In Maryland, an attorney will sometimes request a non-refundable retainer to represent a client. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, a non-refundable retainer agreement is unenforceable. A non-refundable “engagement fee” is only appropriate when the attorney will make the client’s case a priority, will lose income due to the inability to represent other potential clients, and/or will incur costs to represent the client, such as hiring new staff.
In most situations, designating a fee as “non-refundable” will not make it so. Attorney Grievance Commission v. Stinson __ Md. ___ (2012). It is unreasonable for an attorney to keep a large fee when the amount of legal services performed has been minimal. In Maryland, all fees charged by an attorney must be reasonable. “An otherwise reasonable fee can become unreasonable if the lawyer fails to earn it”. Attorney Grievance Commission v. Garrett ___ Md. ___ (2012).
The Court of Appeals disbarred Katrice S. Stinson for excessive billing (among other reasons), including double billing for document preparation, billing 7.5 hours for a 2 to 3 hour meeting, and billing 1.5 hours for providing the client with a blank EEOC form.