If you’ve never hired a lawyer before, you should get familiar with how you will be compensating your lawyer.
A retainer is money you put down so that your lawyer can pay herself during the case. For instance, a lawyer may ask for $5,000 to work on your divorce. This is not a non-refundable deposit, but rather a way for your lawyer to know that she’ll be paid for her work. Lawyers deposit their clients’ retainers in a trust account, that they can draw from once they have earned their fees and billed you for the work they have done. Until your lawyer earns part or all of your retainer, it is still money that belongs to you, and you can ask it to be returned to you at any time. A retainer is not a guarantee of how much the case will cost. Make sure you read your engagement letter carefully to be sure you understand your financial responsibility to your lawyer.
Many attorneys will set an hourly rate for their work with you, unless you’ve reached an agreement for a flat fee or are using unbundled services. Typically, attorneys will bill in tenths or fifths of an hour. That means that you may see “.1” hours listed on your bill. Your lawyer keeps track of each fraction of an hour they spend on your case, and provides you with a bill so you can see exactly how your lawyer is working towards a resolution. Your lawyer should be happy to address any questions you have about your bills, so you can understand what work they are doing as well as how your retainer funds are being used.
Your lawyer may ask you to refill your retainer each month, or set up a payment plan so you can add to the retainer as your case progresses. Any methods of billing and retainer use that your lawyer uses should be explained in your engagement agreement, and in Colorado, your lawyer cannot make any changes to their billing process for your case without notifying you in writing.