What Is a Retainer Fee?

by | Feb 27, 2023 | Uncategorized

As a divorce attorney practicing family law in Central Florida, there are many times when it’s difficult to estimate how long a case will take or how much it will cost. Take divorce proceedings, for example, where the amount of time and money needed can vary greatly depending on the situation’s complexity.

To secure an attorney’s services for future work, lawyers often require a retainer fee to cover their services to ensure everyone is protected in these situations. But what exactly is a retainer fee, and how does it work?

Here’s everything you need to know about retainer fees as a form of payment while working with Leap Frog Divorce.


What is a Retainer Fee?

A retainer fee is an upfront payment required by the attorney that will cover their services for work on your case. This money is placed in a trust account to cover legal services related to your case.

As your attorney bills you for workable hours, the money is withdrawn from your retainer account to cover their fees. Once the retainer fund balance reaches a certain point, you must replenish your account. This guarantees that your legal representatives have the funds necessary to continue working on your case.

You can think of retainer fees almost like a down payment on a home or a car, except in this case, the down payment is for legal services.

Instead of charging your card, for instance, for every hour they work on your case, they take the service price away from the retainer fee, ensuring that your attorney has the financial resources to handle all aspects of your case.

lawyer and client discussing something in office


Why Do Attorneys Ask For a Retainer?

If divorce attorneys are such experts, why don’t they just know how much it costs to get divorced? Couldn’t they just charge a flat fee?

Unfortunately, most legal matters—especially divorce—are not this simple.

Flat fees work best when there is a clearly defined scope of work (for example, generating a dozen logo designs or replacing your air conditioner). Once the services become a little more complex, flat fees start to not make as much sense.

There are many different factors at play during a divorce proceeding, all of which have the potential to create complications. Child custody and visitation, alimony and child support, dividing of property…each of these details can take time and energy to untangle. And that’s if both parties are willing to cooperate!

No divorce attorney can tell you exactly how long your divorce is going to take or how many hours of work they will have to put into it.

A retainer agreement allows both parties the satisfaction of knowing that they are protected. Your attorney knows that there’s always a pool of money available for them to use, meaning that they can focus on providing top-notch legal services.

Because of divorce cases’ complexity and sometimes ongoing nature, retainer agreements are a great way to ensure that everyone is covered and that your attorney has the financial resources they need to commit time to your case. They’re a service contract that’s renewable, which ensures that both you and your attorney will be taken care of until the case is resolved.

Chart - How Do Retainer Fees Work?


How Does a Retainer Fee Work?

The steps for how a retainer fee works are relatively straightforward.

Here are the typical steps you can expect to take when paying a retainer fee:

Step 1 – The client pays a retainer fee upfront to cover legal services. This is typically done before any work on their case has started and is usually a standard fee for all clients, regardless of the complexity of their case.

While some cases may take 40 hours, others may take hundreds. Although the initial retainer payment for an uncontested divorce may be the same as for a collaborative divorce, each resolution’s full legal costs vary greatly.

Step 2 – The attorney begins the work on your case, and the retainer fee is held in a trust account. As the attorney completes billable hours, they withdraw funds from the retainer as payment for services provided.

What’s nice about the retainer agreement in this instance is that you receive continuous legal services without worrying about making separate payments for each task. As the attorney works on your case, they continuously bill you from the retainer and provide a detailed report of their work.

Step 3 – Once your retainer account falls below 50%, your attorney will require you to replenish it. This ensures that they have the funds necessary to continue providing services in the future.

If your retainer account happens to fall to $0.00, your attorney will suspend all services until the retainer is replenished.

In the law field, this is known as a “Stop All Work” notice, and it can have serious consequences if not addressed in a timely manner. Therefore, it’s important to maintain your retainer account and ensure that there are sufficient funds available to receive continuous legal representation.

Step 4 – Your retainer account will likely have a positive balance when the case is concluded. At this point, any leftover funds will be returned to you in full.

You’ll receive a check from your attorney’s office and a receipt explaining the total paid for services throughout your case. With a retainer agreement, you only pay your attorney for services that have been rendered. This ensures that you get the best possible service for your money.


Your Orlando Divorce Attorney

Finding an Orlando divorce attorney you can trust might seem like an insurmountable task, especially if you have shied away from retainer fees in the past.

Retainer agreements aren’t just a standard practice in the legal field, they’re a great way for both client and attorney to focus on the issues at hand. By having a pool of funds available for your lawyer to draw from, you’re ensuring that they can keep a laser focus on your case.

Plus, not having to stop and bill you for every task ensures a quicker resolution to your divorce case.

If you’re looking for a trustworthy, experienced Orlando divorce attorney, call Leap Frog Divorce today to see how we can help.

Arthur J. Grossman J.D., LL.M., Esq

Arthur J. Grossman J.D., LL.M., Esq

AJ Grossman graduated at the top of his Florida law school class, has been trained in Collaborative Divorce, has a Master of Laws degree in Dispute Resolution, and is a Barrister member of the invite-only Central Florida Family Law Inn of Court. His aggressive advocacy on behalf of his clients provides hope and reassurance throughout challenging divorces.


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