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Matt Wertheim logo

Contact Matt at 415-775-8950
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Flying Solo: Starting and Building a Solo Practice - University of San Francisco Law (CLE) Basic Handout

FLYING SOLO: Starting and Building a Solo Practice


Presented by:

Tom Brandi ('72) of The Brandi Law Firm
Tom Trombadore ('88) of Trombadore Gonden Law Group, LLP
Matt Wertheim ('85) of the Law Offices of Matthew Wertheim

March 2014

The Bare Bones Law-Firm Business Platform

There is no right or wrong way, no best recipe, for setting down your business platform. But three principles are key: (1) Keep your costs down—avoid everything you don’t need. Be economical. (2) Stick to the essentials of a solid business platform. And (3) cash is king. Do the work that pays on time.

Here is the checklist for opening a firm in 48 hours, in this particular order:

A. Very Simple Business Plan: Start with what you know you can do and who you know. Set short term revenue goals each of your first months. Here are some goal ideas to get you started:

    1. Cash is King. Earn Money, Collect It.
    2. Do Work that Pays First, Pro Bono Second.
    3. Seek Out & Do Work I Enjoy Doing That Pays.
    4. Work for Honorable Clients.
    5. Excellence: Do Good Work, Always.
    6. Pace Myself.
    7. Collect at Least $___ Cash Monthly.
    8. See K below, when you are not working for pay, get out there and network, volunteer, intern, etc.


B. Pick a Location for Your Firm - home, lease, office suites, sublease from a friend, virtual firm. Here are some good ideas:

    1. Being near a good law library matters (and remember that you have continued free access to USF Law’s Library if you are an alum);
    2. Being near where your clients work matters;
    3. Working nearby other colleagues matters (for referrals and for synergy/feedback);
    4. Virtual practice models are working well and keep you connected to a wider range of client and colleague opportunities.


C. Pick a Name & Business Form - sole proprietorship vs. professional corporation vs. LLP.

D. Bank Accounts/Billing/Accounting: Open business checking account & Interest Only Lawyer Trust Account (“IOLTA Account”). Get a Business Debit Card and a Business Credit Card right away.

    1. From the very start, keep your business and personal finances separate.
    2. Read the rules governing IOLTA accounts online at; and
    3. Register your IOLTA account with the California State Bar Association.
    4. Get a good accountant. Learn what a tax deductible expense is and what is not.
    5. Keep meticulous expense records.
    6. If you don’t know double-entry accounting, learn it fast. It’s easy to learn. Just do it. DO IT NOW BEFORE YOU START.
    7. Pay Your Quarterly Estimates Taxes: Remember every dollar you collect is not a dollar you can spend. You must pay your taxes and self-employment tax. You must put some $ away for retirement; 529 plans if you have young children, etc. Your daily fiscal discipline is very important.


E. Technology: Choose and buy technology - office computer, all in one printer scanner and software for basic office systems. It’s as easy as calling a good IT person. You can be up and running for less than $3,000.00 invested all in; or use what you have to start.

    1. Get help setting up & configuring desktop systems from an IT professional. Unless you really know what you are doing, this is the most efficient way to start. A good IT professional can bring you a complete system, set it up for you and with your new business credit card have you up and fully operational in about two to three hours. Skilled IT consultants in the San Francisco Bay Area abound and now cost $65.00 to $90.00 per hour. They are worth it.  
    2. Buy good security software.
    3. Sign up for a website & email service.
    4. Set up a simple website to start – just the basics – your resume. Tell what you can do. Put up your contact information. Update it later. Consider a blog when time permits.
    5. Get online EFAX service at:
    6. Establish online storage and regular back-up protocols for all your office machines (even your mobile phones). It’s only a question of when, not if, a system failure will occur. Don’t be caught unprepared. It’s a nightmare if you are not ready for a system or hardware failure.
          1. Ask your IT professional
          4. Your own hard drive and the backup software in Microsoft Office.
          5. Apple offers online storage at Apple for a fee when you purchase your computer.
    7. Set up Web-Based remote access through (PC’s) or (Macs).
    8. Good Practice Management and Billing Software.
          1. Attorney Time Slips\Excel\QuickBooks.
          2. MS Outlook\Online Email.
          3. Amicus Attorney.
          4. Client Profiles.
          5. Needle Case Management.
          6. ProLaw – Expensive but portable all-in-one, fully-integrated client management, billing & practice management, calendaring, conflict checking and accounting tools.
    9. Buy Adobe Pro XI software – electronic signatures are here to stay. It’s not that expensive.
    10. Calendaring System for Business and Practice Deadlines


F. Phone & Fax Services – Skype & (do you really need Fax?) & AT&T, Verizon etc.

G. Buy Professional Liability Insurance – For example, from Budish Insurance Services (see additional handout).

    1. Explore State Bar Programs, but also call an independent broker who can give you fast and reliable guidance on what’s available in the market and access a broader selection of cost-effective coverages that are best suited for you.
        1. Independent brokers can teach you fast about what you are purchasing. It is important for you to know and understand the basics of the insurance asset in which you are investing your money. A good independent insurance broker will give you good counsel quickly.
        2. Learn what the policy terms and conditions mean and what are your responsibilities under each.
        3. A good independent insurance broker is James Budish at Budish Insurance Services. Jim Budish is an independent broker specializing in Lawyer Professional Liability Insurance serving lawyers and their law firms California-wide for the past 20 years.

      For more information call James Budish at: (415) 762-2100 or via email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. (See additional handout as well.)

H. Filing System: Establish a basic records filing system. Don’t invent it—Ask what’s cheap and easy. Get a cabinet, too.

I. Register Your Business.

    1. Register your name, email and address at Log in using your State Bar number and establish a password.
    2. All California Lawyers must register an email address with the State Bar online under new California Rule of Court 9.7. Exemptions apply.
    3. Get a business license by registering with your town and county.
    4. Register with the County Tax Assessor’s Office.

J. Online Legal Research & Join Local Law Library.

    1. Westlaw Next or Lexis - bill the research cost through to clients who can pay.
    2. Know your local law librarians. Some will do good legal research cost effectively. You can bill that cost to your paying clients. Remember that you have continued free access to the USF Law Library if you are an alum.
    3. Google - access to wide range of scholarly research -
    4. Fastcase - Federal and State legal research materials -
    5. Casemaker - Federal and State legal research materials -
    6. LoisLaw - Federal and State legal research materials -
    7. Practical Law Company - Article and secondary sources in bankruptcy, business entities, capital markets, corporate governance, mergers and acquisitions, private equity. It includes form and checklist tools -
    8. VersusLaw - Federal and State court cases, statutes, rules & regulations, court rules, tribal courts, and foreign jurisdictions laws & codes -
    9. FindLaw - A wide range of legal materials, including articles, much of it free. Also a find a lawyer service -

K. Get Out There – Start Your Announcements, Outreach & Networking. Let them know what you are doing & keep reminding them.

    1. Order business cards or make them with Microsoft office publisher/ Avery business cards or both.
    2. Send out email and other announcements right away. Include your business card.
    3. Create/update your LinkedIn profile and begin to use it actively to push out information about your new practice.

L. Bill and Collect. Know when not to try and collect, if a client “goes bad” consider writing it off as a “learning experience.”

M. Supplies: Open a business account with a discount office supplier – Staples, Office Depot, Sears, Costco, OfficeMax. Get all the discounts and free delivery.

N. Explore the California Bar Association website for good exemplars - attorney fee agreement, waivers, joint fee representation agreements and other such basic documents needed to get you started.


You may enjoy reading the Talking Points from this same event.

The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. See disclaimer.