What Content Should They Contain?

When drafting a retainer letter or agreement, keep in mind that it should be short, clear and easy to understand, and flexible enough to account for the particulars of the client's situation. Although it is not wise to try to apply a single retainer template to all types of situations, the retainer letter or agreement should include this information:

  • The retainer does not begin until the letter or agreement is executed, returned to the lawyer, and a money retainer is paid. (But remember that you have an obligation to act to preserve a client's interests.)
  • The client's instructions.
  • The authority to act (including authority for agents and experts and other parties where required).
  • The scope of services to be performed, or not performed, as applicable.
  • An explanation for how fees are calculated, what disbursements will be charged, and that taxes will be added to fees and disbursements.
  • Timelines for when you will send bills and your expectation for payment.
  • Where appropriate, timelines for when events will occur or are likely to occur.
  • The method and frequency of communication with the client (e.g., you will strive to return phone calls in a timely manner but the nature of your practice means you will not necessarily be able to return calls the same day, etc.).
  • If interest is charged on overdue bills, explain how it is calculated. (Make sure your interest provisions don't trigger the criminal rate of interest section of the Criminal Code; and that any interest charged¬†is expressed as an annualized rate to comply with the Canada Interest Act.)
  • Confirm critical instructions provided to the client at the initial meeting as well as crucial steps that need to be taken and by whom (i.e., don't let your client think you are going to take certain steps if you are not.)
  • Terms under which the entire retainer will be terminated. Note the rules regarding withdrawal of services in the Code of Professional Conduct.
  • Any client identification requirements as specified by the LSBC.

Community Discussion

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while I will include a very brief summary of "critical instructions" I usually follow up immediately with a very detailed email summarizing the issues I see initially, any time limits and specific instructions on how to have the client prepare a detailed chronology and organize the documents chronologically where appropriate so that legal fees are initially kept as low as possible.  I also ask the client to advise me what his/her/it's expectations are initially.