What Does it Mean to Have a Lawyer on Retainer?

If you’ve ever heard someone say they have a lawyer on retainer, you may be left wondering what exactly that means. Lawyers that handle federal cases and other complex issues may have a higher retainer because of the amount of work that goes into each case. Retainer arrangements consider this initial fee a down payment on future work.

A lawyer will typically charge a retainer fee upfront before working on a case. This fee doesn’t cover all legal services but instead guarantees the attorney’s availability. When a company has a lawyer on retainer, for example, they pay that lawyer to be on call when necessary.

It’s important to understand the nature of your retainer agreement when you work with a law firm. Below, we’ll discuss different pay arrangements for legal services.

How Do Companies Pay for Lawyers that Handle Federal Cases?

Every business needs to hire legal representation occasionally, whether it’s for issues like employee contracts or to ensure compliance with federal law.

They will help you avoid harsh legal penalties that could result from unintentional tax evasion and other violations of federal criminal law. Lawyers that handle federal cases tend to use a few different payment arrangements.

Here are the most common ones you’ll encounter.

Contingency Fees Defer Payment Until After the Case is Complete

The lawyer takes a certain percentage of the settlement, which means that the client only pays if the case is successful. Contingency fees are common in personal injury cases, where a larger payout is most likely.

Hourly Rates are Another Common Option

At the start of your case or during your consultation, you can ask your federal attorney to estimate the amount of time your case will take. The actual amount of time could be different.

Some Law Firms Charge Flat Fees

This is most common for standard legal services such as drafting an employee contract, reviewing lease information, and other paperwork. However, it’s unlikely for a federal criminal case.

There are Retainer Fees

These fees guarantee that your federal criminal defense attorney will be available to work on your case. In some cases, it establishes an on-call relationship with your lawyer. In other situations, the retainer is basically a down payment for future services.

A good attorney can help you avoid federal prosecution and other unpleasantries. Many companies find that it’s worth the money to help navigate the criminal justice system.

How Do Retainers Work When Hiring Federal Criminal Lawyers? 

It can be costly to hire legal counsel on a permanent basis. Most small and mid-sized businesses don’t have the budget or need to have a federal lawyer on their staff permanently. However, some of those companies will find that it’s worth it to keep a criminal defense lawyer on retainer.

A retainer fee is an up-front fee for the services of a professional, such as a lawyer. This fee ensures that your lawyer will begin working on the case, but it doesn’t represent the total cost of the services. Instead, it’s considered a part of the payment for future services, including federal cases and other issues.

Rather than hiring an in-house attorney, small businesses and large enterprises alike may want to keep lawyers on retainer. It’s more affordable and also gives them reliable access to a federal defense attorney when necessary.

Here are some of the retainer agreements you’ll see most often from federal criminal defense attorneys.

General Retainers

General retainers are written agreements that establish that a particular lawyer will provide legal representation on your behalf on a regular basis. The agreement will also elaborate on how you will be billed for any services beyond the initial retainer fee.

Retaining Fee

A retaining fee guarantees that you have the services of a particular federal criminal defense lawyer. Crucially, this fee allows you to use your federal criminal lawyer and their reputation to gain leverage in a criminal case.

This can help you avoid facing federal criminal charges, and it can even reduce the chances someone will pursue criminal charges.

Special Retainer

A special retainer is a fee that is designated for one specific case, including federal criminal cases. This type of retainer fee depends on the complexity of the case and your attorney’s hourly fee.

For federal crimes, for example, an attorney may request a larger retainer.

State Laws and Attorney Fees

State and federal laws have guidelines on how criminal attorneys should conduct themselves. These standards of professional conduct include reasonable legal fees. Federal attorneys are required to operate within certain standards instead of overcharging for their services.

In California, the state requires any written agreements for situations where fees will likely cost over $1000.

Businesses often need to create legal documents, deal with HR issues, and file papers in court. They may also need to do legal research. These costs can add up quickly, and getting a copy of a document alone can cost $25.

In many cases, a retainer fee is more affordable than dealing with state and federal agencies on your own.

What is Included in a Retainer Agreement?

A typical retainer agreement covers the details of your financial arrangement with your lawyer. It will detail the cost of the retainer as well as a billing plan for any additional legal charges. The agreement will also establish what services will incur additional costs.

The retainer will first cover your attorney’s setup for your case. Whether you are dealing with a federal criminal investigation, healthcare fraud, or a simple case—your attorney will need to do research and plan out your defense.

Occasionally, fee disputes occur. If your retainer agreement isn’t clear, you may encounter differing opinions on how to settle the bill. You may not agree on the bill amount, how the fees were used, or on other issues.

If this happens to you, you can request fee arbitration from the local bar association.

The experts at Libertybell Law Group have years of experience working with both local and federal courts. Our team is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

To set up a free consultation to learn more about our retainer arrangements and how to hire our lawyers that handle federal cases, you may fill out our online form or contact us at 877-541-3566 at LibertyBell Law Group today!

Frequently Asked Questions About Retainers 

These are some of the most common questions clients have about retainers.

What is a monthly retainer?

If you have a lawyer on retainer, you may need to pay a retainer on a regular basis for their continued service. Many companies have a monthly retainer arrangement.

How much does a retainer cost?

The cost of your retainer depends on your lawyer’s usual fee. Most lawyers multiply their hourly fee by the amount of time they expect your case to take. For many lawyers, this is over a thousand dollars.

What kind of cases require a retainer?

Lawyers will require a retainer for almost all legal services, ranging from federal criminal charges to small claims court. A good lawyer can help you avoid penalties and even years in prison.

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Gina Tennen


At A Glance

  • Expert legal strategist.
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