Attorneys usually require a retainer to begin work on a family law legal matter such as a divorce, child custody proceeding, paternity case, grandparent visitation case, modification of a divorce decree or other family law matter. Similarly, it is common practice for employment law attorneys to require a retainer at the outset of certain kinds of employment law matters.
The retainer is placed in the attorney’s trust account, which is a special, separate account required to hold money belonging to legal clients. All attorneys who hold money of their clients are required to keep the clients' funds segregated in a separate account that can only be used for client funds. A client’s retainer can be withdrawn from the trust account by the attorney only after the fees have been earned, that is, when the work has been done. Many attorneys, including Truhlar and Truhlar, bill clients monthly and, at the same time, withdraw the portion of the retainer that has been used. It is customary (and good practice for attorneys to send a bill to their clients monthly, showing what has been withdrawn and how much remains in the trust account for that client. Truhlar and Truhlar bills its clients shortly after the first of each month.
The amount of the retainer may vary, and should be reflected in a Fee Agreement that is signed by both the client and the attorney. Some attorneys require the retainer to be replenished at such time as the initial retainer is depleted (used up).
Questions about a specific law firm's practices in regard to retainer payments should be directed to the attorney who is doing the work or someone on her or his staff.
By Doris B. Truhlar