Attorney Representation Agreement

Any representation agreement between an attorney and client defines the terms of their continuing relationship. This agreement outlines fees, compensation, and a clear understanding of what work the attorney will be performing. It may also include communication updates, court costs, and work performed.

Are Representations Written or Oral?

Written representations are important, binding, and easy to recall and examine should the need arise. A written representation of your agreement with your lawyer is important even if you believe your case to be simple or straightforward. This fee agreement outlines details that one or more parties may forget, and establishes trust between attorney and client. You should always ask your attorney clear questions before hiring, and establish transparency between yourself and your legal representation.

Why you should have a Written Representation Agreement

Accountability is important, and with a written fee agreement you can ensure that nothing is forgotten. As with most things, the chief cause of disputes between any client and their lawyer is monetarily related. You don’t want any confusion over fees, such as what your attorney is owed or if you’re owed a refund for services. Written contracts make it easier to resolve both simple and complex disputes, and most importantly without court intervention. When a dispute arises, it’s easy enough to point to the written contract and resolve things there. With your attorney representation agreement or fee agreement, you can have the contract settle any disagreements.

Beyond financing, there are other reasons to sustain your written representation agreement. You’re allowed to have stipulations for representation in your case, such as including terms that only allow licensed attorneys to cover your case and not paralegals. You can use your written representation agreement to outline exactly how you want your case to be handled, such as defining the relationship between client and attorney. Clients that seek more hands-on representation may wish for consistent updates via calls or text. This way, you are never missing out on an important change in the case that the attorney may overlook.  

Also, finalizing any agreement in writing allows both client and attorney to lay out very transparent expectations as the case unfolds. Oral representation agreements can be messy and are too open to reinterpretation. Written representations are explicit and make both sides aware of the full terms of the contract, reducing misunderstandings and keeping both client and attorney on the same side.

What can a lawyer do without a Representation contract?

There are still some services a lawyer can provide their client without a representation contract, and in some cases services may be rendered before the client is even aware. The relationship between attorney and client may begin anytime the client has a reasonable belief that an attorney-client privilege has taken place, even without directly being hired. Attorneys are typically very clear about whether they are representing a client because some conversations can accidentally lead to attorney-client privileges. This may lead to casual representation, and some clients may even attempt to hire an attorney outright based on hourly fees before a representation agreement is made in writing.

Can a Lawyer Represent You Without a Contract?

Any respectable attorney will discuss contract terms with you as soon as possible. Attorneys know how to handle conversations about representation, written agreements, and client-attorney privileges, and should always be transparent with you about costs, representation, and any additional court fees. If you feel like the relationship you are building with your prospective attorney is reaching the point where a clear agreement should be outlined, you should request one. Representation without a contract is not a good idea for either the client or the prospective attorney.  

Can a Lawyer Charge You Without a Contract?

A lawyer may charge you without a contract, such as an hourly fee. The legal work you need may be accomplished via an attorney fixed fee, contingency fee, or your lawyer’s hourly rate. If your attorney charges an hourly rate, make sure you ask for their rate prior to hiring them or working out any other details. There might also be additional attorney rates at the firm for any lawyers that participate in your case. You may want a copy of the firm’s fee schedule, and any other fee agreements with the support staff or paralegals. Before beginning with your attorney, it’s a good idea to have some caution, especially if you are paying for new lawyers, law clerks, or other employees.   

Your case might require legal research, and you might want to inquire into the specific areas your case could be researched and how long that research might take. Your attorney may bill you for research that a more specific professional in that area might not have to do. This is why it’s important to always have a written attorney representation beforehand—you won’t be surprised by any additional fees, charges, or rates.

Can I Fire My Attorney if I Signed a Contract?

You can fire your lawyer at any time, though the contract you signed may have some stipulations for services rendered and fees unpaid. Firing your attorney is a personal decision and one that should not come lightly. There may be good reasons to fire your attorney even if you signed a contract, such as if you notice any unethical behaviors. If you ever question your lawyer’s standards, or you’re unhappy with their services, or there are personal reasons for letting them go, you shouldn’t think twice about finding a new attorney to represent you. The lawyer you find may not have your best interests at heart, and this is why it’s a good idea to hash out the attorney representation agreement ahead of time. You can include, in writing, any stipulations you might have about behavior or representation so that when it comes time to let them go there are no additional difficulties.

Representation Agreement Sample: What to Include?

There are a number of important things to remember when drawing up your representation agreement. Here are some sample considerations:

Representation Terms

There are a number of terms to consider when requesting representation. Consider including them in your contracts, such as the extent of your representation, stipulations for ending the attorney-client relationship, your client files, who exactly is working on your case, and all powers of attorney. The contract you sign should be clear in how your attorney will represent you, and there should always be items in place to protect your right to fire your attorney at any time. Powers of attorney can govern judgment calls, control of the case, etc.

Costs and Fees 

Costs and fees should always be clearly outlined in your fee agreement, including hourly rates, fixed fees, and contingency fees. It should also include any clauses that might govern costs outside of traditional fees in your case, which might be witness fees, travel, and business expenses, court fees, filing fees, etc. Litigation can be very expensive and it’s important that you are not blindsided by a host of additional fees that you did not consider. Your representation agreement should clearly cover who is expected to pay for what.  

Non-financial Liabilities

Non-financial liabilities typically cover power of attorney, and it’s important to talk with your lawyer about these liabilities prior to drafting up your attorney representation agreement. Non-financial liabilities can also cover the extent of your relationship, and govern responsibilities beyond fees and finance. 

Violations of Contract

It’s a good idea to include any stipulations on violations of contract, to protect both yourself and the attorney. If your attorney does anything unethical, or if the representation you are receiving is suboptimal, you will be protected as these standards violate your attorney representation agreement. You can include in your written agreement what constitutes a violation of the contract.

Ending Terms

Ending terms with your attorney should not be a complicated affair—there may be any number of reasons why it’s not working out, and a clear attorney representation agreement will allow both client and attorney to go their own ways. You will want to include clear ending terms in your fee agreement, covering separation terms both upon ending representation early or after your case is resolved.

Legal Disclaimer

You should always consult a professional law advisor before taking legal action of any kind. All of the rules and advice in this article are for purposes of consideration and can vary from state to state. Always make sure you know your local law and how legal representation is covered where you live. When seeking legal advice, it’s important that both client and attorney be as upfront as possible with their needs, terms, and conditions.

Picture of JARROD HAYS


Jarrod Hays is the founder of Skyview Law. He is licensed to practice law in Washington State and the Western District of Washington State Federal Court.

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