Retainer fees. That’s the fee lawyers traditionally charge you to ensure that they remain available to provide you with legal assistance.
Today there are a couple of types of retainers. The so-called classic retainer is when the client pays in advance for a block of a lawyer’s time. When payment is received, the lawyer then provides the client with the required assistance and earns the retainer. It’s also non-refundable, so if the client has paid for more time than they end up requiring, they forfeit the balance. This type of retainer is more commonly used by the wealthy and by large corporations.
The more frequently used retainer is the advance fee retainer. As the name suggests, this is an amount that is paid in advance and as the lawyer does the work, their fees are deducted from that amount. Sometimes the fee may cover the total amount of work the lawyer does for the client but usually it doesn’t and additional advances are required along the way.
Why Is A Written Retainer A Good Idea?
First of all written retainers are required in some places and elsewhere they’re usually strongly recommended. A written retainer has the advantage over a verbal one because it formalizes on paper the arrangement between lawyer and client so there are no grey areas, no misinterpretations down the track and none of the he said / she said situations that can crop up with a verbal arrangement. It also provides the client with something concrete to fall back on should there be a dispute over fees at any stage.
A good written retainer agreement clearly details the scope and type of work the lawyer is undertaking for the client. What specific services are covered by the retainer. What, if any, follow up work will the lawyer be doing and how will the client be billed for this additional work. If the client wins the case, will the lawyer be involved in enforcing the judgement? Will the lawyer be advancing any contingency fees that may come up? Is there provision for resolving disputes that may arise over fees and costs? These are all things that should be covered in a well written retainer agreement.
A written retainer agreement will also set out whether the client is being charged an hourly rate or a flat fee. By the hour is the most common arrangement and this rate can vary considerably between law firms depending on how experienced the lawyer handling the case is, where they’re located, the type of legal issue involved and so on.
The retainer agreement should also specify whether or not there are any conflicts of interest involved by the lawyer taking on the client’s case. This includes a statement from the lawyer or law firm that they have looked for any potential conflicts of interest and have either found none or have declared any and all such conflicts to the client, who has agreed to waive them.
The written retainer agreement may also incorporate an approximation of the fees and costs that the client can expect to incur. Amongst the costs that the client can expect to be billed for are the general administration costs associated with their case – postage, copying, phone calls, emails, witness retention fees, court reporter etc as well as court costs. On top of those costs are the fees such as legal fees – these are the fees the lawyer charges for his or her work on the case and includes their research and the preparation of the client’s case for court.
And finally, it’s vital that both parties to the retainer agreement each have a copy of the document.
It would be difficult, if not impossible, to cover all these issues adequately in anything other than a good written retainer agreement.
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Originally posted 2016-06-05 15:11:04.