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The Well Drafted Retainer Agreement – A Sample and A Challenge

by Carolyn Elefant on July 13, 2008 · 7 comments

in Client Relations, Retainer Agreements

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As I’ve written in Solo by Choice and discussed at my blog, a well drafted, ethically compliant retainer agreement is a lawyer’s most important tool in guarding against grievances, setting client expectations and generally, helping to create a profitable pratice.   Without a retainer, some bars won’t even let you collect your fee.  And if your agreement doesn’t comply with bar rules, you may find yourself hit with a serious grievance.  Finally, a retainer is the first document that a client receives from your office – and a professional, well thought out and thorough retainer can be a selling point for your practice.

Because of its importance, retainer letter is one of the first documents that you should create for your office.  You should constantly review and modify it to incorporate new ideas as you move forward.  At the same time, there are no shortcuts:  because law practices and bar rules are so divergent, it’s impossible to create a standard, one size fits all retainer.  At Soloformania, I list some letters that may offer a starting point or include language that you want to put into your retainer agreement, but you’ll still have to do most of the modifications yourself.

How can a retainer letter help you keep a fee?  Because the agreement (if you choose) sets out what you’ll do in a case, you can readily defend your fee by simply pointing to a list of tasks in the retainer that you said might be necessary.   For family law attorneys, Michael Sherman of Law for Profit.com has a great Sample Retainer (at the end of the materials) that you can modify for your jurisdiction.  Notice that the retainer educates the client by giving a roadmap of the proceeding, establishes an expectation that the matter may potentially be protracted, makes clear the terms of payment, sets forth grounds for withdrawal and contains a sunset provision on the effectiveness of the agreement.   Yes, there’s even more that you can include in a Retainer (or a supplemental Office Policies Guide) such as policies for use of email, document retention, data security, time for returning phone calls, resolving billing disputes, Client Bill of Rights or even green office practices.  But Sherman’s retainer covers many bases for a family law practice.

Don’t wait for your first client to walk through the door to draft a retainer agreement.  Get started now with this important building block for your law firm.

  • http://greatestamericanlawyer.typepad.com/greatest_american_lawyer/2008/07/are-traditional.html Enrico S.

    Outside of personal injury and contingency litigation, traditional retainer agreements are dinosaurs which ought to find their way to the tar pits. As we have blogged about at the Greatest American Lawyer Blog, the traditional use of the retainer agreement simply makes it difficult for the client to sign up for legal services. The digital world offers opportunities to define the legal services you will be providing and obtain an email confirmation of retention. Technology creates the possibility of being retained within minutes or hours of first contact by the client. Why do we put barriers up to doing business with our customers?

  • http://greatestamericanlawyer.typepad.com/greatest_american_lawyer/2008/07/are-traditional.html Enrico S.

    Outside of personal injury and contingency litigation, traditional retainer agreements are dinosaurs which ought to find their way to the tar pits. As we have blogged about at the Greatest American Lawyer Blog, the traditional use of the retainer agreement simply makes it difficult for the client to sign up for legal services. The digital world offers opportunities to define the legal services you will be providing and obtain an email confirmation of retention. Technology creates the possibility of being retained within minutes or hours of first contact by the client. Why do we put barriers up to doing business with our customers?

  • CHARLENELUV

    What is this??? Teaching lawyers how to scam their clients for every penny, while they suffer waiting for you to half way do your job.. Sounds like you are makeing up Supplemental fees.. Not trying to be rude, but I was looking for information to make sure I was not getting done wrong…IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY.

  • Kiki

    true ..

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AZAZXE3R3X3DK7M2VUFAGPIVRU BradH

    Don’t worry charlene soon there will be so few lawyers practicing law you won’t be able to find or afford one thanks to the State Bar.

  • Tedk

    I thought your nation of “free enterprise” types were all about maximizing profits Charlene. Just get out of the way of business, end government regulation, let everyone try to scam their way to the biggest profits they can get. This thinking invited the banks to clean-up at cost to the nation and the world, invited tens of billions of non-compete contracting scams by Dick Cheney’s buds in Iraq, let’s wealthy gambling kingpins buy the election process with their super pacs as a form of “free speech,” why shouldn’t lawyers have equal rights to take advantage of their “opportunities”? Let’s all just plunder each other on our way to “freedom”…

  • Boogieman

    What does retainer agreements have to do with Dick Cheney?  What a troll.

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