What Is A Lawyer Retainer Fee And How Does It Protect Both Parties?

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By Molly

What is a lawyer retainer fee and how does it protect both parties? Working in the legal field is often difficult and expensive. The normal consumer doesn’t hire an attorney carelessly and wants to be sure their hard-earned money is used wisely before they engage in their services. As a result, a significant chunk of the early discussions between a client and their potential legal counsel will center on the means and timelines for payment and the necessity of each important price point the case may entail. Most legal experts will start requesting an upfront fee, known as a lawyer retainer fee.

What is a lawyer retainer? 

Lawyer Retainers are a remuneration arrangement with lawyers that can be used to reserve their services or pay for upcoming work. A general retainer is the standard sort of Retainer where a lawyer promises to take on a case or other future concerns for a client.

Things to consider before hiring a lawyer on a Retainer

Consider your legal circumstances first if having a lawyer on call sounds alluring. Consider the following points before hiring a lawyer:

What is the purpose of hiring a lawyer? 

Most people only require an attorney sometimes, usually only after a serious accident. Having an attorney on Retainer is not a wise financial choice if this is the case for you.

Examine your insurance contracts. 

Most insurance coverage, including vehicle and homeowner’s insurance, will pay for an attorney if you are in an accident. If this is the case, hiring a lawyer as further protection against these cases is not necessary.

Examine the perks. 

A lawyer on call might be one of your advantages if you work for a large company or are a union member. Most common legal issues, like wills and real estate deals, can be handled by these lawyers, in addition to some litigation. It normally doesn’t make financial sense to pay another attorney on Retainer when you already have one via your work. 

Finally, the phrases “retainer” and “retainer agreement” should not be confused. A lawyer is hired when you “retain” them, and the money you gave them is referred to as “the retainer.” The retainer agreement is the document signed when a client engages a lawyer.

What is a Lawyer Retainer Fee?

An attorney retainer fee is not a payment in and of itself. Instead, it is a negotiated sum of money that a lawyer retains on behalf of their client in an escrow account held in the name of that particular attorney. This means that the trust account, a third party, will store the client’s funds until the attorney can use them. The cash received as a retainer fee from a client is only sometimes automatically due to the attorney. Instead, that money becomes a source of funds that lawyers can only access if they have receipts and other documentation that shows they have made all necessary payments. Let’s say you pay a retainer charge of $25,000. Then, after finishing the necessary work, your attorney may only utilize that money to cover incurred costs (like the administrative fees of requesting documents necessary for your case) or to cover their billable hours.

Why Do Lawyers Charge a Retainer Fee? - eLawTalk.com

Why is the lawyer retainer fee used? 

Retainer fees provide security and protection for both the client and the lawyer. A retainer fee ensures that you will receive legal representation for the client. As long as both of you abide by the terms of your contract, your lawyer is committed to your case. Retainer fees for lawyers assist in ensuring that a client has the financial resources necessary to cover all case-related expenses, including labor costs and the sums required to:

  • File documents
  • Gather documentation
  • Make inquiries about information
  • Cover travel expenses 

Why Do Certain Lawyers Use Retainers?

A retainer is a form of insurance. Even though paying a retainer does not assure you will have enough money to cover all of the ensuing legal costs, it guarantees that your lawyer will be paid something for the time they spend working on your case. A retainer fee is only sometimes necessary. If the matter is straightforward enough, your attorney can provide their legal services for a single, up-front cost. Occasionally, attorneys will provide their services without charge.

What Is a Lawyer Retainer Agreement?

A retainer agreement is a written contract between a client and an attorney that spells out the terms of the agreement, the lawyer’s expected legal obligations, the costs involved, how the case’s fees will be structured, and other details. In general, a retainer agreement will have the following details:

  • The obligations of your lawyer.
  • What your lawyer charges.
  • Additional expected associated expenditures.
  • Your bill’s itemization.
  • The conditions of your Retainer.

It is Important to Read a Retainer/Fee Agreement

What is the Duration of a Legal Retainer?

The attorney can only claim the retainer money once the service is completed and the customer has received an invoice. The customer still owns the Retainer as long as it isn’t spent on authorized expenses as specified in the retainer agreement. There is no expiration date for the funds in the trust account.


What exactly does it mean when someone says they’ll call “their” lawyer, or what is a lawyer retainer? 

A lawyer retainer is intended to establish the terms for legal services to be provided later. Many professional service providers will ask for a retainer. 

Frequently asked questions 

When Does a Lawyer Earn a Retainer Fee?

Both earned and unearned money makes up a retainer. How these are specified can be further spelled out in a retainer agreement. However, unearned retainer money is any cash your attorney still needs to access and is still in the trust account. In contrast, earned money is any money the lawyer has taken out of the account to cover their billed time or other case-related expenses (as per properly documented receipts).

When Is a Retainer Fee for a Lawyer Refilled?

Retainer fees are either restored when the total amount of unearned money is zero or when the minimum amount specified in your retainer agreement has been met.