213-229-2868 Los Angeles
510-450-1850 Oakland

J. Thomas Cairns, Jr.Senior Counsel

Los Angeles 213-229-2868 213-229-2870

J. Thomas Cairns advises and represents real estate developers, investors, lenders, brokers, landlords and tenants in sophisticated transactions and high stakes litigation.  In over 30 years of practice, he has been developers’ counsel on more than 50 major projects, including shopping centers, office and industrial parks, mixed use projects, hotels, condominiums and apartments, handling all aspects of property acquisitions, financing, entitlements, subdivisions, construction, sales and leasing.  He has represented both borrowers and lenders in dozens of multimillion dollar financing transactions and has negotiated and documented hundreds of commercial leases. He became a licensed California Real Estate Broker in 1979.

In addition, Mr. Cairns represents hotels, restaurants, travel agencies and tour operators. For more than a decade, he acted as outside General Counsel to the world’s largest chain of student travel agencies. In 1997, he was inducted into the Academy of Hospitality Industry Attorneys and has served two terms on that organization’s Board of Directors.

Mr. Cairns’ approach to litigation is to seek early, practical and economical resolutions for his clients.  Where early resolution cannot be achieved, however, Mr. Cairns can call upon his skills as a veteran trial lawyer, having acted as lead counsel in over 60 bench trials and 14 jury trials to verdict in state, federal and bankruptcy courts.

Mr. Cairns believes that his transactional and litigation practices complement one another and that his deep understanding of substantive real estate law gives his clients an advantage in the courtroom against generic litigators, while his experience with how things actually shake out in court helps him to better advise transactional clients on how to avoid pitfalls that may lead them into trouble.

Tom is an active, instrument-rated pilot and, since 1992, has served on the Legal Services Panel of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, representing pilots, aircraft owners, corporate flight departments, and public and private air charter operators in transactions, litigation and matters before the Federal Aviation Administration, National Transportation Safety Board and Department of Transportation. He is an avid tennis player and a past President of the Los Angeles Tennis Club.

Mr. Cairns is a frequent lecturer on real estate foreclosures, workouts and bankruptcy; condominium and resort development; commercial leasing and travel industry regulation.  He has earned Martindale-Hubbell’s highest AV rating for legal ability and ethics and has been recognized in the Bar Register of Preeminent Attorneys for real estate law.

Representative Matters

  • Represented developer in successful trial of claims concerning use of key access easement for 225 unit urban condominium project
  • Represented investor is successful trial of claims for fraud against promoters of 80 home single family subdivision, resulting in personal alter ego judgment against promoters.
  • Defense of investors in commercial office project against claims for judicial foreclosure, resulting in deed-in-lieu transaction with no personal liability for deficiency
  • Represented developer in successful workout of institutional loans on 3 property office portfolio
  • Successful defense of former officer against claims for breach of fiduciary duty arising from failure of luxury residence club
  • Represented national travel agency chain in negotiation, documentation and management of 110 store retail lease portfolio
  • Representation of real estate agents in successful arbitration of commission claims against national real estate brokerage
  • Defense of public air charter operator of claims arising from alleged violation of California “Sellers of Travel” law
  • Representation of pilot in successful NTSB appeal of FAA certificate revocation resulting from “gear-up” landing

Admissions, Memberships & Qualifications

  • State Bar of California, 1977
  • United States District Court, Central, Southern, Northern & Eastern Districts of California
  • United States Fifth & Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
  • Admitted pro hac vice in Arizona, Florida, Colorado, Nevada and Texas
  • Los Angeles County Bar Association (Litigation; Real Property)
  • American Bar Association (Litigation; Corporation, Banking and Business Law; Hotel, Resort and Tourism Committee; Forum Committee on Franchising)
  • Charter Member, Academy of Hospitality Industry Attorneys
  • Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (Legal Services Panel)
  • Licensed Pilot, Instrument Rating
  • California Real Estate Brokers License, 1979


  • University of California, Hastings College of Law, J.D., 1977 (Member & Associate Editor, Hastings Law Review)
  • Cornell University, A.B., 1974 (cum laude)

Publications and Speaking Engagements

  • “Negotiating Retail and Office Leases: Key Clauses to Prevent Disputes” (NBI) 2011, 2012
  • California Common Interest Developments (Lorman Seminars) 2009
  • “Impact of Bankruptcy on a Commercial Real Estate Lease”, (NBI) 2009
  • “California Foreclosure Law” National Business Institute, Annual Full-Day Programs 1998-2004
  • Condo Hotels – Opportunities and Pitfalls (AHIA) 2005
  • Author, “U.S. Sellers of Travel Laws,” International Travel Law Journal, Winter 1998
  • Presenter, “Codifying Travel Law,” International Travel and Tourism Law Conference Section Chairman, April 1998
  • Author, “Imputed Negligence As A Defense In Wrongful Death Actions,” California Lawyer, Journal of the State Bar of California, October, 1984


  • AV Rated, Martindale-Hubbell
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