Legal fees and costs should be one of the first things reduced to writing when a client selects a lawyer. The retainer agreement should of course spell out what the client's financial obligations are, and what triggers any additional fees or costs. On the other hand, what the costs of the representation will be is not the only thing you need to understand. Typically, in my criminal defense practice in NJ, I use a four-page written agreement that starts by addressing the issues of who the payor is; what legal services are covered by the retainer payment; and, the obligations of both the Attorney and the client to each other.
By addressing these and other issues in the retainer agreement, we find that many issues we consider essential to the mutual understanding of both the client and the lawyer are addressed at the earliest possible stage. As an example, while it may seem strange until you encounter a client who does not tell you the truth about what occurred, I include a section on the obligation of the client to tell me the truth. This section always generates a discussion between the client and I about why I need to now exactly what did occur, so I can be prepared to counter the prosecution if they raise an issue that is not accurate. Obviously, if what a client tells me is not true, the legal advice I then give the client may not be helpful. Most people want to make themselves look as presentable as possible. This often leads to some 'glossing over' of what the client actually did, and the raising of this issue at an early stage begins the process of giving me the facts I need to know to protect the client.
We also use the written retainer agreement to start the process of addressing issues of citizenship, as a client who is not a citizen of the United States can face additional consequences above and beyond what the statute imposes, such as a fine or incarceration. This ensures that the non-citizen client is provided with accurate information as to the possibility of deportation based on the criminal charges he is facing. Once we are aware of this issue, we can make certain that the ultimate disposition has either no deportation consequence or minimizes the possibility of this type of consequence.
When you are discussing the legal fees and costs of the representation with your lawyer, make certain that you discuss all of the issues that can impact the disposition of the case, not just how much the representation will cost.
Jason Charles Matey, Attorney At Law