OUR RETAINER AGREEMENT
...is customized to you, the client. Still, there are a few provisions that make it into the retainer in nearly all cases, so showing you a sample can be informative and consumer-friendly. Traditionally, attorneys guarded these as if they were state secrets, and if you personally sign one, it is indeed treated confidentially. What follows is our "standard" agreement, or format, with the various areas specific to you left blank, and annotations to explain each provision.
It's a contract, of a sort, and you shouldn't need to hire a lawyer in order to hire your lawyer, so plain English and brevity are the rules we follow.
Our retainer agreement is one page, double sided, but the back-side is less than half-full. We take pride in this. At many firms, it's typically 20 pages of fine print.
The example on this page is for a matter such as divorce or criminal charge where hourly billing is required. A "contingency" agreement is a little different, obviously, but still mirrors many of the provisions below; The money-part (nothing up-front, usually 1/3 recovery fee at the end) is naturally different.
Items in brackets are slightly changed from the exact agreement to accommodate internet posting, such as the word "at" instead of the "@" in the e-mail (it stops "spam.") Things specific to you, such as your name and address, are obviously left out, also bracketed.
The gray text is an explanation of each provision and does not appear in the agreement, the ultimate goal is to make the agreement so clear that explanations become unnecessary.
What it is.
- between -
Who we are, and how to get in touch.
THE LAW OFFICES OF CHARLES NOVINS, ESQ., P.C. ['Firm']
54 East Water Street, Toms River, New Jersey 08753
PHONE: (732) 341-4077;
FAX: (732) 341-4490
E-MAIL: [inquiry at oceancountynjlawyer dot com] .
Who you are, and how to get in touch. Often, there is an annotation regarding a "do not call" number, and a corrollary number designated for routine contact.
YOUR NAME ['Client']
YOUR PHONE NUMBERS AND OTHER CONTACT INFO
This section describes the specific matter for which you require assistance. It's important because we do many types of cases, and if you have more than one legal problem, the agreement has to identify which one you are hiring us to handle for you. We also let you know about the right to represent yourself or go other routes.
1. I, the undersigned, agree to retain The Law Offices of Charles Novins, Esq., P.C. to represent my interests in a family-court matter that I wish to file, or that has been filed against me, or in which I require preparation and pre-litigation services regarding this type of matter. I understand there are other alternatives available, many at lower cost, including self-representation, mediation, arbitration, and even other attorneys who offer similar services.
This is self-explanatory. Some firms present a sliding schedule, typically an associate attorney who may get less money, or $75 an hour when dealling with paralegals. All of that just complicates the agreement, in our view, and you wind up saving no money. For example, you will spend many hours with one of our top-notch paralegals for this sort of case, but you won't be billed at all except insofar as the attorney gets involved.
2. I agree to pay the Firm as follows:
a) $250 per hour for the services of Charles Novins, Esq., who will be the attorney of record. Although the Firm employs paralegals and other professionals, only attorney time will be charged, but these charges will include all time expended by the attorney in supervising, reviewing, assigning, and generally assisting in work done by staff members.
We've put "$2500" here only as an example, because it assumes ten hours of attorney time and makes the math easy. Instead, the dollar amount you must pay "up front" is really just a deposit you make for the services we anticipate. This number is flexible. It is arrived at by simply taking a stab at predicting the number of attorney-hours your case will take. The number is always ultimately wrong, but errors on the low side mean you get billed later on, and errors on the high side mean we kept your money unnecessarily, and you'd get a check back at the end.
b) [$2500] will be paid, in advance, as a retainer fee. This is not the price paid for the entire matter. You will be billed hourly and it will be deducted from the retainer, as will expenses, and you herewith authorize the attorney to deduct his fees and/or expenses from funds held in trust or retainer. Monies not used (I.e., unused fees and expenses) will be returned to you. If the billing exceeds the retainer, you agree to replenish the retainer or pay the fees as they are incurred monthly. �Expenses� are things like filing fees and mileage, but can and sometimes do include employment of outside experts, such as accountants, child psychologists, and others. Larger expenses, such as the latter, will only be expended upon your approval, and the Firm retains the option to insist they be paid as incurred. Nothing you pay is �non-refundable,� period, but keep in mind that initial filing fees (monies paid to the court, not the firm) are often several hundred dollars, and preparation of your initial papers ordinarily takes a few hours.
No attorney can bill for a single minute of his or her time because it would make record-keeping too burdensome, make your bill insanely complex, and make the whole process unworkable. Therefore, most bill in 6 minute increments, or tenths of an hour. Phone calls are penalized because it is like cutting ahead in line - a phone call interrupts every other client's matter. In an emergency, you shouldn't hesitate, but for routine things, you dodge this by seeing if the staff can handle your question (no charge at all if they don't have to consult the attorney,) or try e-mail. Only a direct conversation with the attorney invokes the .2/hour minimum.
c) Billing will be in increments of .1/hour. All phone calls will charged a .2/hour minimum, then billed in the normal manner. A court appearance is billed for a minimum of one hour, includes travel to and from court, and includes delays while in court in hearing your case. E-mails, text messages, and similar electronic communications will be billed more favorably, with increments of .1/hour. Phone calls and court dates are treated differently because they consume more time and interrupt any ongoing matters with other cases. You are paying for the attorney�s time, so travel to and from court, and any other attorney time expended as a result of your case, is billable.
You may know that we often seek and recover fees from the other side, especially in matrimonial. The other side often doesn't like to pay up, and ultimately it is your job to go after them when they don't. Sometimes, we will take care of this, but we are not required to. So all of your fees remain your responsibility.
3. All fees are Client�s responsibility regardless of whether other persons agree or are ordered to pay them. The Firm is not under obligation to sue for or collect fees awarded to me.
Here you see why there is a need (and a legal requirement) to obtain the up-front payment in matters like divorce and criminal. You may end the agreement at any time you like, and for any reason. But the law firm often cannot, and must usually get the permission of a judge to quit, even if we're not paid, and even if you agree to let us go.
4. Subject to the Court Rules, Client consents to Charles Novins, Esq., withdrawing as my attorney if Client has not met financial or any other obligations under this agreement.
In the event you do utilize services beyond what you initially paid for, these are just standard financial requirements to keep it fair.
5. Client will be billed monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly (depending upon type of case) if and when the retainer is exhausted, or may replenish the retainer. If billing is necessary, interest at the rate of 1% per month will be charged if payment is not received within 30 days of invoice date. Collection costs and attorneys fees in the amount of 1/3 the balance due will be charged if collection of fees is necessary. Failure to pay legal fees as agreed will be considered consent for Charles Novins, Esq., to withdraw as my attorney.
Again, here we narrow in more closely on the sort of case you have. Not everyone realizes that an appeal, for example, is a separate case, since it would be directly connected to the reason the law firm was hired. So we try to make this clear.
6. Anticipated legal services will be limited to issues directly related to divorce, custody and equitable distribution including pleadings, preparation, negotiations, motions, required court appearances and trial and drafting of Separation and Property Settlement Agreement. Legal services not encompassed by this Agreement are real estate transactions, municipal court appearances, tort claims, appeals, domestic violence proceedings, and any other matter not ordinarily encompassed in matrimonial or family-law cases.
This part has to be in because we just got done telling you only attorney time would ever be billed. But there are minor exceptions, such as the common case where you lose all your papers and come to us for copies. We don't make a profit on such things, but if the staff were tied up finding old files and making copies all day then we couldn't do law. So we charge nominal fees for such clerical stuff.
7. Finally, after the matter has concluded, the Firm shall have the right to charge nominal fees for clerical and other administrative services, such as copies of documents, or assistance with various vendors or agencies who fail (through incompetence or otherwise) to comply with the final terms of your action. Our staff often assists litigants with such matters gratis, but nothing in this agreement should suggest that The Firm may not charge for such services. If the full fee incurred has not been paid at the conclusion, any settlement or other monies received by you must first be used to satisfy the outstanding fees.
The agreement can be customized here for any purpose consistent with the law. The possibilities here are unlimited, and creative modifications are encouraged. As a practical matter, it's left blank most times, but that's only because the average matter is...average, and needs little in the way of fancy terms. Again, this document succeeds, in our view, by being plain-language, fair, understandable, ethical, and law-abiding. If it required changes every time, that would be bad. Most clients immediately see it's simple, they sign, we sign, and we get it overwith and move quickly to addressing your problem.
8. OTHER PROVISION (IF ANY)