WHAT IS A LAWYER RETAINER? A GUIDE FOR CALIFORNIANS
There are 1.3 million lawyers in the United States, but not all lawyers are the same. Attorneys become licensed to work in a specific state, focus on a particular area or areas of the law, and manage our firms differently.
When you begin speaking to attorneys, one topic you should always ask about is the cost. The lawyer you hire should be able to explain their fee structure clearly. One phrase you might hear is a “retainer.”
This guide will help you understand what a lawyer retainer is and what it means for you.
WHAT IS A LAWYER RETAINER?
There are several ways a lawyer can charge for their services. This includes a flat fee, an hourly rate, a contingency arrangement, and a retainer. A retainer is a fee the lawyer requires you to pay before they begin representation.
Once you pay the fee, your lawyer will begin working on your case. As their office bills you, the billed amount gets subtracted from the retainer fee paid. Your lawyer may require you to deposit more money as the balance depletes so that you always have a positive balance. Once your case is completed, any remaining balance on your account gets refunded to you.
WHEN IS A RETAINER FEE CHARGED?
Typically, the more complicated a case is, the more likely a lawyer will require a retainer. There are also some areas of law where you’re more likely to pay a retainer than others. Corporate, estate planning, real estate, and intellectual property lawyers all commonly request a retainer for services. But then other lawyers, such as personal injury lawyers, tend to work on contingency. This means they get paid fees only when you recover damages.
CAN I PAY BEFORE I NEED A LAWYER?
Yes, this is what many businesses are advised to do. You never know when you may need a lawyer, or if you may need to use one frequently. Having a lawyer on retainer means that they are primed and ready to go at the request of an email or phone call. This can allow you to act and respond quickly to legal matters and can help avoid more significant negative consequences later on.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE MONEY?
Lawyers are required to keep a separate escrow account called a trust account for all advance fees collected. The lawyer will withdraw money from the trust account once the lawyer works on your case and bills the account.
BENEFITS OF A RETAINER AGREEMENT
Lawyers appreciate a retainer agreement because they can confidently work on a case knowing they will get paid. This type of arrangement works well for clients because it lets them determine an anticipatory budget for their case.
RETAIN A CALIFORNIA LAWYER TODAY
If you need to hire an attorney and they begin talking about a lawyer retainer, don’t panic. This is a standard method of billing, especially in California. Use this time to discuss the complexity of your case and the anticipated amount of work.
When you are ready to hire a lawyer, contact them and prepare to pay a retainer. You can then relax, knowing you have a legal expert looking out for your best interests.
Contact our office today and schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.
Michael J. Fish is “Of Counsel” with the firm of Anderson Zeigler. He is a past chair of The State Bar of California Mandatory Fee Arbitration Committee and the Marin County Bar Association Client Relations Committee and the current Chair of the SCBA Mandatory Fee Arbitration Committee.