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11 Aug 16

Can I get a refund on my retainer if I fire my lawyer?

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When an attorney undertakes the representation of a party in a divorce case, he or she will want a set sum of money as a down payment. That money is to be billed against at their usual and customary hourly rate, and certain court costs will be paid out of that sum too. That’s called a retainer, and you’ll have a difficult time finding a divorce lawyer to represent you without paying that retainer.

It happens to just about everybody
Whether they want to admit it or not, just about every lawyer who is in private practice has been discharged by a client. That’s particularly true in divorce cases when the litigation is often fueled by emotion. Divorce lawyers probably get discharged at a higher rate than other lawyers in other courtrooms. The reasons for the discharge vary. Personalities might not mesh well, billing and costs might be excessive, a case might seem to be moving slowly, or a client just might not agree with an attorney’s litigation strategy. Whatever the reason, the attorney and client must wind their relationship up. That involves the attorney sending all documents, pleadings and the like to the client or his or her new attorney and settling up on money matters.

Timing is everything
If your retainer has been exhausted, and your attorney has requested additional funds, he or she still has an obligation to represent you until such time as an order has been entered granting withdrawal. Expect to be billed for any interim services. If a motion for withdrawal is necessary, you’re likely going to get billed for the motion, notice thereof and hearing thereon. After that, the attorney is free to provide you with a final bill. Should you refuse to pay it, the attorney is free to seek a judgment against you on the amount.

When your retainer hasn’t been exhausted
If you’ve decided to discharge your attorney, and your retainer hasn’t been exhausted, don’t sit on your hands. Notify your attorney immediately, and do it in a dated writing.
In that writing you can ask for a final statement and a refund of the balance of your retainer. That attorney has an ethical obligation to refund the remaining balance to you within a reasonable time. If you’ve already retained another attorney, you might want that person to make the request for you. If you haven’t retained a new attorney, don’t plan on using the balance of the unused retainer for your new attorney. You don’t know what work might have been done on your case since the last time you were in court.

Don’t make the same mistake twice. Your new attorney should be dedicated, experienced and respected in divorce courtrooms. Judges are allowed considerable discretion, and when a lawyer’s word has been as good as gold with a judge for a number of years, borderline decisions could go your way. If you’re thinking about discharging your attorney, contact us. We’ll be pleased try to get you turned in the right direction. You’ll get straight talk and straight answers.

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