A retainer fee is a prepayment of an attorney's legal fees. The retainer, which is paid by the client to the attorney, is placed in a special account held by the attorney. The balance of the retainer is deducted as the attorney performs legal services. Sometimes referred to as a "down payment," retainer fees are often non-refundable. Based on the type of services you are seeking and your attorney's perception of your ability to pay your legal fees, you may be able to negotiate away a retainer fee.
Negotiate for no retainer fee. Depending on how well you know your attorney and how much faith he or she has in your ability to pay your legal fees, you can try to negotiate with your attorney a payment arrangement whereby a retainer fee will not be necessary.
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Consider a "contingent-fee" arrangement. According to the Law Offices of Aaron Larson, cases involving personal injury or workers' compensation may be eligible for a contingent-fee arrangement whereby an attorney fee is not required unless you win the case. Although there may not be a retainer fee charged by the attorney, certain court costs and other fees may be imposed even if you lose the case.
Ask if the attorney will handle your case "pro-bono." Sometimes an attorney will handle a case on a pro-bono basis (meaning without charging a fee). An attorney will sometimes handle a case on a pro-bono basis because he or she has an interest in the matter, the subject is of public interest or because the person receiving legal services is considered low-income. If the attorney accepts your matter on a pro-bono basis, no retainer fee will be required.