There is a common misunderstanding that a retainer is the total cost of your case. That is not how a retainer works. A retainer for a family law case is payment for future services. However, the money is still yours until it is earned. You could hire a law firm, pay your retainer, and then change your mind. If this happens, you are entitled to all of the unused funds. Your retainer should not be considered the total of your case. If your law firm does not explain this to you… run! Your retainer should be priced fairly. Think Goldilocks. Your retainer should not be too high or too low. It should be just right.
Some of our clients originally signed with law firms that offered low ball retainers of $500 or $1,000. Then they burned through the funds and asked our clients for more money. After feeling violated, they left these low-ball firms and became our clients. We know the work that it takes to complete a new divorce or paternity case and it is not getting done with excellence for $1,000. It always makes us pause and ask, what are they leaving out that is going to cost more down the road?
We have also seen law firms request retainers between $10,000 – $25,000. When you are starting a new case, we truly do not know whether the case is going to be very contested or if a settlement can be negotiated. A skilled negotiator can save significant money because they can do what you cannot. Think about it, if you could work things out with your spouse, you wouldn’t be reading this, would you? Why would we request $25,000 if we can negotiate a settlement, avoid extensive discovery, and avoid several court dates? This does not mean that your case could not get expensive, it just means that you should not pay a significant amount until your legal team knows your case and its uniqueness.
Your retainer should be under $10,000 for most new cases in Illinois. You want a firm that knows your case is more than $2,000 but unsure the full price until you get started. Your retainer should reflect what is reasonably expected.
You want a firm that keeps you fully informed as to where you are in your case and with the balance of your retainer. Most law firms do not have written billing systems that would keep you fully informed about your retainer balance. Many firms bill infrequently and then you are surprised about your balance. With us, you will know exactly where you stand.