When and how can I terminate my retainer?

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Published on LexisPSL on 27/11/2013

The following Practice Compliance Q&A provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • When and how can I terminate my retainer?
  • No entitlement to be paid
  • Implied right to terminate the retainer
  • Good cause—the hopeless case or argument
  • Good cause—failure to pay costs on account or an interim bill
  • What is reasonable notice?

Incorrectly terminating a retainer can have serious consequences, eg you:

  1. are not entitled to be paid for any of the work done on the client's matter

  2. could be subject to disciplinary sanctions by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)

Requirements about terminating the retainer can largely be found in the Solicitors Act 1974 and case law. There is a unified message: to terminate a retainer you must have good cause and you must give reasonable notice to the client.

No entitlement to be paid

A retainer is normally an entire contract under which you agree to do certain work for the client. If you wrongfully terminate the retainer you are not entitled to any payment at all for the work you have done, either on a quantum meruit or any other basis.

Implied right to terminate the retainer

There is an implied term that a solicitor can terminate the retainer on reasonable notice for good cause, eg:

  1. failure to provide funds for disbursements

  2. failure to give adequate instructions

  3. the client requiring you to behave unlawfully or unethically

  4. the client obstructing you or preventing you from dealing with the matter

  5. where there is a serious breakdown in confidence between you and the client

  6. inappropriate sexual advances or innuendoes, especially to junior staff; violence; or other inappropriate behaviour (this may be a situation where reasonable notice is not required and if it occurs

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