Sample Retainer Agreement
I hate having to sign something without time to think it over.
Here is the retainer agreement I used in divorce cases. Take your time to look it over. It is written as much to educate you on the attorney-client relationship and how attorney fees are calculated and billed as it is to bind you to a specific payment arrangement.
I am no longer accepting new cases because I have retired.
Other attorneys will have other retainer agreements, which are not going to look exactly like this. However, taking time to read through this one may help you when it is time to look over the one you will be asked to sign when you retain your lawyer.
You (the Client) agree to retain me, Michael L. Idema, as your Attorney regarding the following legal matter:
What is covered by this retainer agreement
This is not a general agreement to represent you on all of your legal matters. Representation is limited to the matter or matters stated above. If you have another matter you would like help with, you will need to sign a separate retainer agreement. This agreement continues until your matter is completed or our attorney-client relationship ends. A divorce case ends when it is dismissed or a Judgment is approved by the Judge. If this agreement is for a divorce case it does not cover post-judgment matters or appeals, which would be new matters and require a new agreements. Occasionally, I will provide additional services for a client after a case is completed pursuant to a verbal agreement. If that occurs in your case, we will follow the terms of this agreement until or unless we enter into a new retainer agreement
You agree to pay me for my services as provided in this agreement. You also agree to cooperate with me in the handling of your case. Cooperation includes providing me with truthful, complete information; advising me of changes in circumstances, including prompt notices of change of address or telephone numbers; giving due consideration to the advice I provide to you; following court orders; and not taking any unethical, unlawful or fraudulent actions while I am representing you. Failure by you to do these things will be grounds for me to withdraw as your attorney.
I agree to perform all legal services reasonably necessary and related to this matter. I will control the progress of your case, scheduling of hearings, and legal tactics and arguments used in the case. You authorize me to negotiate settlement of issues in the case, subject to your final approval. I will not take any action on your behalf which is unethical, unlawful, fraudulent, or otherwise offends my sense of honor or propriety.
The outcome of your case is dependent on many factors which are not in my control. When I give you my opinion about tactics and likely outcome, that is part of my job to counsel you. The advice is not a promise or guarantee of a particular result. Similarly, estimates of the fees for the case overall, or for particular procedures, are only estimates, not promises. The fees in the case will depend on the work actually performed. An estimate does not set a minimum, maximum, or flat fee. Fees depend on actual time expended, as provided below.
There are typically expenses in a case over and above your attorney fees. You are responsible for all court costs and expenses incurred in your case. Some expenses will be paid from your retainer deposit and be included on your bill; for example, court costs, service of process, long distance phone charges, and mileage for trips outside Kent County ($.50 per mile). Other expenses you will usually pay directly; for example, appraisal and mediator fees. If I pay these or any other expenses from your retainer deposit, they will be included on your bill.
You agree to pay fees for my services at a rate of $220 per hour. The hourly rate applies to all services provided by me on the matter, including, but not limited to, conferences with you, your spouse, or your spouse’s attorney; telephone calls; e-mails; research; preparation of documents; correspondence; negotiations; discovery proceedings; and court appearances. Time will be billed in minimum amounts of one tenth hour, rounded up to the nearest one tenth. Therefore, the minimum fee charged for any work done on the matter at any one time is $22. Time billed for out-of-office work (motions, mediation, settlement and pretrial conferences, trial, and the like) are billed from when I leave the office until I return to the office. This means that you will be billed for travel time, as well as unproductive time while we wait for the other side or Judge at court. (There are often significant delays when at court.)
Fees and expenses must be deposited in advance
Money for fees, court costs, and expenses must be deposited in advance. Your retainer will be deposited to an attorney retainer trust account (also called a retainer account, trust account, or IOLTA account). This is a bank account where I keep money that belongs to my clients. I will write checks off the account to pay your court costs and other expenses. I will pay myself from the account for fees when I prepare your bill or bills. You will not receive any interest on the money held in your retainer account. Any interest on pooled client funds in my retainer account go to a State Fund to provide legal services to indigents.
How you will be billed
If your case will take more than one month to complete, you will generally receive a bill from me once a month. The bill will show services performed by me; the amount being charged; the amount I have withdrawn from your retainer deposit for the fee; expenses paid from the retainer deposit; the amount you have left on deposit; and the amount you need to deposit toward the next bill. The amount billed must be paid by you within 20 days to avoid a late payment fee ($20 every time you are late). If, at the completion of services, you have money on deposit in your retainer account which was not earned by me or spent on court costs or expenses, the remaining balance will be refunded to you. If the amount on deposit was not enough to cover all of your attorney fees, court costs, and expenses, a final balance will be billed and must be paid within 20 days of the date billed.
Attorney fee awards
Sometimes the court awards attorney fees to be paid by the other side in a case. An order by the court for your spouse to pay fees on your behalf does not relieve you of the responsibility to pay fees pursuant to this agreement. However, if I do receive payment of an attorney fee award, it will be credited to your account.
Review your bill when you receive it. If you have any questions, or think there is an error, please call me to discuss. There is no charge to talk to me about the bill. If you do not question or object to the bill within 20 days of the date of billing, the bill will be deemed accurate, correct, and fully due and payable.
If you do not pay on time
It is important that you pay on time. If I am not paid on time I may withdraw as your attorney. This would be unfortunate and inconvenient for both of us. If you have an outstanding balance for fees, costs or expenses, I may exercise an attorney lien as permitted by law against your file, property belonging to you which has come into my possession, or against property awarded you in your judgment of divorce, including real estate.
If you can’t pay
If you are unable to pay your bill, please call me to discuss. We might be able to work something out, or we may decide that the best solution is for me to withdraw as your attorney. The worst thing you can do is not pay and not call to discuss the situation.
Firing me as you lawyer
If you are unhappy with what I am doing (or not doing, please call me to discuss your concern. We will try to work it out. However, if you decide you do not want me as your lawyer, we will need for me to officially withdraw from your case. This requires the consent of the Judge. If you are hiring a different lawyer, that lawyer will usually send me a Substitution of Counsel to sign, and will then get the Judge’s approval. If you do not have another lawyer lined up, we will need to do a Stipulation to Withdraw. This will need to be circulated for approval to your spouse’s attorney and the Judge before I will be done representing you. It is not enough to stop communicating with me if you do not want me to represent you. I will continue to bill for my time until I am released from the case by the Judge.
Withdrawing as your lawyer
If you do not comply with your responsibilities under this agreement, I may ask to withdraw as your lawyer. This can be accomplished with the Substitution of Attorney or Stipulation to Withdraw. If you do not cooperate in the withdrawal, I may need to file a motion asking the Judge for permission to withdraw. Attorney fee charges continue to accrue until the Judge approves my withdrawal and I have closed your file. You will still need to pay fees and costs incurred until the file is closed. Motion hearings are expensive. Your cooperation if withdrawal is necessary will benefit us both. If you have any money left on deposit in your retainer account after all fees and costs have been paid, that amount will be refunded to you upon the file being closed.
My file on your case
It is my practice to provide you with a copy of all important papers filed in your case. I will also maintain all paperwork in a file for up to two years after completion my representation of you. After two years I may destroy the file without further notice to you. If you have provided me with documents for use in your case, you may request return of the documents at any time; however, if you do not request the return of the documents within two years of the end of my representation, the documents will be destroyed with the rest of the file. You may obtain the file, except for my notes, at the conclusion of my representation of you. There will be a copy charge of $0.35 per page. You must allow me a reasonable time to make a copy of the file. I recommend that you keep a file of your paperwork as I send papers to you during the case to avoid this potential expense.
Your retainer deposit
The amount of your initial retainer deposit is: $ 1500.00 . The minimum amount that you must keep on deposit for future fees on a month to month basis is: $ 1500.00. If a trial is scheduled in your case, you will need to increase your retainer deposit to $ 2500.00
The amount I received from you when you signed this agreement is: $ 1500
Signed: (My signature)
I have read this agreement, understand it, and agree to its terms.
Signed: (Client signature)