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

One of the first things a person does when starting the divorce process is to hire an attorney. An attorney will work on a client’s behalf to come up with a divorce settlement and negotiate for the best possible scenario. When you hire a lawyer, you will be required to sign a legal contract and provide a retainer payment.

A retainer fee is for future services. When a law firm receives your retainer fees, they are required to deposit fees in an office’s trust account. The Trust Account is different than an Operating Account, and are kept separate from each other. In general, retainer fees are held “in trust” by an attorney on a client’s behalf.

If a client terminates representation from a lawyer or firm, the retainer must be refunded minus any funds already applied to the client’s case. However, if you have a non-refundable clause in your legal contract, you likely will not receive any of your retainer fees, if you terminate your contract or reconcile with your spouse. But, if your legal contract doesn’t have a non-refundable clause, you can expect at least a partial refund.

For example, if you paid an attorney a $1000 retainer fee and the case was worked for two hours at $200 per hour, the maximum refund you should expect would be $600. Additionally, if the lawyer filed the divorce claim on your behalf, there was likely a filing fee. Unless you were asked to pay the filing fee separately, the lawyer will reimburse himself for the filing fee as well, which will decrease the $600 refund to $450. The terms and conditions of retainer fees and how refunds would be issued should be spelled out in exact details of the legal contract you signed when the law office was hired.

When to Expect a Retainer Refund?

It’s important to note, if you terminate your relationship with your lawyer and are owed a refund, you will likely not receive the refund right away. It may take several days or even weeks to receive your refund. Law offices usually pay themselves from the trust account at the end of each month. If you contacted your lawyer mid-month to terminate his services, you shouldn’t expect a refund right away. The attorney will notify his staff that a refund is due, but the refund won’t be issued until the firm does its monthly accounting. During the monthly accounting, the lawyer will pay himself what is owed and refund the balance of your retainer.

What if Your Retainer was Non-Refundable?

Most reputable lawyers will not require a non-refundable retainer. However, it is important to ask questions and read your contract carefully to ensure you understand exactly how a refund will work if you call off your divorce or terminate your relationship with your lawyer. If you signed a legal contract that includes a non-refundable retainer, and you have decided not to go through with your divorce or seek services from another lawyer, you can approach your state’s fee arbitration committee or attorney disciplinary committee.

Either of these committees may act on your behalf and require your attorney to refund at least a portion of your money. You should also approach either committee if your contract with your attorney doesn’t state whether the retainer is refundable, or your lawyer didn’t have you sign a contract at all.

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