Before you hire an Illinois lawyer, you should always have an honest and forthright discussion about how they will be paid. A lawyer’s billing method, as well as rates, depends upon the amount of time spent working on your case as well as the nature of your legal issue and the reputation and experience of the lawyer. Types of fees are hourly, a flat fee or a contingency basis.
A retainer fee is a certain amount of money that you pay ahead of time and upfront to an attorney. The attorney puts that money in a special trust account and deducts the cost of services from that account as they accumulate.
This type of fee is usually used when a legal bill is high and the attorney needs to do ongoing work. Common practice areas that use retainer fees are family law and criminal law, although many other hourly cases use them, too. Basically a retainer fee works like a debit card. You pay an up front amount and the lawyer takes that money when they perform work. For example, if you give a lawyer $2,500.00 and they charge $250.00 an hour you have paid up front for 10 hours of their time. Typically after they work enough hours to go through the retainer fee they will ask you for more money. Retainer fees are typically refundable. In other words, if you fire your lawyer or the case ends, any money that was not billed should be returned to you.
Be sure to ask lots of questions and read the written agreement that you have with your attorney so that you understand exactly what its terms are. For example, the lawyer may add interest or other charges to unpaid amounts in the future. Similarly, if you decide to drop a case that your lawyer has worked on before she has used up the retainer fee, you may forfeit any remainder. If your matter needs to go to court, additional fees may be required, as well.
In addition, I highly recommend that you ask your attorney to provide a monthly statement for the work that they perform. We have seen too many instances in which a client doesn’t talk about the work their attorney is billing for many months only to one day get a call or e-mail stating that the retainer is gone and the client has to pay a few thousand more or the Illinois attorney they hired will withdraw from the case. By getting a monthly invoice you can stay on top of the work that your attorney is doing and keep track of what their work is costing you.
No matter how you choose to compensate an attorney, we can’t emphasize enough that you should get whatever agreement that you have with them in writing.