Do "non refundable retainers" require any actual documented time spent on the case by the attorney?

Asked over 1 year ago - Clermont, FL

I paid an attorney a $50,000 "non refundable retainer" to represent my son. My son and I met with the lawyer four times for a total of four hours. He took no depositions or engage in any investigation of the charges. Speaking to the prosecutor for a plea deal was the extent of his representation. My son was so discouraged, I hired another lawyer for $20,000 who also just spoke to prosecutors to arrange a plea deal. The original attorney did not even show up for all of our court dates but did not refund any of his fee. I was extremely distraught and now feel that the attorney took advantage of my inexperience with criminal proceedings. I feel that $70,000 in legal fees was excessive and is a prime example of attorneys taking advantage of an overwhelmed and distraught mother.

Attorney answers (4)

  1. Robert M Chambers

    Contributor Level 14

    1

    Lawyer agrees

    Answered . Freedom of contract includes the right to make a bad deal. That said nonrefundable retainers are legal in Florida . It is to compensate the attorney for reservation of future time to handle the case, avoiding other cases which might cause a conflict etc. The Florida Bar doesn't consider a fee dispute to be a disciplinary matter. But they do prohibit unreasonable fees. To try to get it back you will probably need to file suit in circuit court. Suit could contain a count for declaratory judgment as to the reasonableness issue.

    This answer was provided as a courtesy to you and no attempt was made to establish any type of attorney/client... more
  2. Christine C McCall

    Pro

    Contributor Level 20

    2

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . This is general info only: time spent and written work produced are measures of "reasonableness" when it comes to fees, but not the only the only measures. Skill, knowledge, lost work/business opportunities, and other factors not necessarily considered by the client may also be part of that determination. The right answer that causes the right result may be priceless without reference to time or effort, if that right answer was not otherwise available.

    No legal advice here. READ THIS BEFORE you contact me! My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended... more
  3. Jack Richard Lebowitz

    Pro

    Contributor Level 18

    1

    Lawyer agrees

    1

    Answered . The rules of legal ethics in most states (most being based on the same model ABA code) require fees to be "reasonable" and an attorney may be subject to discipline if his fees are not reasonable for the services provided. Depending on the circumstances, the attorney might have to show documented time spent on the matter, particularly in extreme instances such as you cite with very high fees for very little apparent work. Those fees might be deemed "unreasonable", which is a question of fact, even if the work produced good results or the outcome desired by the client.

    See this website here for general disciplinary rules: http://bit.ly/1335KxT and these webpages relating to fee arbitration http://bit.ly/1335Qpi , http://bit.ly/1335Up2 , http://bit.ly/1335Y87 .

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  4. William Emil Cassara

    Pro

    Contributor Level 18

    1

    Lawyer agrees

    Answered . I would add the following: Some states prohibit "non-refundable" retainers. I have no idea whether Florida allows them. I have had client pay me a retainer, and I was able to obtain the desired result in less time then anticipated. I have also had clients pay me a retainer and had the case take significantly longer then I anticipated. The latter, of course, does not allow me seek more fees from the client.
    So the short answer to your question is "it depends." I will grant you that in the first instance, the fee does not seem reasonable given that you had to hire other counsel to complete the work. I would recommend you contact the state bar both in terms of possibly filing a grievance and in terms of utilizing their fee arbitration program. Best of luck.

    This post is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice, nor does it establish an attorney... more

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