» Agreements for Legal Services

What is a retainer agreement or engagement letter?

This is a legal contract between the law firm and the client setting forth the terms of the legal services to be provided and how the client will be charged for the services. A signed agreement is required before our firm is considered to be the client’s representative.

What is a retainer fee?

This is the amount of money that the law firm requires a client to pay to the law firm as a deposit (a down payment) toward the cost of the legal services to be provided. The deposit belongs to the client and is held in a trust account until the money is earned by the law firm. Any amount not used to pay for legal services and for costs paid on behalf of the client is refundable to the client. Some law firms may require retainer fees as high as $5,000 to $10,000. Our retainer fees generally are in the range of $500 to $2,500, because we trust our clients to pay their bills when due. We require some form of retainer fee in all matters except personal injury cases (see “What is a “contingent fee” agreement,” below).

What is a “flat-fee” retainer agreement?

In some cases, after an initial interview, we are able to determine the approximate number of hours and costs that will be involved in providing the legal services requested by the client. In such matters, instead of hourly billing for professional services, we can offer a fixed, or “flat,” fee to cover all services and costs in the retainer agreement. This fee is paid, in part or in full, upon signing the retainer agreement. Some examples of types of services that may be offered on a flat fee basis are step-parent adoptions, uncontested divorces, defending a serious traffic offense or other misdemeanors, drafting a simple will, power of attorney, advanced medical directive, or prenuptial agreement, or writing a letter on behalf of a client.

What is an “hourly-fee” retainer agreement?

Professionals offer their time and expertise. In many situations, the hours and costs required to assist a client with a legal problem or need cannot be accurately determined or estimated during the initial interview. In those matters, the attorney’s time spent on the case is billed on an hourly basis, in increments of 1/10th of an hour. Hourly fee retainer agreements usually are required in contested divorce cases, child custody cases, cases involving litigation, or potential litigation, in court or before administrative boards. The firm will require payment of a retainer fee at the outset of representing a client.

What costs are involved in an “hourly-fee” case?

Most cases involving litigation involve only the payment of a court filing fee to start the case (usually less than $100) and a fee to serve the other party with the complaint (usually about $50 to $75). These fees are not required, of course, if the other party started the case and has already paid them.

Unlike many law firms, we do not charge for the paper used for in-office copying and the receipt of facsimile (fax) communications. We also do not separately charge clients for telephone, fax, and e-mail communications, other than for the time spent by the attorney or paralegal in handling such matters.

As to attorney travel time to and from court for appearances, our firm does not charge the attorney’s hourly-fee rate for this time. This applies whether the trip is to the Fairfax County Courthouse, where most of our cases are tried, or to those farther away in Stafford County or Loudoun County.

In complex cases involving hotly contested issues, clients may have to pay third parties, such as court reporters and expert witnesses, when early settlement is not possible. Examples of such issues in family law cases are the amount and duration of alimony, the custody of minor children, the division of property.

What is a “contingent fee” agreement?

This is a common fee arrangement in personal injury cases throughout the country. The law firm and client agree that the cost of all legal services will equal a fixed amount, usually one-third, of the money, if any, the client recovers from the party responsible for causing the injury or from an insurance company. If there is no recovery, the client does not owe any money for attorney services but still may be responsible for reimbursing certain other costs.

Are initial consultations with an attorney always free?

Generally, initial consultations are designed to determine if we can assist you with your issue or problem and for you to decide if you would like to retain us.   While most initial consultations are cost-free, those involving review of existing documents and/or legal advice usually require payment of a consultation fee. We may request that you submit the documents in advance of the appointment. These issues will be discussed with you when you contact us for an appointment.