Understanding Retainer Fees

Understanding Retainer Fees

Retainer fees and cost estimates cause the most anxiety for potential clients. Most of the time, this is the lawyer’s fault. Lawyers are known for giving a noncommittal, “we’ll see” when asked how much a case will cost. We try to do things differently.

We start right off the bat with communications and options. First, clients are given the potion of what type of retainer he or she wants. There are two options:

  1. Lower retainer with a credit card on file;
  2. Larger retainer, but no credit card on file. 

We find that most clients prefer the lower retainer. They expect to pay their bills, but they don’t want to tie up a large sum of money sitting in a trust account. They also suspect (often rightfully so!) that if you give a lawyer a large sum of money, you’ll never see it again.

Other clients prefer the large retainer so they can make the deposit and not worry about it for some time. Every client is different, therefore we give options. 

How Does Billing and the Retainer Fee Work

Once our firm receives a retainer fee, we put it in a trust account. We don't earn anything until our firm's billings are deducted from the amount in the trust account. Any unused funds in trust will be refunded to you at the conclusion of the case.

Example 1: You pay us a $10,000 retainer fee. We bill $7,000 during your case. You get $3,000 back at the end of the case.

Example 2: You pay us a $10,000 retainer fee. We bill $14,000 during your case. You will need to pay us an additional $4,000 during the case.

Factors that can increase the cost of case include:  

  • Whether there are children involved in the suit;  
  • Complex asset, business valuations and tracing separate assets;   High level of conflict;  
  • An uncooperative opposing party or attorney;

As for billing, we send bills twice a month. Always. A client deserves to know the work being done on his and her case. We do good work for our clients, and we want them to know what we are doing. Each client will receive a bill twice a month with all activity and expenses on the case itemized. 

Range of Retainer Fees

A smaller retainer fee with a credit card on file will typically be between $2,500-$5,000, depending on the case. The larger upfront retainers with no credit card on file typically range from $5,000 to $30,000, depending on the:  

  • complexity of the case (for example a Parental Alienation case or Jury Trial will often be more);  
  • anticipated level of conflict (high conflict cases are more expensive);   estimated work to be done in the case; and, 
  • the client’s ability to pay ongoing fees If the client wants an associate to handle the case primarily, this may lower the amount of retainer needed. 

Trial Retainers and Additional Deposits

If a case is set for final trial or a hearing or a deposition, we may ask that you deposit an additional amount to cover the anticipated work. We always give the client a cost breakdown when asking for additional deposits so the client knows what is needed and how much it will cost.

Return of Retainer Funds

No matter what type of retainer you choose, or what happens in your case, you get all unused trust funds back at the end of your case. 

Hourly Rates  

Brian D. Walters - 22 years as a lawyer; first Board Certified in Family Law in 2003; bills at $650/hr  

James “Jake” Gilbreath - 10 years as a lawyer; Board Certified in Family Law in 2014; bills at $550/hr  

Senior Associates - bill typically between $400-$475/hr  

Associate Attorneys - bill typically between $300-$400/hr

What is Different About Your Billing?

We do two things that separate us from other law firms:

  1. We communicate;
  2. We’re efficient

We don’t think what we cost should be a mystery. Our experience is clients want a good product, and they are willing to pay for good services. But they also expect to know what they are paying for. We communicate constantly about costs of the case and what to expect moving forward. Would you buy a car without knowing what is going to cost? We wouldn’t either. We try to take the anxiety out of the process.

Second, we’re obsessed with efficiency. We’re cloud based, paperless, and lean-staffed. We don’t believe in throwing assistants and paralegals and extra billers on cases. We focus on having lawyers do the work so you’re paying for legal work, not for a secretary to make copies. We know what work needs to be done, and we do it efficiently. Time and time again we find that we are out billed by our competition, regardless of hourly rates. You get what you pay for, and then some. That’s why we are so proud of our reviews

What Does it All Come Back to?

What does everything come back to in a good relationship? Communication. We want to talk about costs. We want you to know what you are paying for. And then we want to be proud of the work we’ve done. It’s just that simple.

Check out our F.A.Q. page for more answers to questions you may have or check out more Family Law Resources today!

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