Once you have decided that you are prepared to represent a client in a particular matter, you are ready to begin building a relationship with that client. Even if you already have a relationship with the client, but are taking on a new case, it is essential that you communicate with him or her to establish a mutual understanding of the nature and scope of the matter to be pursued.
practicePRO’s Managing the Lawyer/Client Relationship booklet contains the following checklist you can use to ensure you and the client are the same page as to what you are being retained to do and how it will proceed.
- Language of retainer must be clear and understandable.
- Document should provide for acknowledgment and acceptance of all of the terms by the client.
- Specify that any changes to the terms of the letter agreement must be in writing.
Parties to be represented
- Identify the client – obtain proper legal names for all persons and business entities.
- Identify all other parties in matters.
- If there are multiple clients, explain that the effect of lawyer/client privilege does not apply as between them.
- If conflict is being waived on consent, set out terms regarding consent.
Client’s objectives and strategy
- Identify the client’s objectives and propose strategy to meet the objectives.
- Outline the scope of representation and identify specificity of the retainer where it is limited.
- Identify nature and degree of factual investigation to be made.
- Explain ambit of legal analysis to be performed.
- Outline key steps in the representation.
- Provide an estimated time frame for all major work and identify critical points in time.
- Set out line of communication and need for instructions.
- If there are multiple clients, set out the process for instructions and disclosure or need for ILA.
- Confirm type of reporting needed by the client.
Responsibilities of lawyer, staff and client
- Identify significant areas of responsibility vis-a-vis you, the law firm, the client or a third party, and include permission from the client before incurring significant expenses with third parties such as experts or other service providers.
- Define your level of authority and identify matters which specifically require the client’s consent.
- Explain and confirm delegation within your firm.
Safeguarding client property/investment of funds
- Identify property being held at your law firm and confirm arrangements for safekeeping.
- Confirm investment of any funds being held in trust.
Fees and expenses
- Identify the basis for the fees to be charged (e.g. fixed fee, hourly rates, blended option). If charges are on an hourly rate basis, the current rate for each lawyer and other time keeper assigned to the matter should be described along with an indication of whether rates are subject to change in the future.
- Review the nature of the out-of-pocket disbursements to be billed and distinguish between internal expenses such as photocopying and long distance charges as opposed to charges from an outside vendor such as court fees, government searches and agency fees.
- Set out the timing of rendering of accounts and period within which accounts are to be paid.
- Identify the need for any financial commitment in advance (referred to as a financial retainer) and terms upon which funds are to held/invested and drawn upon and replenished in the future.
- Describe billing format and elicit any particular billing format requirements of the client e.g. detailed statements – identify time keeper rates, tasks undertaken.
- Outline consequences, if any, of late payment of accounts and circumstances under which the retainer will be terminated for non-payment.
Grounds for termination or withdrawal of services
- Set out grounds for your termination/withdrawal (e.g. failing to receive instructions or any other grounds).