Lawyer Fees in Jenks, Oklahoma and Tulsa, Oklahoma

What is a Retainer?

In an Oklahoma divorce, a retainer is an amount of money that a lawyer asks a client to pay when the lawyer agrees to represent the client in a particular matter or for a particular purpose.  The retainer is used to guarantee the commitment of the lawyer in the case but does not usually represent the total amount of fees that will be charged for the duration of the case.  In Oklahoma, retainers paid to lawyers are required by law to be deposited into an interest-bearing account, called an “interest on lawyers’ trust account” or IOLTA, for short.  Small amounts of interest are earned on the balance in an IOLTA, but those amounts of interest do not belong to the lawyer or the law firm. Lawyer retainer fees and hourly fees All interest earned on all IOLTA balances throughout the state is required to be paid to the Oklahoma Bar Foundation Fund.  The Foundation then provides funding for programs such as Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Tulsa Lawyers for Children, and others which cater to underserved and marginalized populations in Oklahoma.

What is an Hourly Rate?

An hourly rate is the rate a lawyer charges for work done on a client’s legal case.  The work done can be drafting of legal documents, review of client records and journals, phone calls, emails, and meetings with the client and other parties, negotiating a settlement for a client, doing legal research relevant to the client’s case, and of course, appearing in court on behalf of the client.  A lawyer’s hourly rate can depend upon many factors such as the lawyer’s education, background, years of experience, case results, reputation and standing among colleagues, type of law practiced, and even geographical area.  For example, the average hourly rate charged by an Oklahoma family law attorney is about $250 per hour, whereas for a New York corporate lawyer, that average is closer to $460 per hour.  The hourly rate can also depend upon whether the lawyer is a solo practitioner or works in a large firm.  Usually large firms have higher rates because they take on large caseloads and have multiple ancillary staff to support and more overhead costs for running a bigger operation.

How Do Attorneys Determine Their Retainer?

Each attorney requiring a retainer to begin a case has their own ideas about how to set the appropriate amount under the circumstances.  But generally, the retainer will represent an estimate of how much time the attorney believes a case will take during a specific timeframe multiplied by that attorney’s hourly rate.  It can also depend upon how often the attorney bills and whether they expect for the retainer to be replenished with every bill, at a certain threshold, or not at all.  For example, if the attorney believes a case will take just a few hours of work which can all be accomplished in one month, she may require a smaller retainer and not require that it be replenished unless and until it falls below a certain amount.  On the other hand, for a contentious and hotly litigated issue, the attorney might require a much higher retainer and require that it be replenished at every billing until the case is over so that there is always an adequate amount to pay for things like excessive discovery, depositions, experts, process servers, court filing fees, or any number of large expenses that commonly come up in such cases.

How Can I Know What My Lawyer’s Retainer Policy Is?

An attorney should always execute a signed a retainer agreement with the client which sets out the retainer amount as well as how often billing occurs and what the expectations are as far as replenishing the retainer.  The best way to know the retainer policy is to ask about it prior to agreeing to the representation and read the retainer agreement carefully and completely before signing it.  Finally, asking for a copy to take home to refer to later is best practice and will avoid the uncomfortable situation of having to ask for it after a dispute or question over fees arises. 

Retainer Example

Attorney Diana expects that she will spend 10 hours on a case, at an hourly rate of $215, amounting to a $2,150 retainer deposit. If in the first thirty days, she spends four hours on the case, she will charge $860 against the $2,150 retainer deposit, leaving a balance of $1,290.  If Diana completes the case the following month after spending another five hours, she will charge $1,075 against the remaining deposit, leaving a balance of $215.  If all issues are resolved at that time and there are no extra fees (such as filing costs), the client gets a refund of the remaining retainer deposit of $215.

What If I Want to Fire My Lawyer but He Still Has My Retainer?

An attorney cannot keep a retainer that has not been earned.  Sometimes, early in a case, disagreement between clients and attorneys can happen after a significant retainer has been paid but before significant work on the case has been done, leading to the situation where a client wants to leave that attorney but does not have a whole new retainer to pay a new attorney.  What is the client to do?  First, a client must communicate immediately and unequivocally to the attorney that they are terminating the relationship and that they want all work on the case to cease.  The client must also ask for a refund of any remaining retainer balance.  The best practice is to do this in writing and to ask for an accounting of any work that has been done. 

A word of caution applies here as far as expectations of refund amount.  Usually, a refund will not be a 100% refund, unless the termination occurs almost immediately, or the lawyer agrees to it as a courtesy.  The reason for this is that there can be some administrative costs involved in “opening a case” such as setting up the file, looking up records, doing background and conflicts checks, just to name a few.  These costs are usually deducted ahead of a refund, and the firm is entitled to keep amounts charged for work done.  Fortunately, administrative costs are usually significantly smaller than billed attorney time.  If you have questions or doubts about what has been charged, consult your retainer agreement and ask questions.