Retainers and legal fees: A pay-as-you go retainer agreement

Who cannot give good counsel? ‘Tis cheap, it costs them nothing. — Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy

Yes, but no.

Back in 2007, when I retained Educated Edmund and Lefty LeDoux’s law firm to sue the Skush-O’Briens, they didn’t send me a retainer agreement. They didn’t do a number of other things, either.

Which is why I departed that firm last October, picking up all my files and trucking them downtown to the law firm of Miss Amelia Bodkin. I’ll tell you about why and how this happened later. For now, though, you should know that Miss Amelia’s firm does provide retainer agreements.

Here is the complete agreement, with protective excisions. I’ve removed the hourly rates stated because when Miss Amelia told me what they’d be, I was shocked. “That’s all!?” I cried. “You should be charging more.” Am I the world’s greatest client? Yes, but no: I’d been charged more by Ed and Lefty’s law firm, so I had a basis of comparison.


THIS AGREEMENT, dated October 25, 2010, is made BETWEEN the Client, Naomi Fein, (“You”) and The Law Firm of Miss Amelia Bodkin.

1.  Legal Services To Be Provided: You agree that the Firm will represent You in the following matter:

Fein v. Skush-O’Briens, Index Number 07-etc.

The legal work includes all necessary investigation, correspondence, review, preparation and drafting of documents, research, investigation, telephone calls and other related work to properly represent You in this matter. This agreement does not include litigation unless the supplemental retainer in paragraph 3A is paid.

2.  Additional Legal Services: If You need any other services that may or may not be related to the above matter, You and the Attorney may make a new agreement to provide the other services.

3.  Legal Fees: The Attorney cannot, and does not, predict or guarantee what your final bill will be. This will depend on the amount of time spent on your case, the contingency below and the amount of other expenses.

A.  Initial Payment: The Attorney will begin work on your case upon receipt of a retainer of $10,000.00, which will be applied to costs and fees incurred pursuant to this agreement. In the event You want the Attorney to defend or commence new litigation, this retainer must be supplemented to a total of $10,000.00.

B.  Minimum Fee: There is no minimum fee on this matter. You will be entitled to a return of any unused portion of the initial payment after all fees and expenses have been deducted, once the Firm has been discharged, or our representation otherwise concluded.

C.    Hourly Rate:    You agree to pay the Firm for legal services as follows:

Rate Per Hour    :        Services of:

$ XXX.XX              Partner or “of counsel” firms

$ XXX.XX              Associate

$  XX.XX                Non-Firm (except as set forth in Paragraph “4”)

$ XXX.XX              Paralegal

These fees may be raised when the Firm raises its standard billable fees, except that they shall remain in effect for a minimum of one (1) year from the date hereof. From time to time the Firm may, in its discretion, utilize, affiliated Firms (called ‘of counsel’) on certain aspects of this matter. These affiliated Firms will be billed based on their experience at the foregoing rates. The Firm will supervise all work by affiliated Firms and will, at all times, remain responsible for this matter. Your primary Firm will be the Firm with whom you initially consulted, although other Firms may work on your case at the rates set forth above.

Your primary attorney in this matter will be Miss Amelia Bodkin, who is a partner of the firm. Some work may be performed by other members and employees of the firm whose hourly rates are listed above.

D. All services will be billed: You will receive monthly statements at the hourly rates set forth in paragraph “3(c)” above for all services rendered. This includes telephone calls, drafting and reviewing letters and other documents, travel time to and from meetings and court, court appearances, legal research, negotiations and any other services relating to this matter. The minimum billable period for any charge is one-tenth (1/10) hour, billed as .10.

E. Additional Advance Payments: The Firm reserves the right to require the advance payment of an additional fee in the event the matter is scheduled for trial or a substantial motion in an amount reasonably related to the fees likely to be incurred, or in the event You are delinquent in your payments to the Firm.

4.  Costs and Expenses. In addition to legal fees set forth above, You must pay the following costs and expenses, to the extent they are applicable and actually incurred or necessary:

Expert’s fees, court costs, accountants’ fees, deposition costs, messenger service, process service fees, investigators, court reporters, appellate printers, photocopying charges (10 cents per page), calendar and/or filing services fees (price varies depending on service requested), telephone toll calls, postage, facsimile transmission charges ($1.00 per page) and any other expenses in this matter reasonably incurred in this matter. The Firm may require You to retain any expert(s) or other third parties directly.  You would then be solely responsible to pay the expert(s) or other parties.

The Firm reserves the right to require that You pay costs in advance.

5.  Bills. The Firm will send You itemized monthly bills. All balances are subject to interest at the rate of 1.5% per month after 90 days.  You agree that the Firm may deduct any or all sums due to Firm under this agreement from any funds held by the Firm in escrow.

6.  Your responsibility. You must fully cooperate with the Firm and provide all information relevant to the issues involved in this matter. You must also pay all bills as required by the Agreement.  If You do not comply with these requirements, the Firm may withdraw from this matter; in certain circumstances, this may require court approval. The Firm will also withdraw at your request.

7.  No Guarantee. The Firm agrees to provide conscientious, competent and diligent services and at all times will seek to achieve solutions that are just and reasonable for You. However because of the uncertainty of legal proceedings, the Firm cannot, and does not warrant, predict or guarantee results or the final outcome of any case.

8. Default. In the event You default in your obligations under this agreement, and the Firm is forced to commence a law suit against you to collect its fees, the parties waive the right to a trial by jury.

10. Signatures. You and the Firm have read and agree to this Agreement. The Firm has answered all of Your questions and fully explained this Agreement to Your complete satisfaction. You have been given a copy of this Agreement and have reviewed the Statement of Client’s Rights issued by the New York State Office of Court Administration, which is posted in our waiting room. You have also been provided with a copy of the New York State Fee Dispute Resolution Program.

[Signature lines]

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