To engage the services of an attorney or counsellor to manage a cause, at which time it is usual to give him a fee, called the retaining fee or retainer. The act by which the attorney is authorized to act in the case is called a retainer.Although, depending on the laws and rules of particular jurisdictions, it is not indispensable that the retainer should be in writing, unless required by the other side, it is very expedient. It is therefore recommended, particularly when the client is a stranger, to require from him a written retainer, signed by himself; and, in order to avoid the insinuation that it was obtained by contrivance, it should be witnessed by one or more respectable persons. When there are several plaintiffs, it should be signed by all and not by one for himself and the others, especially if they are trustees or assignees of a bankrupt or insolvent. The retainer should also state whether it be given for a general or a qualified authority. There is an implied contract on the part of an attorney who has been retained, that he will use due diligence in the course of legal proceedings, but it is not an undertaking to recover a judgment. An attorney is bound to act with the most scrupulous honor, he ought to disclose to his client if he has any adverse retainer which may affect his judgment, or his client's interest; but the concealment of the fact does not necessarily imply fraud.
The act of withholding what one has in one's own hands by virtue of some right.
An executor or administrator is entitled to retain in certain cases, for a debt due to him by the estate of a testator or intestate.
It is proposed to inquire, 1. Who may retain. 2. Against whom. 3. On what claims. 4. What amount may be retained.
In inquiring who may retain, it is natural to consider, 1st. Those cases where there is but one executor or administrator. 2d, Where there are several, and one of them only has a claim against the estate of the deceased.
- 1. A sole executor may retain in those cases where, if the debt had been due to a stranger, such stranger might have sued the executor and recov-ered judgment; or where the executor might, in the due administration of the estate, have paid the same. He may, therefore, retain a debt due to himself or to himself in right of another or to another in trust for him; the debt may be retained when administration is committed to another for the use of the creditor who is a lunatic or an infant entitled to administration. An executor may retain if he be the executor of the first testator; but an executor of one of the executors of the first testator, the other executor, being still living, is not an executor of the first testator, and therefore cannot retain. An executor may re-tain before he has proved the will, and if he die after having intermeddled with the goods of the testator and before probate, his executor has the same power.
2. Where there are several executors, and one has a claim against the estate of the deceased, he may retain with or without the consent of the others but where several of them have debts of equal degree they can retain only pro rata.
Against whom. In those cases, 1. Where the deceased was alone bound. 2. Where he was bound with others. 3. Where the executor of the obligee is also his executor.
1. Where the deceased was sole obligor, his executor may clearly retain.
- 2. Where two are jointly and severally bound, and one of them appoints the obligee his executor or the obligee takes out letters of administration to him, the debt is immediately satisfied by way of retainer, if, the executor or administrator have sufficient assets.
- 3. If the obligee make the administrator of the obligor his executor, it is a discharge of the debt, if the administrator have assets of the estate of the obligor; but if he have fully administered, or if no assests to pay the debt came to his hands, it is no discharge, for there is nothing for him to retain.
On what claims. 1. As to the priority of the claim. 2. As to its nature.
1. In the payment of the debts of a decedent, the law gives a preference to certain debts over others, an executor cannot, therefore, retain his debt, while there are unpaid debts of a superior degree, because if he could have brought an action for the recovery of his claim, he could not have re-covered in prejudice of such a creditor. He may retain only where he has superior claim, or one of equal degree. And in a case where two men were jointly bound in a bond, one as principal, the other as surety, after which the principal died intestate, and the surety took out administration to his estate, the bond being forfeited, the administrator paid the debt; it was held he could not retain as a specially creditor because being a party to the bond it became his own debt after having paid the debt, however, he became a simple contract creditor, and might retain it as such. - 2. As to the nature of the claim for which an executor may retain, it seems that damages which are in their nature arbitrary cannot be retained, because, till judgment, no man can foretell their amount; such are damages upon torts. But where damages arise from the breach of a pecuniary contract, there is a certain measure for them, and such damages may well be retained. A debt barred by the act of limitation may be retained, for the executor is not bound to plead the act against others, and it shall, therefore, not operate against him. What amount may be retained. 1. By the common law an executor is entitled to retain his debt in preference to all other creditors in an equal degree. This he might do, because he is to be placed in the situation of the most vigilant creditor, who by suing and obtaining a judgment might have obtained a preference. Where however, the exec-utor cannot, by bringing suit, obtain a preference, the reason seems changed, and therefore in Pennsylvania, when do such preference can be obtained, the executor is entitled to retain only pro rata with creditors of the same class.
- 2. Where the estate is solvent an executor may of course retain for the whole of his debt, with interest. practice. The act of a client, by which he engages an attorney or counsellor to manage a cause, either by prosecuting it, when he is plaintiff, or defending it, when he is defendant.
The effect of a retainer to prosecute or defend a suit is to confer on the attorney all the powers exercised by the forms and usages of the courts, in which the suit is pending. He may receive payment; may bring a second suit after being non-suited in the first for want of formal proof; may sue a writ of error on the judgment; may discontinue the suit; may restore an action after a non pros; may claim an appeal and bind his client in his name for the prosecution of it; way submit the suit to arbitration; may sue out an alias execution; may receive livery of seisin of land taken by an extent may waive objections to evidence, and enter into stipulation for the admission of facts or conduct of the trial and for release of bail; may waive the right of appeal, review, notice, and the like, and confess judgment. But he has no authority to execute a discharge of a debtor but upon the actual payment of the full amount of the debt, and that in money only; nor to release sureties; nor to enter a retraxit; nor to act for the legal representatives of his deceased client; nor to release a witness. The up front payment a client gives a lawyer to accept a case. The client is paying to "retain" the lawyer's services.