How Long Is A Lawyer Retainer Good For? Understanding The Basics

Photo of author

By Freya


If you’ve been considering getting legal representation, you might have come across the term “lawyer retainer” and been curious about its meaning. A retainer is a sum of money paid to an attorney in advance in exchange for their services. Following that, this money will be used to cover any legal fees that have been incurred during your case. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the middle 50% of lawyers in the United States earn above $125,000 annually. Approximately 10% of all lawyers earn more than $208,000 each year. Yet the top one per cent of lawyers make $500,000 or more annually. 

However, how long does a retainer for a lawyer remain valid? Does it have an expiration date? This article will discuss the fundamentals of retainers, and the issue, “How long is a lawyer retainer good for?” will be answered. Continue reading if you want to learn more!

What is a lawyer retainer?

A lawyer retainer is a fee that a lawyer charges to be retained by a client. The retainer may be for a specific legal matter, or it may be for ongoing legal services. A lawyer may require a retainer to take on a new client.

The retainer fee guarantees the lawyer that they will be paid for their services. The retainer is usually applied toward the total cost of legal services and is held in a trust account until it is used. The client can withdraw funds from the trust account as they are. Needed to pay for the lawyer’s services.

lawyer retainer

How long is a lawyer retainer good for?


  • You will likely be requested to sign a retainer agreement when you employ an attorney. This agreement lays forth the parameters of the legal representation and describes the connection between the client and the attorney. The length of time during which a lawyer retainer is valid is a topic that needs to be answered, despite its importance.


  • A retainer paid to a lawyer is typically good for the entirety of the time that the legal action is pending. If you only need assistance with one matter at a time, like preparing a will, the retainer won’twill only extend beyond that one assignment. On the other hand, if you are engaged in an ongoing legal matter, such as a divorce or a custody dispute, the retainer would cover all work related to that case until it is concluded, including any and all court appearances that may be necessary.


  • It is essential to understand that paying a retainer only guarantees certain results. There are no guarantees in any legal situation, even though your attorney will work diligently on your side. On the other hand, having a retainer offers you the confidence that comes from knowing that a competent attorney is representing you.


What are the benefits of a lawyer retainer?

When you hire a lawyer, you usually do so with the understanding that you will pay the lawyer an hourly rate for their time. But what happens when you can’t afford to pay the lawyer’s hourly rate? That’s where a lawyer retainer comes in.

The retainer is held in a trust account, and the lawyer draws from it as work is done on your case. Once the retainer is exhausted, you need to replenish it or pay the lawyer’s hourly rate directly.

There are several benefits to paying a lawyer via retainer. 


  • First, it ensures you have access to legal representation even if you cannot afford to pay the hourly rate. 


  • Second, it allows you to budget for your legal expenses in advance so that you don’t have any surprises down the road. 


  • And third, it gives the lawyer an incentive to work efficiently on your case since they know that every hour spent working on it is one less that can be spent working on another paying client’s case.

What Does A Retainer Cover?

A retainer is paid to an attorney in advance to secure their services. The lawyer will keep the retainer in trust and utilise it to cover the cost of the legal services that they provide.

The amount of the retainer will change based on the nature of the case and the degree of difficulty of the legal matter. Simply beginning work on a case may necessitate paying a retainer fee. In some circumstances, such as when a lawsuit needs to be filed, or a trial needs to be attended, a retainer may be utilised to cover the costs associated with these activities.

After receiving the retainer payment, the attorney will perform services up to the amount paid. Clients who need extra legal services will be forced to pay an additional retainer. After then, the attorney will put this new retainer into trust until it is depleted. Because retainers are often non-refundable, you must select an attorney with complete faith and confidence. In addition, before you pay the retainer, you need to be sure that you clearly understand what it covers.

lawyer retainer
Judge gavel and scale in court. Library with lot of books in background

What are the drawbacks of a lawyer retainer?


There are a few drawbacks to consider regarding a lawyer retainer. 


1- First, the retainer amount is typically non-refundable, so you’ll need to be sure that you can commit to the full amount before signing any agreements. 


2- Additionally, you may be responsible for paying additional fees if the scope of your case ends up being more complex than originally anticipated. 


3- Finally, keep in mind that lawyers who work on a retainer basis may need to be more motivated to resolve your case quickly since they’re being paid regardless of how long it takes.

How to choose the right lawyer for your needs?

There are a few key factors to consider when choosing a lawyer. 


  • First, you must ensure that the lawyer is licensed to practice law in your state. 


  • Second, you must ensure that the lawyer has experience handling your case. 


  • Third, you must ensure that the lawyer can take your case. 


  • Fourth, it would be best if you made sure that the lawyer is affordable.


  • Fifth, you should ask around for referrals from people you trust. Once you have a few potential lawyers in mind, you should set up consultations with them to see if they would be a good fit for your needs.

Setting Reasonable Expectations Regarding The Length Of A Retainer

When clients hire an attorney, they are usually asked to sign a retainer agreement. This document sets forth the terms of the relationship between the attorney and client, including how long the retainer will last. Most retainers are good for a specified period, after which the client may need to renew or replace the retainer. The length of a retainer can vary depending on the type of case and the attorney’s normal billing practices.


  • For instance, some attorneys may request a retainer that covers a specific number of hours to be billed, while others may ask for a sum payment that will be applied to the total fees owed. Clients must understand that retainers are not always “set it and forget it” arrangements.


  •  Sometimes, clients may need to replenish their retainer as work on their case progresses. If an attorney does not explicitly state how long a retainer will last in their agreement, it is generally assumed that the retainer will cover only a portion of the total fees owed. It is also important for clients to have realistic expectations regarding the amount of time an attorney can spend on their case. 


  • While an attorney can give you a general idea of how long your case may take to resolve, many variables can often impact the timeline. For instance, it could take months or even years to reach a final resolution if your case goes to trial. 

Factors That Influence The Length Of A Retainer

Many factors can influence the length of a lawyer’s retainer. The type of case, the jurisdiction, the attorney’s availability, and the client’s budget are just a few examples.


1- The type of case is the most important factor in determining the length of a lawyer’s retainer. A simple will or traffic ticket may only require a few hours of an attorney’s time, while a complex divorce or criminal trial could take months or even years.


2- The jurisdiction also affects how long a retainer lasts. Some courts move more quickly than others, and some attorneys are more familiar with certain courts than others. This can impact how long it takes to resolve a case.


3- The attorney’s availability is another important factor. If an attorney is in high demand, they may have a backlog of cases and may need more time to be able to work on your case. Conversely, if an attorney has more free time, they may be able to work on your case more quickly.


4- Finally, the client’s budget can also influence the length of a retainer. If you can only afford to pay for an attorney for a few hours, that will likely be all the time they can spend on your case. However, if you have a larger budget, you can retain an attorney for longer periods.

When Should You Renew Your Retainer Agreement?

If you have a retainer agreement with a lawyer, it is important to understand when the agreement needs to be renewed. Typically, a retainer agreement is only good for a certain time, after which it needs to be renewed for the lawyer to continue working on your case.


  • There are a few different factors can affect how often your retainer agreement needs to be renewed. One is the type of case that you have. If you have a complex ongoing legal case, you will likely need to renew your retainer agreement more frequently than a simple legal issue that has been resolved.


  • Another factor that can affect how often you need to renew your retainer agreement is the status of your case. If your case is still active and ongoing, you will likely need to renew your retainer agreement more frequently than if your case has been resolved.


  • Finally, the time that has passed since you last renewed your retainer agreement can also affect how often you need to renew it. If it has been several years since you last renewed your agreement, you may need to do so more frequently in order to keep up with the changes in the law and in your case.

lawyer retainer

What Happens if I Don’t Renew My Retainer Agreement?

If you don’t renew your retainer agreement, your lawyer will likely send you a letter asking you to sign a new one. The lawyer may only represent you if you don’t sign a new agreement.


You should also be aware that if you don’t renew your retainer agreement, the lawyer may keep any money you already paid in the retainer. Depending on the situation, they can charge you for services rendered under the expired agreement.


It is important to contact your lawyer as soon as possible if you do not wish to renew your retainer agreement so that you can make alternate arrangements and avoid unwanted legal fees.

Tips for Renewing Your Retainer Agreement

There are a few things to remember when renewing your retainer agreement with a lawyer. 

  • First, review the terms of the original agreement and ensure both parties are still in agreement with those terms. If there have been any changes to the scope of work or other conditions, discuss these with the lawyer before signing a new agreement.


  • It’s also important to consider whether the lawyer’s billable rate has changed since the last agreement was signed. If so, you’ll need to factor this into your budget for legal services. 


  • Lastly, ask about any deadlines or other time-sensitive matters that may be included in the new agreement. By understanding the terms and conditions upfront, you can avoid any surprises down the road.


Alternatives to a Lawyer Retainer Agreement

There are a few alternatives to a lawyer retainer agreement. 

  • One is to use a legal service, which can be found through your local courthouse or online. These services provide you with access to a lawyer for a set fee, and you can often choose from a variety of services.


  • Another alternative is to use a legal aid society. These societies provide free or low-cost legal services to those who cannot afford a lawyer. You can find a legal aid society in your area by searching online or contacting your local courthouse.


  • If a public defender represents you, you may also be able to negotiate a payment plan with them. Public defenders are typically only available to those who are facing criminal charges, but they may be able to help you with other legal matters as well. You can usually find contact information for public defenders through your local courthouse or online.


A lawyer retainer is an important part of the legal process, so it’s important to understand how long one can be good for and what other factors must be considered when deciding on a payment plan. Knowing the basics about retainers will ensure that you remain in control of your finances and receive quality legal representation from a qualified attorney. With this information in hand, you are better equipped to negotiate with lawyers on behalf of yourself or your business.

ALSO READ: What Kind Of Lawyer Do I Need? Here Are 18 Types And What To Expect.


Q. What is a retainer fee every month?

Your clients pay a monthly retainer fee to make sure they can use your services for the time covered. When clients are on a monthly retainer, they usually pay a recurring fee and function properly on long-term projects with various agencies that are always available.

Q. Why do lawyers require a retainer?

A legal retainer serves as insurance. While a retainer fee does not guarantee that you will be able to pay for all of your upcoming legal bills, it does assure that your attorney is compensated for the time they spend on your case.

Q. Do attorneys refund retainers?

The answer depends on the terms of your attorney retainer agreement. It also depends on the agreed-upon billing structure. If your agreement stipulated a flat rate for the work on a specific topic, you would not receive a refund. Even the attorney could resolve the problem promptly, effectively, and much more quickly than anticipated; therefore, they have earned the fixed price.