The issue of legal retainers in the United States has a long and complex history dating back to Colonial days with Peter Stuyvesant’s first call for fair practices in 1658. A quick review – and a dramatic read – proves that the issue of billing and payment between lawyer and client has been a timeless battle of polar agendas pitting power of wealth vs. social justice.
In the subsequent formation of American society and law, legal retainers settled into 3 main types:
- A general retainer – the client pays for the attorney’s availability during the time specified.
- A specific retaining fee – the client makes a down payment to attorney for services to be rendered. Funds are held in trust and disbursed to attorney upon performance of services. Unused funds are refunded to client.
- A special retainer (also known as non-refundable) – the client pays a flat fee for a specific case or project. Widely outlawed for protection of the client.
The twentieth century evolution of society’s emphasis on individual rights has created a shift in the American way of practicing law. In the spirit of personal choice, today’s most common form of retainer is referred to as a “hybrid” form, combining aspects of the specific and the general retainers, tailored to meet the individual legal and billing needs of the client.
Attorneys and clients now seem to enjoy a growing diversity of retainer options, with a greater concern for educating clients on the legal process and the value of services they receive, and working with them on creative payment plans that are mutually beneficial. Securing “reasonable rates” for special needs and “bartering” with such currency a bitcoins are just two examples of re-shaping the legal retainer.
Perhaps the most significant development in the attorney/client relationship has JUST made its debut in Bangor, Maine on May 1st, 2013, National Law Day. Lawyers in Libraries, a new program developed by Justice for Action Groups (JAG), hosted its first public meeting of lawyers with local residents to “talk about the legal system with patrons, answer individual questions and give general legal advice.” Moving the conversation from the law office to the library, this direct, conversational approach to legal education of the community invited dialogue between local residents and attorneys. The lawyers provided information about “free resources, low-cost legal assistance and ways to work with an attorney to lower the cost of legal services.”
“According to Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Andrew Mead, who helped organize the statewide event, ’many people don’t seek legal advice because they are concerned they won’t be able to afford it or don’t know how to go about finding a lawyer.” This breakthrough event empowered each attendee with a clear, personal understanding of the law and the tools to make more effective legal decisions.
This program represents a huge step toward cultivating greater trust between attorney and client and easing the billing process. No matter what legal retainer agreement you have entered into with your clients, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can help you with the billing process, putting your client at ease and your payments in the bank.