Attorney Retainer Fee Definition

Attorney Retainer - What Is A Retainer Fee - How Do Retainers Work - Attorney Retainer Agreement - Retainer Fee Refundable

Attorney Retainer Definition

An attorney retainer fee is a fee that the client pays upfront to an attorney. 

A retainer fee gets paid before the attorney begins working on your case. 

There are three types of attorney retainer fees.

General Attorney Retainer Fee

General retainer fees are for a specific period of time instead of for a project. 

In this case, the client is paying for the attorney’s availability during the specified time. 

Attorney Retainer Fee

Attorney retainer fees are a lump sum fees or deposits that the client pays in advance. 

The attorney places these attorney fees into trust accounts. 

As the lawyer performs work on your case, they pull money out of the trust account as payment. 

Sometimes, there are any funds left over after the project is complete.

The attorney will refund you the remaining amount left over from your retainer fee.

Special Retaining Fee

This is a flat fee retainer for a specific case or project. 

An example would be a flat fee divorce. 

Many states prohibit this type of retainer fee. 

This is because it may prevent the client from firing the attorney if needed. 

What Is A Retainer Fee?

An attorney retainer fee is money paid upfront to secure the services of a lawyer. 

Lawyer retainer fees are considered down payments on the future services of that attorney. 

How Attorney Retainers Work

The attorney retainer fee that you pay is placed into a designated trust account. 

The retaining fee only gets used for lawyer fees and expenses related to your case. 

Your lawyer will give you an attorney retainer agreement. 

This explains how the retainer fee will get used for your case. 

Let’s say that you pay a divorce lawyer $10,000 as an attorney retainer fee. 

And that their hourly rate is $350 per hour. 

This would reserve 28.5 hours of work for your divorce case. 

If your case needs more work, your lawyer will request more retainer money. 

Let’s say your case takes fewer hours than 28.5 hours.

When this happens, you’ll get refunded the remaining money that’s left over. 

Understanding An Attorney Retainer

A retainer fee gets held in a trust account. 

These accounts are separate from the day-to-day operating accounts of the law firm. 

An Example Of An Attorney Retainer Fee

Let’s look at two examples of a lawyer retaining fee.

Retaining Fees For A Divorce

Let’s say that you are hiring an attorney for a divorce. 

And let’s say that you pay a $10,000 attorney retainer fee. 

And the cost of your divorce was only $6,000. 

This means that the lawyer did not use $4,000 of your retainer fee. 

In this case, your lawyer will refund you the $4,000 after the divorce is final. 

General Retainer Fee For A Business

For corporate attorneys, the retainer fee is different. 

The retainer fee is not for a specific project, like with a divorce. 

It is meant to reserve the availability of that lawyer for a specific period of time. 

How much the monthly retainer depends on the size of your business. 

For small businesses, it can range from $300-$1,000 per month. 

For medium and large businesses, it can be $10,000+. 

Your retainer will secure a certain number of hours per month with the law firm. 

Let’s say you hire a lawyer for your business. 

The retainer fee agreement will be for, say, a 6 month period. 

And you’re paying $1,750 per month. 

At $350 per hour, this provides you with 5 hours per month of legal help. 

This includes any legal services you need. 

And if you go over the 5 hours, the law firm will send you a bill for the extra amount. 

What's Included In An Attorney Retainer Agreement

Your attorney retainer agreement gives you a complete understanding of the fees. 

It gives you insights into what your attorney retainer is getting used on. 

Some common things included in your attorney retainer agreement are:


This is going to be a description of what you will pay for the services. 

It should include how your attorney fees are calculated. 

And a list of the hourly rates for the people working on your cases. 

How Your Attorney Retainer Operates

This will explain how the attorney charges work against your retainer fee. 

They will hold your lawyer’s retainer fee in a trust account. 

This section tells you how your lawyer will ask for additional money if needed. 

Additional Costs

This is going to explain what costs get pulled from the retainer fees. 

And which ones you’ll have to pay for. 

These include costs like:

  • filing fees
  • court costs
  • costs incurred during the discovery process
  • travel expenses
  • postage
  • copying
  • long-distance phone charges

Billing Frequency

Billing is usually sent out monthly. 

This is when you will get your invoice for how much was charged. 

And you’ll know how much money you have left in your retainer. 

If you’re getting close to running out of money, they will let you know. 

Most likely, they will request more money as you get close to running out. 

Related Legal Terms

Related Articles

Get Your FREE Consultation!
Get access to our attorneys with a FREE consultation ($397 value).
Share This Post With Someone Who Needs To See It