be counsel of record—both in pro bono cases and cases involving longstanding clients. She’s a great mentor and understands that the deeper your bench, the better you are as a firm.”

What attracted Matsui to appellate work and what keeps him engaged, he said, is the need to be a generalist.

“I really like the way you view a case—the way you try to distill it down to one or two critical issues at play,” he said. “It’s a fascinating process to go through, and to go through when you’re doing it with people who litigated the case. You appreciate the different perspective.

“The other thing is just getting to learn a lot of different areas of the law. Appellate law is one of the few areas where you can stay a generalist these days. Even in the Federal Circuit, you need to write briefs in a way that a very intelligent person can understand them.”

Matsui maintains an active pro bono practice and has handled cases raising a systemic challenge to the benefits system in the Department of Veterans Affairs; a putative class action involving foster care children; and the issue of life in prison without parole for juveniles convicted of non-homicides.

He is drawn to those cases, he said, in large part because they involve people “who have less of a voice.” And his firm, he added, is “a great place as far as being supportive of these types of causes when they come through.”

Matsui said he does have a life outside of the law firm—his two young children keep him grounded, as does his photography hobby. “I used to like creative writing when I was in college and I think photography has taken that place. I just like to get out there and find something interesting.”

Contact Marcia Coyle at mcoyle@alm.com.