Once you have found the right attorney, the good news is that the hardest part is probably over. The next step is to sign an engagement letter or retainer agreement. While there may be additional names for it, the purpose of this document is to set out the parameters of your relationship with the attorney. It serves as your official contract.
You want to be certain that at least the following components are a part of your engagement letter/retainer agreement:
- Method of Payment-- You'll want to know not only how the attorney accepts payment, but also if there is a retainer you will have to replenish, whether you will be billed monthly, or whether this is a contingency fee arrangement, in which case you will probably be expected to pay costs.
- Scope of Agreement-- If you have several different legal problems, you want to know which of them, and which parts the attorney will be representing you for. This deals with what problem it is that the attorney is attempting to resolve for you.
- Services to be Performed-- This is similar to the above category, except that it deals with what exactly the attorney will do to achieve that goal. For example, is the agreement limited to a demand letter, or is it inclusive of litigation, if necessary?
- Method of Terminating Representation-- You'll want to know how and when you can notify an attorney of your decision to terminate representation, for whatever reason, and what the result will be. For example, how soon will your remaining (unearned) retainer be returned, etc.
- Method of Withdrawal--In case the attorney has to withdraw, whether for a potential conflict of interest, failing health, personal reason or what have you, how will the attorney notify you? It might also help to know what they will do to help prepare your case for the next attorney you will have to hire, etc.
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