Legal Insights / Fees / Legal Retainer: what is it and how to preserve it

Legal Retainer: what is it and how to preserve it

Jun 12 2023
“Retainer” Explained

The term “retainer” can have several meanings: money, a relationship or an agreement. Here we are focusing on a money retainer paid into a law firm’s trust account for future work in relation to litigation (i.e. a matter that may end up or is already in court). This article is not applicable where you have a contingency fee agreement in place.

At RDM, in order to open a litigation file where we bill hourly we will ask that you pay an amount into our trust account. Your retainer acts as a deposit for us to perform the services and incur the expenses that we need to in order to properly represent you. We will submit accounts to you which will be paid from your retainer and we will ask that you replenish your retainer as needed.

Your retainer is not a price or an estimate for the cost of your matter. Typically, we can typically provide estimates for various stages of your file however a challenge with litigation and cost estimates is that it largely depends on the behaviour of opposing parties which is outside of our control.

Whenever we are working on your file, we are tracking our time. This includes time spent on the phone, in meetings, doing research, preparing documents, handling correspondence, appearing in court and anything else involving your file. The hourly rates of the key individuals involved in your matter are set out in your Retainer Letter. Time will be recorded to your file in six minute increments.

Litigation is unpredictable. We could be served with a court application at any time and have just days to prepare a response. In order to represent you effectively, it is important to ensure that you always have sufficient funds in our trust account.

Payment options

Your retainer may be paid and replenished in lump sums or through monthly instalments. Payments can be made over the phone or in person at Reception. Once the work on your file is complete, any remaining retainer funds in our trust account will be returned to you by cheque.

10 tips for keeping your fees down
  1. Respond to our inquiries in a timely manner;
  2. Gather your thoughts and provide one response or one set of questions;
  3. Organize your documents in advance and bring them to our meetings;
  4. Prepare a timeline or brief history of important dates/facts leading to present day;
  5. Never hide truths that may hinder your matter;
  6. Provide clear instructions;
  7. Reflect carefully before making decisions and do not change your mind;
  8. Keep us updated so we do not need to come to you;
  9. If the assistant assigned to your file can assist you, contact him or her first; and
  10. Be open to compromise.

We know litigation is a stressful time for people and we understand legal costs add to that stress. Our goal is to handle your matter as efficiently and effectively as possible, keeping in mind your desired outcomes. We also strive to be transparent in our billing practices so please don’t hesitate to contact a member of the RDM team to talk about it.

Get in Touch


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