A retainer is an amount of money paid in advance to secure the services of an attorney. The retainer is held in a trust account on behalf of the client. The attorney’s hourly rate is billed against the retainer amount. What that means is that every time work is performed on a client’s file the hourly rate is deducted from the retainer paid.
You can think of the trust account as a bucket. You can think of the retainer payment as rocks placed in the bucket. Every time work is performed on a client’s case a rock is taken out of the bucket. When the number of rocks gets below a certain amount, the client has to give the attorney more rocks to add.
Here is a numeric example, your retainer is $3,500. That $3,500 is placed in your assigned bucket. The attorney performs 1 hour of work at a rate of $350 per hour (rocks). Your bucket now has $3,150 in it.
Retainers also include a replenishment provision. What that means is that once your original retainer goes below a pre-determined amount you must pay additional funds to bring your retainer back up to the predetermined amount.
For example, your replenishment provision could be $1,750. That means that when the attorney has worked on your case and the hours billed adds up to an amount that decreases the number of rocks in your bucket below $1,750, you have to add more rocks to bring it back up to $1,750.
Here is a numeric example, Your original retainer is $3,500. The attorney works 6 hours at a rate of $350 per hour. That deducts $2,100 from your bucket. Your bucket now has $1,400 in it. You will receive a bill for $350 to bring your bucket back up to $1,750.
If you have money left in your trust account above the original minimum retainer of $3500 at the end of the case, that amount will be refunded to you.