What Does it Mean to Have a Lawyer on Retainer?

A lawyer on retainer is an attorney who has agreed to provide legal services when needed. This means that the client pays a certain fee to the lawyer in advance, and in return, the lawyer is available to offer advice or represent them should any legal matters arise. 

Retainers are often used to secure the services of an expert lawyer for a one-time or recurring service. It is important to understand the details of the arrangement with your lawyer, as retainer fees and other costs vary significantly depending on the scope of legal services required.

What is a Retainer?

In the legal context, a retainer is an agreement between a lawyer and a client in which the lawyer agrees to provide certain services as requested by the client. The agreement usually requires the client to pay a set fee in advance for those services. 

In return for this payment, the lawyer is committed to providing their professional advice and representation when needed. Retainers are often used when a client requires on-going legal services, such as when setting up a business or managing litigation.

How Does a Retainer Agreement Work?

Most retainer agreements are written contracts between a lawyer and their client. The agreement outlines the scope of services to be provided, fees to be paid, payment terms, and other details related to the relationship between the two parties. It is important that both parties fully understand the terms of the agreement before signing it in order to avoid any misunderstandings.

Generally, the client pays a non-refundable retainer fee up front which is applied towards any legal fees incurred during the course of the agreement. Depending on the terms of the agreement, some lawyers may provide services for a flat fee, while others may charge an hourly rate for their services. The client and lawyer may also agree to a payment plan where the client pays a set amount each month or quarter toward their legal fees.

When entering into a retainer agreement, it is important to understand all of the details before signing in order to ensure that both parties are satisfied with the services provided and no unexpected fees arise during the course of their legal relationship.

What is the Scope of a Retainer?

The scope of a retainer agreement can vary significantly depending on the needs of the client and the services agreed upon. Generally, a retainer covers any legal advice or representation that is required during the course of the agreement. 

The lawyer may provide general legal advice, help with negotiations, represent clients in court proceedings, prepare documents, or other tasks as requested by the client.

It is important to understand exactly what type of services are included under your retainer agreement in order to ensure that you get value for your money. 

For example, some lawyers may include notary services under their retainer agreement while others might charge extra for notary work. Other common legal services included under retainers are: contract review, incorporation filings, trademark registration, and document drafting.

When discussing the scope of a retainer agreement with your lawyer, be sure to ask detailed questions so that you understand which services are included in the fee and what additional costs may arise during the course of the agreement. This will help ensure that you get value for money and avoid any surprises down the road.

Common Legal Services on a Retainer

Common legal services included on a retainer agreement include:

  • Drafting and reviewing contracts;
  • Negotiating settlements;
  • Representing clients in court proceedings;
  • Researching applicable laws and regulations;
  • Preparing documents for filing with government agencies or the courts;
  • Notarizing documents.

Common Exclusions in Retainer Agreements

Most retainer agreements do not cover any services that are outside of the scope of the agreement. This means that if you require additional legal services, such as filing an appeal or preparing a will, you may need to pay extra for those services. Other common exclusions in retainer agreements include:

  • Preparing an estate plan;
  • Representation in arbitration or mediation;
  • Filing an appeal;
  • Appearances at court hearings;
  • Services related to criminal law.

It is important that you understand all of the exclusions in your retainer agreement before signing it in order to avoid any unexpected costs down the road.

The Financial Aspect of a Retainer Agreement

The financial aspect of a retainer agreement is an important consideration when entering into the agreement. Different lawyers have different fee structures and payment terms, so it is important to understand these before agreeing to any services. Generally, most lawyers charge on a flat fee basis or an hourly rate for their services. Other payment terms may be negotiated between the lawyer and the client, such as a payment plan over a set period of time.

It is also important to understand any additional fees or costs that may be incurred during the course of the agreement. These may include filing fees, copying costs, travel expenses, expert witness fees, etc. It is important to ensure that these are clearly outlined in the retainer agreement so that both parties are aware of any additional costs that may arise during their legal relationship.

How to Choose the Right Lawyer for a Retainer Arrangement – 7 Factors to Consider

1. Knowledge and Experience: 

It is important to select a lawyer with the appropriate knowledge and experience in the area of law you are seeking counsel for. A good idea is to ask your lawyer about their experience, qualifications and research on cases similar to yours. The more information you can gather about your prospective lawyer, the better you can assess if they are the right fit for your case.

2. Reputation: 

Before hiring a lawyer, research their reputation in the legal community. Ask colleagues, friends and family what kind of experience they have had with lawyers similar to yours. The last thing you want is to hire someone who has a bad record in the industry or gets poor reviews from clients.

3. Communication Style: 

It’s important to find a lawyer who communicates effectively and clearly so that you can understand precisely what is being said when it comes to complex legal matters. Make sure that your lawyer takes time to explain concepts and ideas in language that is easy for you to understand.

4. Fees: 

You should make sure that you understand what fees your lawyer will be charging for services and how they will be charged. Some lawyers charge by the hour, while others may have a retainer fee or flat rate pricing structure depending on the type of case. Be sure to discuss these details before signing any legal documents.

5. Client Relationships: 

It is important to develop an open and honest relationship with your lawyer so that they can provide you with optimal service and advice when needed. Make sure you feel comfortable discussing matters with them as this is key to having an effective working relationship in the long-term.

6. Availability: 

When choosing a lawyer, make sure that they are available when you need them. You should inquire about their availability and whether they are willing to respond in a timely manner to your requests or concerns.

7. Location: 

The last factor to consider when choosing a lawyer is location – if the lawyer is located close by, they will be more accessible and available for meetings and consultations. You should also take into account any travel time costs associated with meeting with them in person.

9 Benefits of Having a Lawyer on Retainer

Having a lawyer on retainer can provide many different types of benefits, including those related to legal protection, cost savings and convenience. Here are nine key advantages that you may enjoy by hiring a lawyer on retainer:

1. Dedicated Representation: 

By having a dedicated lawyer on retainer, you will have the assurance that your case will receive personalized attention at any time. Your lawyer will be able to keep a close eye on your case and provide informed advice and guidance.

2. Cost Savings: 

A lawyer on retainer can help you save money over time due to the reduced cost associated with obtaining legal services on an as-needed basis.

3. Legal Protection: 

Having a lawyer on retainer provides you with access to legal protection and advice in the event of any potential legal disputes or issues that may arise.

4. Proactive Advice: 

Your lawyer can help provide proactive advice to avoid any potential legal issues before they become costly problems.

5. Convenience: 

A lawyer on retainer makes it easy for you to obtain quick and reliable legal guidance whenever necessary without having to search for a new attorney each time a problem arises.

6. Accessibility: 

By engaging a lawyer on retainer, you will have consistent contact information readily available should any questions or concerns come up related to your case or legal matter.

7. Time Savings: 

Having a lawyer on retainer helps save time by eliminating the need to research and vet potential lawyers each time legal assistance is required.

8. Specialized Knowledge: 

A lawyer on retainer gives you access to their specialized knowledge gained from working on similar cases as yours, allowing them to provide more informed advice tailored specifically for your case.

9. Continuity: 

With a lawyer on retainer, you can expect continuity in relation to the handling of your case and the advice they provide throughout its duration. This ensures that all parties are up-to-date with any changes or developments that may occur during the course of proceedings.

6 Shortcomings of Having a Lawyer on Retainer

Having a lawyer on retainer provides many benefits however there are also some potential drawbacks to consider when making your decision. Here are six key shortcomings that you should be aware of:

1. Lack of Flexibility: 

A lawyer on retainer may not have the flexibility to accommodate changes or revisions as needed. It is important to discuss any potential changes with your lawyer beforehand and make sure they will be able to meet your needs in a timely manner.

2. Cost: 

In some cases, engaging a lawyer on retainer can cost more than using an hourly payment plan depending on the type of service required. You should weigh all options before deciding which pricing structure will work best for you.

3. Limited Scope: 

Depending on the services being provided, having a lawyer on retainer may limit the scope of the cases they can handle. This means that some larger or more complex matters may require outside assistance.

4. Lack of Specialization: 

With a lawyer on retainer, you are limited to their areas of practice and expertise. You should research potential lawyers to make sure they have sufficient experience in your particular case before signing any agreement.

5. Conflict of Interest: 

In some cases, a lawyer on retainer may have a conflict of interest if they are also representing another party involved in your case. You should make sure that any potential conflicts are identified and resolved before engaging their services.

6. Being Limited to Working with One Lawyer: 

Having a lawyer on retainer means that you may be limited to working with one lawyer. This can be beneficial in terms of continuity, however, it can also mean that you are unable to take advantage of the benefits of taking advantage of available expertise specific to your case.


Having a lawyer on retainer can provide many advantages, including accessibility, time savings, specialized knowledge and continuity. However, there are also some key drawbacks to consider before committing to this arrangement. 

It is important to research potential lawyers thoroughly and discuss all options with them before signing any agreement. This will ensure that you get the best legal advice for your particular situation. Overall, engaging a lawyer on retainer can be a cost-effective and convenient solution in many cases, but it is important to weigh the pros and cons of the arrangement before making any decision.

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