High or Low Retainers: Which Is Best When Hiring An Attorney?

If you are contemplating divorce or are engaged in a child custody, child custody, or alimony dispute post-divorce, having a family attorney by your side to guide you through the legal process concerning your matter is critical. However, with no shortage of New Jersey family law attorneys to pick from, who should you hire to be your lawyer?

We have an in-depth article on characteristics to consider as you go about finding the right family law attorney for you and your needs. For most people, though, one of the most important factors that comes up in the search for a lawyer is cost. How much will you need to pay for an attorney’s services? This is where the question of retainers comes in.

A retainer is a deposit paid up front as an advance against work to be done. As you start contacting attorneys and inquiring about rates, you may be told a wide variety of retainer amounts. It may be tempting to simply go with the attorney with the retainer amount that’s the lowest. However, buyer beware! Unfortunately, it’s a common ploy among some lawyers to charge a lower retainer just as a way of getting clients in the door.

This can happen because many people mistakenly think the retainer amount is the same as what the total cost of their divorce will be. This is simply not true. Paying an attorney a small amount on retainer and signing a retainer agreement may just lead to frustration when you find out not long after the ink is dry on your contract that you must pay more because the initial retainer was already used up.

What kind of retainer amount is best? Understanding how much you will need to pay — and should pay — for a divorce attorney largely depends on the kind of case yours will be. Are you going through an uncontested divorce and plan to mediate? Your contact with an attorney will likely be much less than someone going through a litigated, contested divorce. To find out what a retainer will cover, ask the attorney to explain it all in black and white. If he or she can’t, it’s probably a red flag and sign that you need to keep looking elsewhere.

Our article, “Law Firm Retainer Agreement Information,” has more information.