What is a Retainer Attorney?
An attorney is a licensed professional who practices law in the state or states in which they are licensed. Attorneys may also be called lawyers or attorneys at law.
A retainer attorney is an attorney or a law firm that uses a retainer fee as their payment structure for a particular case. Some individuals will refer to this arrangement as, “having a lawyer on retainer.”
What is a Retainer Fee?
A retainer fee is a fee that is paid in advance by the client to their attorney or prospective attorney. It can be considered similar to a down payment.
Retainer fees are paid by the client before the attorney performs any type of legal work. It is similar to an allowance which the attorney can draw funds from for various fees as the case proceeds forward.
General retainers pay for the services of the attorney or law firm for a certain period of time. In this situation, the client can expect the lawyer’s services when requested.
With this type of agreement, the retainer fee is not intended to cover all costs of representation. The attorney may refund the client any amount which is left over at the conclusion of the agreement time frame.
It is important to note that there are certain cases and situations where a retainer fee may be non-refundable. It is important for a client to determine whether their retainer fee will be refundable and what services it will cover.
There are several different methods attorneys use to calculate their fees, including:
- Hourly fees: The attorney charges based on the amount of hours of work they put into a case. This fee arrangement is used in both civil and criminal cases;
- Flat fees: The attorney charges one fee that is paid up front for the entirety of the legal representation. It is typically used when the services are more predictable, such as in criminal cases; and
- Contingency fees: The lawyer does not charge a specific amount but rather earns a percentage of the judgment if any is awarded;
- The word contingent means "depending upon", which means that the amount the lawyer makes is dependent upon the outcome of the lawsuit.
A retainer fee is often arranged using a retainer fee contract. This is a contract that states the amount of money which will be paid and how that money can be used.
A retainer fee agreement is not mandatory. There are no laws requiring clients and attorneys to enter into this type of agreement.
If, however, the client at attorney do decide to enter into a retainer agreement, it should be in writing. This will help the parties ensure that the terms are clear, including:
- The amount the client will pay;
- The remedies available if a conflict arises.
Once the retainer agreement contract is signed, it becomes enforceable under the law. These steps as well as the payment of the retainer fee are completed prior to the start of the case.
An unearned retainer fee refers to the funds that are placed into the retainer account before the attorney has earned them. This is considered the allowance.
The attorney is not entitled to touch these funds until they have documented earned fees, which include:
- Logged hours;
- Materials; or
- Additional overcost fees.
The retainer fee funds are placed in a separate account from the attorney’s personal funds. This helps ensure that the attorney will not use that money prior to services being rendered.
In addition, all of the expenses and hours worked will be notated with descriptions and will be provided to the client.
Are Retainers Beneficial?
A retainer may be beneficial for both a client and their attorney. This is because it allows the client to manage how much money is spent and it ensures that the lawyer is paid for the work that they do. Typically, when the retainer account is low on funds or has been completely used, the client will either refill that account or will choose to terminate the services.
One of the main benefits of having an attorney or law firm on retainer is that an individual has the comfort of knowing they have immediate legal advice at their fingertips. If an individual deals with legal issues on a frequent basis, a retainer agreement will help if issues arise that require immediate attention.
This may be especially helpful for individuals who are business owners, are there are numerous different types of issues that may arise, including:
- Tax issues;
- Issues related to hiring immigrant employees; and
- Other employment issues.
Having a retainer arrangement may also give an individual the advantage of being able to budget for the legal services. It provides the assurance that their legal issues will be handled by a lawyer or firms who are familiar with their business or life circumstances.
In addition, the types of cases which may benefit from retainer fees include:
- Criminal charges;
- Civil cases;
- Divorce and family law cases;
- Personal injury and medical negligence;
- Businesses and freelance worker representation; and
- Drafting contracts.
One of the few drawbacks to consider is the risk of paying for services that are not used. In other words, if a client pays a retainer for 6 months but does not have any legal issues arise during that time period, they may have been better served by a one-time flat fee or service-based retainer, instead of one allowing regular access to the lawyer or firm.
How Do I Find a Lawyer on Retainer Near Me?
There are several ways an individual may go about searching for an attorney. They may request recommendations from family and friends.
They may also contact the state bar association or organizations that offer legal aid services in the area. An individual may also use a referral service.
Typically, the first thing an individual will do is search online for “attorney on retainer near me.” Although this may seem to be a quick and convenient way to find an attorney, it may result in numerous inaccurate listings that the individual has to sort through.
This method also does not take into account what type of law the attorney practices or whether they are currently licensed and actually practicing. One simple and effective method of locating an attorney is LegalMatch.
LegalMatch allows a potential client to submit their legal issue online in as little as 15 minutes. Within about 24 hours, they will receive responses from attorneys in their area who can help with their legal issue.
Do I Need a Retainer Lawyer?
Whether or not you need a retainer lawyer will depend on many factors. If you own a small business or are on a budget and are dealing with legal issues, it may be a great way to ensure your business runs smoothly as well as to manage your funds.
There are different types of retainer agreements and fee arrangements that you can discuss with your attorney. The best type of retainer agreement will depend upon:
- The type of case;
- The parties involved; and
- The costs and obligations.
The benefit of having confidence and security in your legal representation is an important reason to have a lawyer on retainer.