These summaries were prepared by McGuireWoods LLP lawyer Thomas E. Spahn. They are based on the letter opinions issued by the Virginia State Bar. Any editorial comments reflect Mr. Spahn's current personal views, and not the opinions of the Virginia State Bar, McGuireWoods or its clients. 
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8-Bills and Fees

14-Ownership of Files and Attorney Lien Issues

A lawyer may charge a "retainer" to "insure the attorney's availability and as consideration for the lawyer's unavailability to potential adverse party" where the client seeks to secure the lawyer's employment "for representation of his interests in any matter which may arise in the future." On the other hand, a "specific sum paid at the time an employment agreement is entered into" to "secure the lawyer's legal services for a specific . . . matter" is "deemed to be an advanced legal fee which has been entrusted to the lawyer" but which still belongs to the client. Here, the "non-refundable retainer" was improper "since funds which are entrusted to a lawyer by a client for the lawyer's services on a specific matter are deemed to be 'advanced legal fees' and belong to the client."A lawyer may not insist that a prospective client sign an agreement permitting the lawyer to keep any work product, because the work product belongs to the client.

Copyright 2000, Thomas E. Spahn