Get your fee agreement in writing

by admin on May 24, 2009

Retainer Agreement

I was cogitating about a matrimonial lawyer whose client executed a retainer agreement pursuant to R. 5:3-5. The dispute arose when the attorney claimed that he entered into a subsequent oral agreement with his client modifying the original retainer agreement;  allowing him a fee for coaching her in a domestic violence case.  His client denied the existence of an oral agreement.

The trial judge disallowed a significant portion of the attorney fee, and he appealed. The Appellate Division affirmed, saying:

“The failure to prevail on a fee claim such as this informs both the bench and bar of the danger of supplementary oral agreements and the benefits of written retainer agreements, especially in the family practice,” wrote Judges Philip Carchman and Rudy Colement per curiam in Romanowski v. Mace, A-4135-07,

“Where oral agreements subsume the written agreement, fee disputes are inevitable, and on one’s interest is properly served.”

In an unrelated matter, a prominent matrimonial lawyer was disciplined by the Disciplinary Review Board for use of nonrefundable retainer agreements in violation of court rule and ethics rule requiring return of unearned legal fees.

These two cases are reminders of best practices in our law practices. Whether your are a matrimonial attorney executing a retainer agreement pursuant to R. 5:3-5; or a personal injury attorney working with a contingent fee agreement, don’t be lazy. Get your fee agreement in writing!

Please comment. Your opinion matters!

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Christopher Hill May 29, 2009 at 5:23 am

No fee agreement, and not in writing? And a Divorce Attorney? Yikes. Always make sure the expectations are clear and in writing. A fee agreement is a contract like anything else. Just shows that we attorneys aren’t always the best business folks.

lawrence berezin May 29, 2009 at 6:08 am


You are the best! I absolutely and wholeheartedly agree. Your point about lawyers and business folks is right on.

The divorce attorney who was reprimanded is a very well known NJ lawyer. What I was surprised to learn, but didn’t comment upon, was that he had a history of ethics violations.

Are ethics proceedings well publicized in Virginia?

Christopher Hill May 29, 2009 at 7:02 am

Relatively well. At least among the bar. We have a newsletter that goes out (I believe) quarterly that lists reprimands, etc.

AndrewBoldman June 4, 2009 at 4:06 pm

da best. Keep it going! Thank you

admin June 4, 2009 at 5:18 pm


Thanks so much for your comment. Appreciate it!

Sara June 23, 2009 at 10:06 pm

Pretty nice post. I just came across your blog and wanted to say
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I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

admin June 24, 2009 at 6:34 am


Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. I sincerely appreciate your kind words. I will be posting another article before the end of the week.

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