Are Lawyer Retainers Refundable: What you need to know before soliciting one?

Photo of author

By Freya

Lawyer retainers are typically asked for at the start of a legal engagement, according to a 2018 article published by MarketWatch. In most cases, it is up to the lawyer to decide whether such remuneration is necessary because their reputation is at risk. They could face severe consequences if their actions lead to the loss of a client’s case. However, some lawyers feel obligated to pay the retainer back because they technically signed a contract when accepting it.

What is a Lawyer Retainer?

A lawyer retainer is a fee you pay your lawyer up-front. Lawyer retainer fees are usually non-refundable, but there are some exceptions. If the lawyer does not complete your case or does not win your case, you may be able to receive a partial or full refund of your retainer. 

Some common reasons to retain a lawyer include:


  • You are considering filing a lawsuit.


  • You need help with a legal issue.


  • You have been blamed with a crime and need an attorney to help you defend yourself.


  • You are experiencing financial difficulties and need legal help to get through them.


lawyer retrainer

How much you anticipate to pay for a lawyer retainer?


The amount you pay for a lawyer retainer will vary depending on the specific needs of your case. However, most lawyers charge between $300 and $1,000 for an initial retainer.

How to get one?

If you are considering whether or not to retain a lawyer, it is essential to understand the refund policy of that lawyer. Many lawyers have a no-refund policy unless there is an error on the client’s part. Other lawyers may offer a partial or full refund if the client decides not to use the services provided. 

Some lawyers will allow clients to pay in instalments. Some lawyers also offer a discount for paying in advance.

When Can You Expect Your Refund?

Your retainer may be considered a binding contract if you have hired a lawyer to portray you in a legal matter. Your lawyer may not refund you, even if the case is ultimately won or lost. 


There are some exceptions to this rule.

  •  If your lawyer does not turn over all the discovery materials or files related to the case, for example, he may be able to provide partial refunds. 
  • Additionally, if your lawyer ceases working on the issue before it is resolved, he may be able to give refunds based on his work completed up until that point.

When do retainers expire?

When retained legal counsel agrees to serve as an advisor and representative in a particular legal matter, they typically enter into a retainer agreement. A retainer agreement is an oral or written contract between the client and lawyer that sets forth the terms of the representation, including fees and expenses. Generally, any attorney retained to represent a client in a civil or criminal case must provide a periodic report on the case’s progress.

retrainer agreement

For an attorney retainer to be refundable, there must be an express provision in the retainer agreement specifying this. This means that if you or your lawyer use only some of the services agreed to in your retainer agreement, you may request a refund from your retaining attorney. However, it is essential to remember that requesting a refund will depend on many factors specific to your situation, so consult with a lawyer before making such requests.

What are the Terms of the Retainer Agreement?

  1. The terms of the lawyer retainer agreement will vary depending on the lawyer and the specific practice area.


  1.  However, most retainer agreements require clients to pay a set fee for each appointment, plus any associated costs such as mileage or photocopying. In some cases, clients may be able to receive a refund of their initial payment if they cancel their appointment within a certain period. 


  1. Some factors to consider when negotiating a lawyer retainer agreement include the lawyer’s hourly rate, the length of the contract, whether any additional fees are assessed for specific services, and whether there is an automatic renewal clause.

If you still need to pay, what’s the next step?

If you still need to pay your lawyer’s retainer, what’s the next step?


According to Wisconsin Supreme Court Rule 8.05(1), lawyer retainers are not refundable unless there is a legal reason why the retainer cannot be honored. The court will determine this reason if, requested in writing by the client or the lawyer. If you have yet to pay your lawyer’s retainer and want to cancel the contract, you must provide written notice of cancellation at least 30 days before your retained counsel is due to commence work.

Who can get a refund of the retainer fee?

Yes, lawyer retainers are refundable in most cases. Many states have statutes that allow for the refund of retainers if the client is unsatisfied with the lawyer’s services. If you are unhappy with your retainer agreement, you should discuss this with your attorney as soon as possible.

Can you be sued for nonpayment of a retainer?

If you hire a lawyer and fail to pay the retainer that was agreed upon, can you be sued? While there is no clear answer, it is generally safe to say that if you have failed to make a payment promptly, your attorney may have the right to file suit against you. If you have yet to pay your lawyer at least 60 days after receiving their invoice, they may have grounds to sue you for nonpayment. However, your attorney may only automatically take such action. It is up to them, they choose to file suit against you or not.

retrainer free

What are the chances of being sued for nonpayment of a retainer?

  • Nonpayment of a lawyer’s retainer can lead to lawsuits. 


  • In most states, lawyers are required to honor retainers, even if the client does not pay them in full.


  • If a lawyer does not receive payment in full for services provided, the law may allow the lawyer to sue the client for breach of contract. 


  • Many courts will also hold a party responsible for losses incurred due to breaking a lawyer’s contract, such as court costs and other damages.

What if you need more money to pay the retainer back?

If you need more money to pay the retainer back, there are a few things that you can do. You can ask the lawyer to work on a contingency basis. The lawyer will only get paid if they win the case. You can also look for free legal services. Many law centers and non-profit organizations offer free legal services to low-income people.


Are lawyer retainers fees refundable? This question comes up occasionally, and the answer depends on your specific case. If you are working with a law firm on a contingency basis (meaning they only receive a percentage of the settlement or judgment), then most likely, the fee will not be refundable. However, getting your money back may be possible if you are being paid an hourly rate or based on any other type of commission. Please speak with your legal representation to find out more about their policy in this regard.


  1. Are lawyer retainers fees refundable?

There is no general response to this question, as it would depend on the specific terms of the retainers agreement between a client and their lawyer. In general, however, most retainer agreements will be non-refundable unless a particular clause in the agreement states otherwise. This is because lawyers typically charge clients a fee in advance for their services. If a client were to request a refund after hiring the lawyer, the lawyer may need to be able to provide the total amount of assistance they contracted for. 

If you have any further questions about whether or not lawyer retainer fees are refundable, please get in touch with a lawyer or legal support service for more information.