I love being able to offer flat fee rates for uncontested divorces here at the Ferrell Law Firm. But sometimes a divorce proves to be more complicated than initially thought, or it starts out difficult from the get go. In those cases, called contested divorces, we instead operate on a retainer fee basis.
Usually when I say the word retainer people nod as if they understand, but there is a glassy and dazed look in their eyes that shouts “what are you talking about”. So if you’re like most people you’ve never dealt with a “Retainer” and don’t know what the word means. And even if you are familiar with the term you may not still find the whole thing confusing or strange. So let me explain what a retainer is and why we use them.
Unlike the personal injury lawyers that you see on TV, divorce lawyers don’t get paid only if they win. Because really, when a divorce occurs is there ever a true “winner”?
A retainer fee is, basically, you pre-paying for services we’re about to perform for you. Here’s one way to look at retainers.
You decide that you want to hire me to represent you in your contested divorce. Of course when you hire me I’m going to require you to pay for my product. As an attorney my “product” is my time spent on your matter using the knowledge and experience I have.
The problem is I don’t know exactly how much of my product will be needed to help you solve your problem. And once my product is used I can never get it back, and I likely turned down other people who wanted to pay me for my product but I had to turn them down because I was using it to help you.
I want to make sure that I get paid for my product, I just don’t know how much product I’ll be using until after I’ve used it. So because of this I have you pay me in advance for my product. This advance payment is what we call a retainer. We require this retainer be refilled every two weeks as long as we are working on your case.
Now Here is an example of how a retainer works:
Say you come in to sign a representation agreement with us for your contested divorce matter. You would pay us right from the start a fixed retainer amount – let’s say $100 to make it easy.
Then, because we (hypothetically) charge $5 an hour, any time we work on your case we keep track of all the time spent on it, down to the tenth of an hour. So if in the first month on your case we worked for 3 hours, we would charge $15 against the $100 you initially paid, leaving a month-end balance of $85.
You would then need to pay us $15 to bring your retainer balance back up to the $100, so we can start the next month’s work.
Let’s say, then, that we finish working on your case that next month, after 10 more hours of work. After taking out the $50 from the retainer for that month, we’re done with your case and all issues have been resolved and we refund you back the remaining $50.
We use retainer fees for our contested divorces simply because it gives us a way to maintain payments in an ongoing case. There are ways to lower your fees, though, and it comes down to one simple thing: time. If you as the client offer up your time to make phone calls, send faxes, or secure records by doing your own leg work, that is time not being charged to you by us.
So, if you do have have a contested divorce case here in Memphis and you want to save as much money as possible on attorney’s fees, you need to do as much of the work as possible yourself. And what type of work am I talking about? Things such as contested doctors bills or records, previous court reports and etc. We really don’t want to bleed you dry in lawyer fees, honestly!
What happens if you don’t refill your retainer back up?
Again, my product is my time that I spend on your case, and I can never get that back after it’s been spent. So, if a client doesn’t refill their retainer account I can’t continue to work on the case knowing that there is no guarantee that I will be paid for my product.
In the event that a retainer isn’t refilled as requested then the only thing I can do is to no longer work on the client’s case and to request to the court to withdraw from the case. I Never like doing this, but unfortunately it does occur very occasionally.