A retainer fee is a type of legal fee that is usually paid before trial, and before a person officially hires a lawyer. It acts as a sort of "down payment" to help secure a particular lawyer’s services for the case. The potential client pays a retainer fee, which the lawyer may collect as they accept the case. The fee is usually placed in its own distinct account, and then may be used for the trial later on.

In other uses, a "retainer" can also refer to an agreement where a specific lawyer remains on call for the same client over many months or years.

What Should Be Covered in a Retainer Fee Agreement?

Like any major payment, lawyer retainer fees should be enacted through the use of a retainer fee agreement. This is a written document that provides legal proof of the transaction, and dictates the terms of the agreement. A well-written retainer agreement should contain:

  • The amount to be paid
  • Information regarding the separate account
  • How and when the lawyer can access the funds in the separate account
  • Whether the fee is refundable (it’s almost always non-refundable)
  • Contact information for all the parties
  • Various other terms as needed

The agreement should be signed by both parties, and may be kept in case of a legal dispute in the future over the agreement.

What Are Contingency Fees?

Contingency fees often work hand in hand with retainer fees. The contingency fee covers any other expenses incurred due to the legal case. It is collected by the lawyer at the end of trial, and is often based off of a set percentage of the damage award issued to the client if they win the claim.

In some cases, a retainer fee may not be used, and all of the attorney’s legal fees are paid in the form of a contingency fee. This all depends on the agreement between the lawyer and the client.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Legal Fee Issues?

Legal fees such as retainer fees and contingency fees can sometimes be confusing to handle. You may need to hire a defective products lawyer if you need assistance with any disputes over legal fees. Your attorney can inform you of your options and can provide legal advice regarding the fee rules in your jurisdiction.