retainer

Definition

A fee that the client pays upfront to an attorney before the attorney has begun work for the client.

There are three types of retainers, each with a different purpose:

(1) A general retainer, which is a fee for a specific period of time rather than for a specific project. While no specific representation is contemplated, the client pays for the attorney’s availability during the time specified.

(2) Also termed a retaining fee, a deposit or lump sum fee which the client pays in advance. The attorney must place that up-front fee in a trust account. As the lawyer performs work, he or she withdraws money from that trust account as payment for the work done. Any amount that is left over after legal representation has concluded must be refunded to the client.

(3) A special retainer, which is a flat fee that the client pays for a specific case or project. Many states prohibit this form of retainer because it may prevent the client from discharging the attorney at any time during the representation.