What is a Retainer Agreement?

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  • Written By: Lori Smith
  • Edited By: M. C. Hughes
  • Last Modified Date: 21 January 2020
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A retainer agreement is a legal contract stating that one person or business entity will hire a professional to provide a particular service. It typically details the scope of work to be performed and the fees that will be charged. Lawyers frequently ask their clients to sign a retainer agreement before they begin working on a case, for example. Often a retainer fee, or a deposit, is required in addition to an executed contract before the professional will begin working for his client.

Many different types of professionals use retainer agreements to guarantee their services. A photographer, for example, may draw up this type of contract to secure his availability for a future event, like a wedding. Not only does it ensure the professional's promise to work at the event on the date he is needed, it also outlines the fee structure in most cases. Some people use this form in lieu of a service agreement. In these instances, however, the documents will probably be more comprehensive than other contracts of this type.

It is generally customary for two copies of a final retainer agreement to be printed. Each individual typically initials the bottom of every page and signs the last one to confirm that all stipulations are understood. When two copies are signed, both parties then have an original version of the contract.


If something is written within the contract that warrants revision, it should be changed prior to signing. Once a retainer agreement has been printed, it is not always necessary to reprint the document if a small change needs to be made, however. Many times, a handwritten adjustment can be noted on the page or inside the margin, as long as both individuals initial it. Doing this signifies that both people approve the adjustment. A retainer agreement then serves as proof of the business relationship and helps avoid misunderstandings.

It is very important to read all of the information contained within a retainer agreement. Signing the document without fully understanding its contents can lead to big problems later on. It often contains legal jargon that may not usually be part of the average person's daily vocabulary. In some cases, it may be wise to seek the advice of an attorney and allow him to read through a complicated retainer agreement. If, however, the contract is provided for the purpose of obtaining legal services, the individual can simply ask for more detailed explanations of its content.


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