Retainers – the endangered species


Retainers.  It’s an ugly word, but many attorneys continue to demand a large up-front payment for service to be rendered in the future.  Retainers range between $1,500  to $10,000 in the Chicago-land area.  The average is about $2,000.00.  And unless you’ve got that in your checking account or room on your credit-card, you probably are going to have a hard time hiring a lawyer.  It doesn’t have to be this way, and lawyers know this.

Regardless of the amount of the retainer, it doesn’t reflect the amount your divorce will cost.  In fact, most spouses end up paying far more than the retainer.  The kicker about retainers is that new rules that govern lawyers require them not to touch the money, until it’s earned.  So that big payment you just fronted, just sits in an account that doesn’t earn you a dime in interest.  So, why pay a retainer?  Exactly.

Some believe that lawyers continue to demand a retainer because of habit. Could be true – after all, lawyers are slow to change.  Some other believe that it more properly sets a client’s expectations about the high cost of a divorce.  I’m guessing here, but I think most people know that their divorce is going to be a financial “kick in the pants.”  No matter the reason, they are largely unnecessary, if spouses are apprised of the costs of a divorce and lawyers trust that their clients will pay for their services.

Knowing this, the retainer only keeps the client from changing lawyers, if the client feels that they are in the wrong hands.  While retainers have their place (for purposes of trial preparation, when lawyers will expend a lot of time in preparing a case – though this happens in only 1% of divorces), or a small initial cost to open the file and prepare initial documents, but largely there is no need for the old-school “retainer.”

When you’re interviewing attorneys or thinking you would like to kick your lawyer to the curb, keep the retainer (or lack of one) in mind. Unnecessary, needless, and with the new rules, the deposit only handcuffs you to your lawyer.


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