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July 14, 2003

Improving Lawyer Fee and Retainer Agreements

Filed under: lawyer news or ethics — David Giacalone @ 11:44 pm

The Law Practice Today blog, which is sponsored by the ABA Committee on Law Practice Management, has a new and useful posting entitled Build a Better Fee Agreement, by David Bilinsky and Reid Trautz (posted 7/10/03). The tips are excerpted from the April 2003 edition of Law Practice Magazine.

The article states, with brief explanations, that a comprehensive written fee agreement between lawyer and client should do the following:

  • Define the scope of your services.
  • Define the timing of your services.
  • Explain the fee arrangement.
  • State examples of the services to be billed to the client.
  • Explain the client’s obligation for costs.
  • Explain your billing practices.
  • Allow your client time to question your bill.
  • Consider a fee arbitration provision.

If you want to go further to create a thorough and balanced fee/retainer agreement, I suggest clicking here and downloading the Model Client-Attorney Agreement created in 2000 by HALT. As explained in the preface to the document (which includes model sections for agreements using hourly, contingent or flat fee arrangements), the contract was:

[D]esigned to secure the rights and stipulate the responsibilities of both the attorney and client.   It is also meant to serve as a discussion document by which the client may learn enough about a particular attorney’s business practices to make an informed choice as a consumer of legal services.

Use of the following contract (or a modified version of it) is, of course, a decision to be made entirely by the client and attorney.  However, HALT’s research has shown that most disputes between clients and attorneys could have been avoided if the nature of their relationship had been made explicit at the outset.  If your attorney refuses to sign or draft a document such as this, ask why. The answers will tell you whether or not the attorney is the sort you want to employ.

It might also help the lawyer decide what sort of attorney he or she wants to be.

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