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What is an attorney's retainer fee?

When you hire an attorney, freelancer, lawyer or another kind of professional consultant, it's common to pay a "retainer fee." This is not the total amount that you will pay the professional. In certain cases, you will pay less, and the professional will return the remainder of the retainer to you when the job is completed. In other cases, you will need to pay the professional more as they continue to work on your case.

In the case of hiring an attorney, the retainer is an essential part to confirm the commitment of both parties to the attorney-client relationship. Usually, the client and the attorney will also sign a formalized fee and employment agreement to solidify the relationship. In many cases, the receiver of the retainer fee will deposit the money in a separate account to draw from after performing services and incurring additional fees.

Example of an attorney's retainer fee

Imagine an individual decides to hire an attorney to represent them in a family law matter. The attorney will usually explain the hourly rate and then ask for a retainer to be paid -- perhaps the retainer will be for 10 hours or 20 hours worth of work. The client will then pay this fee up front. In addition to paying the fee, the client will sign a retainer agreement that explains what happens after depletion of the fee.

At the end of each month, the attorney will usually submit an invoice to the client and transfer the fee payment from the account that contains the retainer. If the attorney needs to work beyond the amount of money paid as the initial retainer, they will usually bill the client for another retainer.

As mentioned above, if the attorney works less, they will refund the remainder to the client. In some cases, a retainer fee agreement will have a "non-refundable clause," which prospective clients might not notice when they sign the dotted line.

Make sure your attorney retainer agreement suits your needs

Prospective clients of attorneys -- and those who are looking for a suitable family law attorney -- should always read their retainer agreements carefully to ensure that they fully understand and accept the terms. They should also ask their attorneys for clarification on retainer agreements if there is anything that they don't understand.

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