Jina Choi, former director of the San Francisco regional office of the SEC, has joined Morrison & Foerster. Credit: Jason Doiy /The Recorder.

Jina L. Choi, who led the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s San Francisco regional office until November, has made a move to Morrison & Foerster.

Choi has joined the firm as a partner in the securities litigation, enforcement and white-collar defense group, MoFo announced Wednesday.

“Jina, with her unique perspective, is going to be invaluable to clients as they set up their compliance infrastructure to avoid issues in the future,” firmwide managing partner Craig Martin said in an interview Wednesday. Martin also previously worked in the SEC’s San Francisco office.

When she stepped down from her SEC position at the end of November, Choi said she had planned to take a few months off before jumping into new professional endeavors. Her former position is still listed as vacant on the SEC’s website.

In an interview Wednesday, Choi said it was a good time for her personally and professionally to make a move from the SEC, after five years leading the regional office, which includes enforcement and compliance programs in Northern California, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, and Alaska. She said she considered several law firms, and MoFo was the best fit.

“It’s kind of a hometown firm here in the Bay Area,” she said. “It has a great reputation and solid base of clients. I think there’s room to grow as well.”

During Choi’s tenure, the San Francisco office brought enforcement actions involving Tesla and CEO Elon Musk’s Twitter activity, fraud allegations against Theranos and its founder Elizabeth Holmes, and inadequate disclosures by Yahoo Inc. about a series of data breaches.

Choi noted that she will have to abstain from representing any clients of MoFo that the SEC sued during her time there.

Martin said the firm has been heavily investing in its enforcement, investigations and white-collar defense capabilities firmwide over the past few years, especially in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and New York. The San Francisco office brought on partner Christine Wong, Fujitsu’s former compliance head, late last year, and in 2017 hired partner Joshua Hill Jr. from Sidley Austin.

Other SEC veterans at the firm include Michael Birnbaum, who was a senior trial counsel for the SEC, and David Lynn, who was chief counsel of the division of corporation finance.

A growing part of the practice is spotting and solving potential problems before they lead to actual enforcement actions, Choi and Martin noted. Still, “[w]e often find ourselves in situations where we wish the client had called us earlier,” Martin said.

That doesn’t just apply to large, public company clients, Choi noted. At the SEC, “that was definitely a message we wanted to emphasize and make sure companies took home,” she said.

“This region is kind of unique in that there is so much venture capital … a lot of money going into private, pre-IPO companies, and you really want to make sure they have a good foundation,” Choi said.

Choi joined the SEC in San Francisco in 2000, became a branch chief in 2005, and assistant director for enforcement in 2010. She started leading the San Francisco office in 2013.

Her time at the SEC was interrupted by a brief stint as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Texas. She also worked as a trial attorney in DOJ’s Civil Rights Division earlier in her career.

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