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What is a retainer for a defense attorney for ?

Melbourne, FL |

1. In other words what does it get done ? Someone told me it might as well be called a gift because it does not pay for any services.
2. Is there a set of rules I can look up that govern how lawyers charge clients

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Attorney answers 4


Someone is rather cynical. It does in fact pay for services. You should have signed a contract with you attorney when you hired him that explained both your rights and your obligations. You are also entitled to an invoice for services. The ethical rules governing attorneys can be found at, lawyer regulation. Here is a link.

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The best and most accurate answer will come from the attorney to be retained. As a general rule, a retainer is an advance against costs to be incurred and fees to be earned. It is client money placed under the control of the attorney in a trust account. In many states there must be a written agreement and the retainer must be refundable, that is any unearned portion must be returned to the client. What services will be billed, and how, are important questions to discuss with the attorney. There is no "set of rules" to "look up" but general principles about fees are a subject included the rules of ethics in most states.

Best wishes for a favorable outcome, and please remember to designate a best answer.

This answer is offered as a public service for general information only and may not be relied upon as legal advice.



Paula, my employer wrote a check to me and the law firm unbeknown to me. No where in my retainer agreement does it state that the check will be written to both the firm and me Is this legal?

Paula Brown Sinclair

Paula Brown Sinclair


Please note that I am not licensed to practice in your state, and cannot provide advice in a specific case.


Some lawyers charge retainers to begin work on a matter. Basically, the retainer is a downpayment on the lawyer's services. It goes towards the attorneys work on your case. As your attorney works on your case, he will draw payment for the retainer. Once it gets low you will be required to replenish it for him/her to continue working.

Not all lawyers work on retainers. Increasingly, many younger lawyers are resolving matters for flat fees. Personal Injury lawyers also generally work on a contingent fee basis.


A retainer given to a defense attorney should be part of an "agreement for services" to be rendered in a case. This is the formation of a relationship so the duties of both sides must be explained and agreed to. Great agreements (contracts) will have mutual reciprocity.

They will state specifically:

1. What you are representing them for. The specific charges, and Courts.
2. The degree of representation (through to hearings, motions, and/or trial and/or appeals)

ie. To attend initial appearance, pre-trial conferences, obtain discovery, and negotiate with the prosecutor on your behalf, this fee does not (or does) include any pretrial, and trial motions, suppression hearing, or proceeding to trial.

3. When does the agreement (lawyer services) end.

ie. All of our services in this matter will end, unless otherwise agreed upon in a writing signed by us, when there is a final agreement, settlement, decision or judgment by the court.

4. What you are NOT representing them for, also called the SCOPE of representation.

ie. NOT INCLUDED within the scope of our representation is a trial or an appeal from any judgments or orders of the court. Appeals are subject to separate discussion and negotiation between my firm and you.

NOT INCLUDED in the scope of this agreement are services you may request of me in connection with any other matter, action, or proceeding. Including but not limited to car accidents, personal injuries, no fault insurance, medical expenses, immigration, visas, and/or tort claims.

NOT INCLUDED in the scope of this agreement are legal representation for any civil matter, forfeiture action, administrative matter, or any other proceeding post plea, final agreement, decision, or judgment by the court. This includes but is not limited to any Court Ordered hearings and/or appearances that are a result of your failure to attend the VIP (Victim Impact Panel), your failure to complete a drug and/or alcohol evaluation, your failure to complete the DDP (Drinking Driver Program), your failure to complete any treatment related to your evaluation and/or Court Order, your failure to pay fines and/or Court surcharges, your relicensure, or Your violation of Probation.

4. When and why representation would be terminated.

ie. My representation, and our relationship as attorney and client will be terminated for the following reasons:

1. Your failure to comply with my requests for information;
2. Your failure to return my phone calls, emails, and/or other communications in a timely manner;
3. Your failure to make payment as agreed;
4. Your check failure, if your check/draft fails to clear the bank or institution of issue we may be ethically compelled to withdraw our representation;
5. Your failure to sign documents when requested;
6. Your failure to show up for Court in a timely fashion;
7. Your making of material misrepresentations, which representations you should have reasonably known to be false, will void this agreement in it’s entirety.

5. My agreement also has a mutual respect and honesty clause:

ie. We both agree to show each other respect throughout our relationship, and beyond. We shall endeavor to communicate with one another openly, honestly, and completely. We shall respect one another’s time. We shall arrange specific times for in depth conversations and/or meetings. We both agree to never record any conversations and/or meetings by any type of media and/or device.

6. In addition, what happens if the relationship is terminated, I have a specific refund clause,

7. A legal costs and expenses section explaining court reporters, transcripts, expert witnesses, etc.

Establishing a specific agreement between you and your attorney is very important. My agreements are customized to the cases I take on.

Agreements in writing or verbal are only as good as those in back of them. Having it all in writing and agreed to is a great first step to having a powerful relationship.

Lawrence (Larry) Newman, D.C., J.D. Attorney at Law Doctor of Chiropractic Licensed in NY, PA, NJ, & FL The response herein is not legal advice and does not create an attorney/client relationship. The response is in the form of legal education and is intended to provide general information about the matter within the question. Oftentimes the question does not include significant and important facts and timelines that, if known, could significantly change the reply and make it unsuitable. Dr. Newman strongly advises the questioner to confer with an attorney in your state in order to ensure proper advice is received.