Written retainer agreements are contracts like any other contract. However, a retainer agreement sets out the relationship between the client and the lawyer and can be relied upon at any event of a dispute. It is important for both the client and the lawyer to set out what the expectations of both parties are in relation to their contract. In fact, it is a standard in the industry that relationships between clients and lawyers be reduced to writing, usually in the form of a retainer agreement or a letter written to the client setting out the terms of the retainer. The preferred method is a retainer agreement signed by both the lawyer and the client.
A retainer agreement protects both the client and lawyer throughout the process of the relationship between the two. It clarifies expectations between the parties. If expectations change, the retainer agreement can be amended at a later date. Most importantly, a retainer agreement assists the parties in avoiding problems that can occur as the contract develops. If the retainer agreement is in writing and spells out the relationship and the ground rules between the parties it will assist in avoiding misunderstandings and in some cases litigation.
In order for a retainer agreement to be effective, it should address a few fundamental issues including precisely setting out what the lawyer has been retained to do on behalf of the client, what it will cost the client for the professional services to be rendered and any provisions as to how the relationship can be terminated in an event of a dispute. The retainer agreement should clearly set out who the client is and which lawyer the client has retained. It is not unusual for some clients to believe they retained a lawyer when that was not the case. For example, in many personal injury cases, a spouse may have rights to claim compensation under the Family Law Act of Ontario. That spouse may have attended the initial meeting between the client and the lawyer believing that they had also retained a lawyer to advance their claim for compensation under the Family Law Act. However, without a written retainer agreement, the lawyer may have considered him or herself retained for that purpose.
In some cases, a client may believe that he or she has retained a specific lawyer at a law firm but the file was transferred to another lawyer in the same office. It is therefore important to specify in the agreement which lawyer will have carriage of the matter and whether or not other lawyers or staff at the law firm will be working on the file on behalf of the client. This will also assist in clarifying who will have access to confidential information contained in the client file.
The most sensitive issue often not addressed satisfactorily in the retainer agreement is the issue of how much will the lawyer be paid for professional services rendered. It is important to clarify this issue in the retainer agreement so that there is no misunderstanding between the parties. Both the lawyer and the client have the right to assess the account before and assessment officer, an officer who is a court officer tasked with the duty to determine issues between clients and lawyers including how much a lawyer should be paid for services provided.
While it is clear that having a written retainer agreement is the preferred method of establishing the relationship between a client and a lawyer, not all lawyers use retainer agreements or what is called letters of engagement.
At Quinn Thiele Mineault Grodzki LLP, our lawyers offer free consultations and work on a contingency fee basis since most of the files we handle are personal injury matters. Our retainer agreements clearly spell out the relationship between the client, lawyer and the law firm and sets out in very clear terms that there is no fee charged to the client unless compensation is obtained for the client. It is very clear at the onset of the relationship what the terms of the retainer are including what the lawyer and law firms retained to do and how much the lawyer and the law firm will be paid for services rendered.
If you or someone you care about has been injured as a result of the negligence of another person, please contact one of our Ottawa personal injury lawyers for a free consultation. Call us at 613-315-4878.