The retainer: your agreement with your solicitor

What is a retainer?

A retainer agreement is a written agreement which sets out the terms of the solicitor-client relationship. It should contain essential information including what the solicitor's fees are and how he or she is to be paid.

Must there always be a written retainer agreement?

Yes. A solicitor must disclose their costs to you when you agree to use them. And, they must specify how their costs will be charged and when they will be payable.

What if a dispute over costs arises?

Most disputes between solicitors and clients are about how much money the client owes the solicitor. Having a written set of terms setting these out is therefore useful to avoid these kinds of problems. That way, you can simply consult the contract rather than arguing over who agreed to what.

What terms should a retainer include about fees and costs?

The retainer agreement must explain the solicitor's fees, how they will be calculated, and how they are to be paid. The agreement should also explain what fee structure will be used. Solicitors typically charge in the following ways:

  • Hourly rate: The most common form of solicitor compensation is the hourly rate, which can range anywhere from £100 to £300 or more.
  • Fixed fee: Solicitors may agree to carry out work for a fixed fee, or agree to cap their costs at a certain level.
  • Conditional Fee Agreements ('no win, no fee'): Sometimes the solicitor may agree to take on your case on a 'no win no fee' basis. This is also known as a Conditional Fee Agreement. What this means is that the solicitor agrees to defer his payment until the case is resolved at trial or settles. Provided you win the case, your solicitor's legal fees would be reimbursed by the other side. If, however, the solicitor for some reason was not successful and the case failed, you would not have to pay for your own solicitor's fees.

What other terms might a retainer include?

There are other terms that you should look out for, such as:

  • Extent of the representation: The agreement should make clear that the solicitor will represent the client in all legal proceedings, up to and including trial.
  • Who will do the work: The agreement should specify which solicitor will handle the case personally.
  • Ending the relationship: Some agreements set out how each party can end the relationship. For example, an agreement might state that the solicitor can quit at any time, or that the solicitor may only quit under specified circumstances.
  • Working together: Some agreements explain how the parties expect to work together. For example, an agreement might spell out which decisions the solicitor can make alone and which require the client's approval, or might require the client to be honest with the solicitor.

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