January 12, 2024
·

Guide to Attorney-Client Retainer Agreements

Tom Waddick
Free ebook
Download Now
Free Template
Certificate of Engagement
Download Now

You probably didn’t get into the entertainment industry to review contracts and fill out paperwork. But competent administration, especially regarding legal matters, is the cornerstone of business success.

That’s why you need an entertainment lawyer. When hiring a lawyer, you should always have an attorney-client retainer agreement in place. In this blog post we will cover what an attorney-client retainer agreement is, what it covers, and why you need one.

Download our attorney-client retainer agreement

Embarking on your next project? Help ensure a robust legal foundation with our free attorney-client retainer agreement. Download our attorney-client retainer agreement template now to seamlessly navigate the intricate world of entertainment law and protect your business.

Critical contributor to your business’s success. Download our free legal services agreement template and embark on your next production journey with confidence.

Free Resource

Certificate of Engagement Template

Download Now

Understand attorney-client retainer agreements

An attorney-client retainer agreement is more than just a legal document; it's your shield in the complex realm of entertainment law. Let's delve into what makes this agreement indispensable.

At its core, an attorney-client retainer agreement is a contractual bond between you, the client, and your chosen attorney. Also known as an “attorney fee agreement” or “legal services agreement,” this legally binding document outlines the terms of your legal partnership. 

A thorough attorney-client retainer should: 

  • Define the scope of representation
  • Outline payments and fees
  • Establish terms for the duration and termination of the agreement
  • And safeguard attorney-client confidentiality

Typical components of these agreements include:

Scope of representation 

Your attorney-client retainer agreement should clearly delineate your attorney's role. The contract will specify the tasks your lawyer will undertake from contract negotiations to dispute resolution. 

Outlining the scope of representation in your agreement is of paramount importance. It will help you avoid misunderstandings and make sure that both parties are on the same page regarding the services to be rendered.

Payment and fees

Your agreement should also specify the amount you will pay your lawyer as a retainer fee. A retainer fee is an advance payment that the client makes to the attorney to secure their services for a set period. 

A good attorney-client retainer agreement details how the retainer fee will be used. It sets the terms of payment for additional services incurred after the attorney's services exceed the amount of the retainer fee. These additional payments can take the form of a per-project flat fee, an hourly rate, or a percentage of the client’s earnings.

Finally, the agreement should establish terms of payment for out-of-pocket attorney expenses such as telephone calls, mailing costs, photocopies, and other related expenses.

Duration and termination

Your legal services agreement should establish the duration of the attorney-client relationship. This means clearly specifying whether the agreement is for a certain project, a set period, or until the completion of a legal matter. 

It should also include a provision that allows you to terminate the agreement at any time. This is important for your protection, as it allows you to end the relationship with your attorney if you are not satisfied with the services provided. 

The agreement should also include a provision that allows the attorney to withdraw from the case if necessary. This, too, is important for your protection as it can help resolve unforeseen situations (like a conflict of interest) should they arise later in your attorney-client relationship. 

In both cases, the attorney-client retainer agreement should outline the conditions under which either party can terminate the agreement, such as non-payment, breach of contract, or mutual agreement.

Confidentiality clauses

Having a lawyer in your corner means trusting them with privileged and sensitive information. Your legal services agreement should include confidentiality clauses to protect information shared during representation. 

A robust confidentiality clause safeguards your intellectual property and trade secrets. 

Why do producers need retainer agreements?

As a producer, navigating the intricacies of the entertainment industry demands strategic legal support. Here's where the attorney-client retainer agreement becomes your production ally.

Contract negotiations 

Producers often find themselves at the negotiation table. An entertainment lawyer provides legal expertise to help you secure favorable terms. Particularly when drafting and negotiating all industry-related contracts.

As the blueprint for your attorney-client relationship, your legal services agreement should clearly define the attorney’s role in dealmaking.

Intellectual property disputes

When disputes arise over intellectual property, having an attorney ready to protect your creative assets is crucial. Outline your attorney-client retainer agreement so your lawyer is always there to advise you on copyright and trademark matters. 

Additionally, an attorney can help you secure the necessary licensing and clearance agreements so that your project is free to be exhibited and distributed (and earn revenue) as intended.

Setting up production companies

Establishing production companies can be legally complex. A retainer agreement ensures legal readiness in company formation so that your corporate entity or loan-out company is fully compliant and set up for success.

These agreements aren't just documents; they are shields, offering legal protection and support for the myriad challenges a producer might encounter. 

Many states even require attorneys and clients to sign a written attorney-client retainer agreement. For example, California requires a written attorney-client fee contract anytime the expected cost to a client, including attorney fees, will exceed $1,000. 

Tailor your retainer agreement

Every project is unique, and your legal services agreement should reflect that. When drafting an attorney-client retainer agreement, tailor it to fit your specific needs by including flexible terms. 

A one-size-fits-all approach doesn't apply in the dynamic world of entertainment.

Your attorney-client retainer agreement should anticipate the unexpected as much as possible. Include provisions that address legal emergencies such as lawsuits to make sure your attorney is ready to act swiftly when needed most.

Our free attorney-client retainer agreement template is a great place to start drafting an agreement customized to your specific needs. Use it as a basis to build the legal services agreement that makes sense for you.

Build a strong legal partnership

Selecting the right attorney is as crucial as the agreement itself. Opt for attorneys well-versed in entertainment law. While some attorneys may dabble, the industry is highly nuanced and your business will greatly benefit from the expertise of a specialist.

Before retaining an attorney, conduct thorough research. Review the lawyer’s current clients, ask for references, and discuss payment arrangements prior to engaging them. 

A strong legal partnership requires effective communication. By aligning your legal strategies with your production goals, you can ensure a seamless and fruitful collaboration.

Remember, your lawyer should fit into your overall professional network. Just like managers and agents, entertainment lawyers have their own vast network of industry professionals. The right attorney can offer invaluable connections along with expertise.

Wrapping up

In the ever-evolving landscape of entertainment, a robust legal foundation is non-negotiable. The attorney-client retainer agreement is your compass, guiding you through legal intricacies and shielding your project from potential pitfalls.

Your legal partner is not just an attorney; they are a cru

Free Resource

Certificate of Engagement Template

Download Now

Disclaimer

At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice.  You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.

About the author
Tom Waddick

Tom is a filmmaker, producer, and marketing specialist based in Los Angeles.

Stay In The Know

Sign up for the Wrapbook newsletter where we share industry news along with must-know guides for producers.