Tonsing Lawfirm

Firm Overview

I formed the Tonsing Lawfirm nearly nine years ago in San Francisco. My firm, now on both sides of the Bay, is the result of an evolutionary process, as I never intended to expand beyond having one attorney and never will.

The law firm represents existing and emerging businesses and individuals on all matters relating to doing business. Our areas of expertise include forming startups, protecting and attacking trade secrets, making and overcoming contracts and leases, participating in negotiations, and dealing with general human resources-type concerns, both simple and complex. The firm also has represented defendants and plaintiffs in many discrimination cases and civil rights matters.

Example cases

Main Office
353 Sacramento Street
Suite 1140
San Francisco  CA  94111-3657
  • (415) 986-1338 x155
  • (415) 358-4839


Free Initial Consultation?
One of Abraham Lincoln's more frequently quoted sayings (among lawyers, anyway) is "A lawyer's time and advice are his stock in trade." However, your time never starts to run until we have a written fee agreement in place. Call for a consultation. You'll know in advance as to when the fees begin to accrue. I will tell you before they do. One thing's sure: they don't start to run until we've signed a clearly written agreement. We'll probably know in ten to thirty minutes if we have a match.
Services Offered For Fixed Fees?
Sometimes, yes. However, it depends on the circumstances. This has a lot to do with the predictability of the work involved. Sometimes, I recommend a fixed fee, hourly mixture. It depends mostly on what will give you the most "bang for the buck."

My motive is to earn your trust, your repeat business, and your "word of mouth" referrals. I invoice monthly and expect prompt payment. I do something else that will probably surprise you. I have a space at the bottom of your invoice where you can raise or lower the hourly amount owed, based on how you think I am doing. You'll see. Your fee agreement with me will include a sample invoice as an attachment.
Hourly Rates
$300 is standard, but it can vary in quite creative ways sometimes. For example, we may agree to do some of the early work on a flat fee basis, and then move to hourly if the facts develop in certain ways. Other arrangements are possible, too.

Frankly, you can shop around (here on the Nolo site and elsewhere) and find other lawyers with lower rates. I like to think that a higher hourly rate may result in a lower bottom line total bill, because a more skilled attorney may not need to spend as much time on the work as another attorney working at a lower hourly rate with fewer skills and less experience.

Office Information

Office Hours
Monday through Friday
8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Otherwise, appointments are available.
Emergency After Hours
Languages Spoken
None, though a significant portion of the firm's clients are from, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe

How did your firm decide on the primary area of practice(s)?

I chose to focus on business law, with an emphasis on employment law, because I enjoy helping people build their futures and their dreams and yet realistically address the problems associated with growth and government regulation. In addition, business law is a very broad field. In a "transactional" role, I have created corporations that have made their shareholders very rich and have created many jobs for others. That is very fulfilling. As a litigator, I have taken on discrimination cases from both the plaintiff side and the defense. I have taken on the government at every level, and yet I have worked for both the State and Federal governments at other times, as well. I have been a litigator, but I also served for several years as an administrative law judge. (It's funny how being a judge for that long changes one's perspective on what works in Court and what doesn't.)

What is your firm's point of view regarding clients educating themselves on legal issues?

Yes! I love Nolo's approach and have for decades. Clients should make every effort to educate themselves on both the facts and the laws surrounding their case. In addition, clients who can assist me in developing their own case may be able to reduce their legal fees. Nolo products can often help with that, however, clients should also understand the risks and rewards that are possible through litigation. Books don't help much with that, unfortunately.

On the other hand, handbooks aside, I am painfully aware that non-attorneys are rarely successful in achieving their goals on their own through the court process. If the stakes are at all high, it is much more prudent to go to court with an experienced attorney.

However, can you help organize your case? Yes. Do you prefer that approach? If you do, no problem.

Is your firm willing to review documents prepared by clients?

Yes. However, in my experience, such documents often fall short. More frequently, I ask clients to take the first "whack" at writing something as if I were writing it, - kind of "ghost writing it for me - because that generally means I won't have to spend as much of their money to produce a polished product. Again, "more bang for the buck."

Is your firm willing to coach clients who want to represent themselves?

I am willing to coach clients and have done so. However, frankly, many legal issues just do not lend themselves to self-representation (e.g., judges get frustrated, etc.). We can talk about it.

Michael J. Tonsing

Tonsing Lawfirm (2000 to Present) San Francisco and Oakland, CA

I am a business law trial and transactional lawyer, representing both plaintiffs and defendants in both State and Federal courts. See the firm's website at for more information.

Also, I act as a mentor for less experienced litigators. See the website at, which includes PDF's of a number of my published articles. (1999 to 2000) Oakland and San Diego, CA
I was the CEO of a funded "B2B" Internet-based startup corporation. I was also responsible for all "in-house" legal work, including drafting policies for the website, reviewing all contracts, drafting nondisclosure agreements, and drafting "industry-first" vendor-managed inventory agreements.

Littler Mendelson (1994 to 1999) San Jose and San Francisco, CA
I was a litigator and advisor in a firm that now has 750 attorneys and 45 offices nationwide, and is the largest law firm in the country exclusively devoted to representing management in employment, employee benefits and labor law matters. There, I represented businesses ranging from Fortune 500 companies to sole proprietorships regarding labor and employment law issues, including Title VII, ADA and ADEA.

* I settled a "whistle blower" case involving a large trucking company on very successful terms, on the verge of a trial, avoiding an approximately $8 million trial exposure for the CEO.

* I also settled a thorny $4,000,000 same-sex sexual harassment case against a publishing company on very favorable terms following an unorthodox court maneuver.

Law Offices of Michael J. Tonsing/Pierucci & Tonsing (1985-1994) Oakland and San Mateo, CA
I was the lead attorney and proprietor of a Martindale-Hubbell® A-V rated commercial litigation and transactional firm representing both plaintiffs and defendants statewide.

* I successfully defended a discrimination case brought against a public school district in federal court in San Diego. This involved a $2 million exposure and a four-week jury trial (Judge Enright).

* I successfully defended a $10 million civil rights/paraplegic case brought in federal court in Los Angeles (Judge Lew). A last minute legal maneuver saved a six-week jury trial.

* I defeated a U.S. Justice Department overpayment case brought by the VA which was a $2 million Federal Court case in San Francisco. I also defeated the appeal, then obtained a $165,000 fee reimbursement from the government for a client via Equal Access to Justice Act (Judge Conti).

O'Gara & McGuire (1984 -1985) San Francisco, CA
I represented plaintiffs and defendants in litigation practice in both Federal and State courts. I handled both large and small cases. For example, I successfully represented family members who sought to avoid having a particular relative appointed conservator of their mother's estate because they believed he had murdered her for her money. (She had named him in her will as her conservator.) We convinced the probate court to change conservators despite what the will stated.

United States Department of Justice (1981-1984) San Francisco, CA
As an Assistant United States Attorney, I litigated in Federal trial and appellate courts. I averaged about six full-blown civil and criminal trials a year in federal court, many of them tried to juries.

United States Supreme Court (1980-1981) Washington, D.C.

I was chosen in a nationwide competition as a Supreme Court Fellow to assist Chief Justice of the U.S. Warren E. Burger in judicial administration. I was a confidential liaison between the Chief Justice and several standing committees of the federal judiciary. I won an award as the top Supreme Court Fellow of the year (the Justice Tom C. Clark Award.).

Public Employment Relations Board ("PERB") (1977-1980) San Francisco
I was selected from 150+ final round candidates for appointment to one of ten administrative law judge (ALJ) positions for California's only statewide public sector labor board. I acted as a trial judge and presided at hearings, wrote decisions, and conducted many successful settlement conferences. I averaged 20 to 30 trials per year for four years.

I have been in the practice of law since 1976, with some interesting stops along the way, and two major detours. I took time out to be a CEO of an Internet-based company with an initial capitalization of a million dollars, and took a year away to serve as a Supreme Court Fellow for the Chief Justice in Washington, D.C.

I started law school at the age of 29. I know from personal experience what it means to earn a paycheck and pay off student loans. I've done it. Later, I left the practice of law for about a year to become the CEO of a "" in that first huge wave of Internet enterprises. I know from personal experience what it takes to raise capital, to run a business, to meet payroll and expenses, to deal with employees and vendors, to hire independent contractor technicians, etc. I've done it.

I co-founded the first ABA-accredited paralegal program in the Bay Area. I taught in it for over two decades. I believe very strongly in the paralegal movement. I helped start it in the Bay area in the '70's. Teaching paralegal students, I learned to "talk like a person" rather than to "talk like a lawyer." In other words, I learned how to communicate sometimes-complex legal principles to people who were not trained in the law. In many ways, practicing law is like teaching. Therefore, my two careers (law and adult education) happily and serendipitously merged and, in my opinion, made me a better lawyer than I would have been otherwise.

I have been in the world's largest law firm (the U.S. Department of Justice, with well over 16,000 lawyers), in a firm of six, of three, and of four-hundred. I have worked shoulder to shoulder with some of the best lawyers in the world, and I have worked directly for the Chief Justice of the United States at the U.S. Supreme Court (the Hon. Warren E. Burger). If you pay attention, you learn a few things along the way.

In addition (along with my wife of more than 40 years), I have successfully raised two delightful children, female and male, now both very accomplished adults.

Maturity, perspective, a bit of humility, and a sense of humor also have important roles to play in this profession, in my opinion. I hope that I picked up doses of each along the way.

My experience in business and in business litigation is very broad. I understand the economics of litigation as well as its mechanics. Litigation, frankly, is a failure of people to be able to solve their own problems in a civilized manner. The courts provide a "last resort" mechanism for problem solving short of violent behavior.

I use litigation as a tool to obtain the best possible result for my client, yet I refuse to let litigation become a game of words played between egotistical lawyers at their clients' expense. To that end, I seek to develop cost-effective strategies, set realistic goals, and then execute those strategies with my clients in a business-like way.

I am candid with my clients. I let them know where their case is strong and, just as importantly, where it is weak. As to my relationships with adversaries, I am not the "junk yard dog" type of lawyer, pounding the table and hurling insults. In my view, that just drives up the cost of litigation. It is the opposite of being solution-oriented. I have always believed that you can disagree strenuously - and effectively - without being disagreeable.

I make recommendations, sometimes strongly, but decisions - where appropriate - are shared with clients. The way I see it, I work for them; they're not there to build a playground for me and provide the financing for it.

When I'm negotiating, as for example in a contract setting, I take a positive "can do" attitude. I see my role as helping clients meet their goals, not as telling them why they can't - as long as we can meet the goals within the law and still accomplish the clients' best interests. Some lawyers seem to be "deal breakers" while others are "deal makers." I think of myself as a "deal maker."

Personal interests:

  • Bar Number: 69476
    California , 1976
  • Kendrick Hall, University of San Francisco
    Juris Doctor , 1975
    San Francisco, CA
    Teaching Assistant in Legal Research and Writing Program, coaching other law students to write more effectively. I graduated "ahead of my class" (i.e., class of '76) top quarter of my class in December of 1975, took and passed the February 1976 CA bar exam, began practicing upon swearing in, in June of 1976, while my classmates were still waiting for the results of the May bar exam.

    Teaching Assistant (for other law students) in Research and Writing, special course work in discrimination law, tutorial in choice of law, and focus on labor and employment law. I took additional course work at Hastings College of the Law and at Golden Gate University School of Law.
  • Saint Mary's College of California
    Bachelor of Arts , 1965
    Moraga, CA
    Political Science Major, Student Body Vice President.
  • Claremont Graduate University
    Master of Arts , 1970
    Claremont, CA
    Political philosophy major, researched and wrote Masters' Thesis on "The Effect of the Electoral College on the Presidential Election of 1824" and successfully completed virtually all course work for PhD in Claremont's Government Department.

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