How to Cancel a Retainer Agreement

Cancellation of a retainer agreement can sometimes be accompanied by costs and fees.
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Retainer agreements are usually entered into between attorneys and clients in contingent fee cases. A contingent fee agreement is one where an attorney agrees to represent a client for a percentage share of any settlement or judgment, instead of, or in addition to, an hourly rate. Most state bar authorities have stringent rules and regulations relating to contingent fee agreements, which range from directives as to the representations that may be made to prospective clients to the maximum percentage of any recovery that the attorney is entitled to as fees.

Research whether the state in which your attorney is admitted to practice law has rules and regulations relating to contingent fee retainer agreements and familiarize yourself with these rules. Such rules can be found through the state's bar association, or at a local law library, and are usually titled "Rules Regulating the Bar."

Review the retainer agreement you signed with your attorney and compare its terms to the state bar authority's rules and regulations relating to contingent fee agreements. Pay special attention to rules and regulations relating to termination of an attorney. All states allow clients to terminate their attorneys, as well as any related retainer agreements, for any reason whatsoever. However, such terminations shall be subject to the terminated attorney's entitlement to payment of costs and expenses incurred and a quantum meruit share of any monetary recovery. Quantum meruit is Latin for "what one has earned," which is another way of saying that the terminated attorney will still be entitled to the reasonable value of his services. As a result, if possible, you should try to reach an agreement with your attorney concerning fees prior to formal termination.

Read More: Legal Retainer Agreement

Draft and deliver a letter of termination of the retainer agreement, which should be dated and addressed to your attorney, reference the date and parties, the retainer agreement and state your basis for termination --- even though the reason for terminating is not necessary. If you have already retained another attorney, the letter of termination should contain a request that the case file be forwarded to your new legal counsel. Otherwise, the letter should instruct the terminated attorney to forward the case file to you. A terminated attorney has an ethical duty not to engage in acts or omissions that would harm a former client's case.

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