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Does the retainer fee go toward your case when you hire an attorney? what the retainer fee really mean?

San Francisco, CA |

My sister hired an attorney, he told her his retainer fee was $2000. Did this mean the amount she paid was just to hire him, or does it goes toward her case?

Attorney Answers 8

  1. It is a deposit against costs such as wages and court fees. As the attorney accrues costs, he will withdraw from the retainer until it is gone and then request more from the client. Most attorneys require a retainer for certain types of cases and $2000 isn't out of the ordinary.

    Thomas A. Schaeffer, Esq. Law Office of Juarez and Schaeffer PO Box 16216, San Diego, CA 92105 (619) 804-4327 This posting is provided for "informational purposes" only and should not be relied upon as "legal advice." Nothing transmitted from this posting constitutes the establishment of an attorney-client relationship. Applicability of the legal principals discussed here may differ substantially in individual situations or in different States.

  2. The term "retainer" actually is ambiguous, and can mean different things in in different agreements. Your sister should look at her written retainer agreement with her lawyer to see how the retainer will be used in her case.

    In cases where fees are charged hourly, the retainer is usually a "down payment" as to fees that will be owed, and is "consumed" as the attorney spends time on the case. The retainer can also be used to pay for certain costs, such as filing fees or court reporter charges.

    Again, this should all be spelled out in the retainer agreement between your sister and her attorney.

  3. The answer will depend upon the terms of the written engagement agreement.

    More often than not, a retainer is a deposit against which the attorney will bill his or her time. The retainer may or may not need to be replenished.

    Sometimes a retainer is simply a deposit for costs.

    Sometimes a retainer is the full fee (a flat fee) for the representation.

    There is also what is referred to as a " true retainer" which is not really an advance deposit. However, true retainers are rare.

    Frank W. Chen has been licensed to practice law in California since 1988. The information presented here is general in nature and is not intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice for a particular case. This posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author. For specific advice about your particular situation, please consult with your own attorney.

  4. The California State Bar requires fee agreements between an attorney and an individual client to be in writing when the fee is expected to exceed $1000. Since the retainer is $2000 in the case of your sister, this rule would likely apply.

    In that written fee agreement there will be a section that will precisely explain the terms and conditions of the retainer as well as all other fees and costs that must be paid. As all the other attorneys have pointed out, the term retainer is ambiguous; it is a term that is subject to agreement and can be handled various ways. It can be a minimum non-refundable fee, it can be refundable but applied to the bill, etc.

    whatever it is, the written engagement agreement must provide for it and your sister has to sign that agreement.

  5. What Mr. Schaeffer described is more properly called a deposit against fees and costs, but most people call it a retainer. There is also a true retainer, which is a monthly amount that a client pays an attorney regardless of the amount of work the attorney does. Clients may pay attorneys a true retainer to prevent them from working for someone else on the same matter or just because they want someone on call who to answer questions and provide advice.

    But I'd bet that your sister's attorney wants a deposit, which would go towards fees and costs incurred in the future.

  6. A retainer can be either case, but generally it is for the time actually spent on the case. Sometimes a retainer fee will be charged simply as a fee for the lawyer ageeing to take the case and forego other work or time to be spent on other matters? You need to look at the agreement and it must spell out the terms of the retainer. You can also demand the lawyer give you an accounting if the retainer was to be set off against time spent on the case.

    Legal disclaimer:This message does not constitute legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. Any statements are made for general informational purposes and do not constitute legal advice. No attorney-client privilege is created by this communication. Attorney is licensed in California only.

  7. It is a deposit to be applied toward future services which the attorney should provide an invoice for, showing the fees incurred and application of the retainer toward those fees.

  8. Your sister should ask the attorney directly and never should be shy about asking questions about this or any other issue relating to representation - the attorney works for her, not the other way around. The "retainer" probably is a deposit against future fees or costs (a "true" retainer is simply a payment for the attorneys promise to be available if needed), but there is no reason to guess about this.