Celebrating 10 years! 2007-2017

Anyone use a limited scope retainer?

My focus is landlord-tenant (among other practice areas). Th nyctemp08/08/17
Of course. Just be sure that the client is clearly informed jeffm08/08/17
I use them all the time for family Court matters. Just be ab thirdtierlaw08/08/17
In my opinion, $200 is very low. If you are on a busy docket guyingorillasuit08/08/17
I agree The last tenant I charged 400 For some reason this nyctemp08/08/17
I routinely use them when I get a client with a small claims pauperesq08/08/17
Yes I was being a beta male and caved in a bit. I realized i nyctemp08/08/17
By the way, I would go and spend a few days in LL/T court to guyingorillasuit08/08/17
My experience is largely L/T and doc review nyctemp08/08/17
Every retainer agreement you do, ever, should be limited. A anothernjlawyer08/09/17
nyctemp (Aug 8, 2017 - 3:48 pm)

My focus is landlord-tenant (among other practice areas). These tenants I'm in touch with can't afford signing up with a proper retainer. So I told them I'll do a face to face consult and one hearing. When she asked for a quote 200 came out of my mouth ( peanuts obviously but I'm just starting).
Has anybody here offered unbundled services, coaching a pro se client and/or limited retainers? What do you guys think of these.

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jeffm (Aug 8, 2017 - 4:37 pm)

Of course. Just be sure that the client is clearly informed as to when your representation ends. That way, you should be protected against claims of malpractice for failure to provide services.

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thirdtierlaw (Aug 8, 2017 - 4:55 pm)

I use them all the time for family Court matters. Just be abundantly clear in your retainer about when the representation will end and what it covers. Make sure to take a hard line, none of these, "Hey, just calling because I have a super quick question..." situations after your representation ends. Also check your local rules, we are required to file a notice of limited appearance detailing exactly what services we are providing. If not, the court may not let us withdraw.


Good luck and make sure you're not undervaluing yourself!

Though there are some quite comfortable traffic ticket attorneys who work on a volume model like this. One 30-40 min meeting in office then a 15-minute court appearance to resolve the ticket at the Courthouse. $200/client can add up quite quickly if you're doing even a halfday's worth of hearings.

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guyingorillasuit (Aug 8, 2017 - 5:04 pm)

In my opinion, $200 is very low. If you are on a busy docket, getting your case called can take all morning. In addition, in most cases, you will have to prepare and file pleadings in advance of the hearing, and potentially review an opposition and prepare and file a reply. In addition, you will have interview the client, explain these pleadings, take his calls and emails, etc. This is probably 7 - 10 hours of work.

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nyctemp (Aug 8, 2017 - 5:57 pm)

I agree
The last tenant I charged 400
For some reason this client was equivocating so I agreed to 200
I don't have to interpose an answer because she put in a pro se answer. So I have to do a consult, maybe 3 hours prep and the hearing. Obviously too low.

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pauperesq (Aug 8, 2017 - 5:35 pm)

I routinely use them when I get a client with a small claims matter. It's often not worth it for the client to retain me for a small claims court appearance since it will likely be appealed to a de novo arbitration hearing we're only talking about a few thousand dollars. Instead, I'll limit the scope of my representation to negotiating a resolution with the other side. I won't appear at the hearing if we can't get it resolved. The client can choose to retain me at the next level if it gets there.

As others of said, your engagement letter needs to spell out exactly what you will and will not do. The last thing you want is to have a client accusing you of not doing something and the case was lost because of it.

GIGS has it right. Just because the matter is small in terms of damages doesn't mean the work is equally small. $200 is way too low. Even if you're brand new to the profession, that's 1-2 hours of work. You'll burn through that just sitting and waiting for your case to be called.

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nyctemp (Aug 8, 2017 - 6:36 pm)

Yes I was being a beta male and caved in a bit. I realized it was too low after it came out of my mouth

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guyingorillasuit (Aug 8, 2017 - 6:12 pm)

By the way, I would go and spend a few days in LL/T court to see how things are done, before you go to this hearing.

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nyctemp (Aug 8, 2017 - 6:37 pm)

My experience is largely L/T and doc review

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anothernjlawyer (Aug 9, 2017 - 9:56 am)

Every retainer agreement you do, ever, should be limited. A very rough example:

"Attorney is being retained to represent client in the matter of (be as specific as possible). (the "Case"). The Legal work performed by the Attorney will be limited solely to the Case. Client understands and agrees that the Attorney has been engaged solely to represent Client in connection with the Case, and that Attorney will not, nor is Attorney obligated to, advise, counsel, or represent client in connection with any matter other than the Case." Attorney has provided client with no legal advice in connection with any matter other than the Case, and if Client requires such advice, Client must enter into a new and separate retainer agreement with Attorney. The Case shall not include the filing of prosecuting of any appeals after Trial Court proceedings have concluded."

Here's why. Joe Nobody comes into your office because he's facing eviction. He explains to you that he spent his rent money on Kid Rock tickets and his ex-girlfriend's abortion, and that his landlord sucks. He makes small talk about how his boss is a jerk and mentions that two years ago (or whenever the statute of limitations is just about to expire) he got hit by a UPS truck, and his doctor told him that he's legally retarded. You nod politely, take his 200 bucks, handle the eviction, and move on with your week.

Six months later, you get a call from Joe. "Where's my UPS settlement money? I'm a millionaire now, right?"

Joe then sues you for malpractice, and files an ethics complaint for "failure to communicate" or something like that.

It is especially important to have limiting language on a flat fee case, or else your client will expect you to appeal to the Supreme Court no matter how meritless his case is.

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