How Does a Retainer Fee Work?

Family law attorneys who go to court require an initial retainer fee usually somewhere between $3,000 and $50,000 before they will do any work. Once we receive an initial retainer, that money is deposited into an attorney-client trust account that can be monitored or audited by the State Bar of California. In fact, the interest paid on the funds in that trust account automatically go to the State Bar.

As we attorneys work on your court case, we get paid for our time out of that trust account. When the retainer is close to being depleted, the retainer fee must be replenished. The clients replenish the retainer as many times as it takes to complete the court case (typically court appearances for temporary orders, conducting discovery and trial). Some clients replenish their retainers monthly or more often if their case is being heavily litigated. Remember, court appearances are costly for both sides.

But know that if the case is settled and there is an unearned credit balance at the conclusion of the case, that credit balance must be refunded to the client or it can remain in the trust account to go toward post-judgment issues or modifications.

If you instead choose to proceed with your divorce amicably, retainer fees vary at substantially lower rates than if your case goes to court. Mediation and collaborative divorce cases are substantial money savers. Sometimes couples are able to complete the whole mediation process for the cost of one spouse’s retainer fee for a litigation attorney.

For more information, call Jimmy or Leslie Howell at 626-351-1200 for a free initial consultation.