Specific Money Retainers

What Are They?

In general, a retainer letter or agreement confirms the terms of engagement of your professional services. It sets out the scope of services to be performed, billing matters, and your authority to act.

Discuss the topics to be covered in the retainer letter or agreement early in the relationship, preferably at the first meeting. If you decide to accept the client's case, you should send the client a retainer letter or agreement detailing what was discussed at the initial meeting, and setting out the essential terms of the relationship.

You should instruct the client to read the retainer letter or agreement before signing it, and in some situations, such as a contingent fee agreement, you should inform the client that he or she may want another lawyer to review the agreement.

What Purpose Do They Serve?

In most cases, your client will give you a specific money retainer for the purpose of performing a specific task. A specific money retainer serves a number of valuable purposes:

  • It turns the client's mind to the issue of fees and specifically, that the services you perform are professional services that require payment. It is essential to discuss fees with clients.¬†You should issue¬†timely and sufficiently detailed bills in order to manage the relationship and manage your client's expectations, get paid, and reduce the chance of client complaints.
  • It gives you some assurance that at least some payment will be received for the services you perform.
  • It sets out what services you will and will not perform.
  • It confirms your authority to act on the client's behalf.
  • It outlines how your services are to be billed, including frequency of billing, disbursements, tax issues, etc.
  • It confirms crucial information you discussed with the client at the first meeting.
  • It lets the potential client know that you are not representing him or her until the retainer letter or agreement is executed and returned to you.
  • It provides a mechanism for replenishing a money retainer and alerts the client to the methods by which the lawyer-client relationship may or will be terminated.
  • If there is a dispute about matters such as the scope of your services, a retainer letter or agreement provides valuable evidence about the intended terms of your relationship. It is important to remember that in the absence of a written agreement, uncertainty as to the scope of the retainer will be construed in the client's favour.