Personally, I think retainer agreements (retainers) are one of the most underutilized tools in the divorce attorney toolbox.

Retainers set the tone for the entire case. You can lay out how you do things as a law firm in your retainer and talk about your philosophy. You lay out your billing structure and can manage expectations in your retainer.

And yet, attorneys don’t think about their retainer often. Usually, they get someone else’s retainer, tweak a few things, and go with it until they retire at the end of the millennium.

That’s a mistake. Put some time in to your retainer. Take time to review and adjust it every six months or so. Go through and increase your prices every year. Really craft it over time.

Anyway, sorry for waxing long about retainers generally.

I really want to talk about a tip I think will help divorce attorneys in their practice, namely: Check your retainer agreement before you do any work on a case.

Here’s what I mean:

  1. Check to make sure you have a signed retainer agreement before you do any work.

I’m amazed at how many attorney do work and don’t require their clients to sign retainers. That’s asking for trouble. If you have a dispute, you’re screwed because you can’t enforce anything against your client. Get it in writing or don’t do any work.

  1. Make sure the retainers signed and dated.

Can’t tell you how many times clients miss the fact that they actually have to sign and date the retainer. They’re usually not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, they just forget to sign. I’ve had to go back months after beginning representation and ask a client to sign and backdate the agreement. Makes me feel silly every time.

  1. Check every paragraph and word of the agreement to make sure nothing’s been changed.

I’ve had clients cross out clauses in my retainers. I’ve had them add new language by hand. Then they sign the agreement and give it back as if nothing happened. Check every word.

Why this Advice?

I’ve noticed over the years that when someone does something funky with the retainer (e.g., not return it, not sign it even when followed up with, change things), things go poorly with that client. They will be the clients who skip out on the bill; who try to convince you to lower they hourly rate and give them deals; file bar complaints; or give you one-star reviews on Google no matter how well you did.

In essence, they’re F clients.

We use the retainer agreement as another step in our screening process. If there are problems getting the retainer signed, that’s a huge red flag and we decline representation.

I suggest you do the same.

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