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Retainership: Some Points to Consider

The Law Firm of Mallari Fiel Brillante Ronquillo

retainership agreement is a fiduciary contract between a lawyer and a client wherein the former provides legal counseling, document review, legal representation, and other legal services, under certain terms and conditions usually contained in a contract for a predetermined professional fee usually paid monthly, quarterly or annually or for a certain period of time.  Some law firms even provide specialized, expert and ‘custom-fit’ service packages to its client in accordance with the client’s needs and demands while some provide general legal services for simple legal requirements of some organizations. The law firm is an independent provider of legal services and which is expected to be a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Registered General Professional Partnership, that runs separately and distinctly from its clients. As the relationship is based on trust and confidence, the normal choice for most business organizations would be to retain a lawyer friend or a private practitioner. However, as business becomes more demanding and the legal issues being faced on a daily basis are becoming more and more complicated, the services of a credible and respected law firm is a must for business organizations, small or big. There are a number of reasons why business organizations and even individuals enter into retainership agreements with law firms instead of just a single private practitioner. To mention a few, some business organizations see that they are better protected from legal suit and problems if a credible and reputable firm represents them in their daily legal transactions. Also, some believe that most technical and difficult legal problems are better resolved through the help of a firm that is well-experienced or an expert in the field of practice concerned. Some others see the practicality of getting a retainer firm instead of putting up their own legal department. For businessmen and individuals who wish to retain the services of the firm, here are some suggested points to consider before engaging firms.
  1. The law firm must be a SEC Registered Professional Partnership, having an actual office or offices and has secured the required government permits and licenses. Although any lawyer can practice anywhere in the Philippines as long as he is a member of the Bar in good standing, a law firm must be properly organized and existing. One can look for the Firm’s Credentials which should primarily include the (a) SEC Certificate of Partnership; (b) Business Permits from the local governments involved; (c) BIR Registration; and (d) Government Accreditations, if applicable. This gives the Firm a distinct personality to represent you as a lawyer. That means that you are retaining the whole firm and not just one of the lawyers in the office. One must be sure that the Firm you are retaining is not a fly-by-night association of lawyers. One must be able to meet them in their actual office. In short, it is not enough that they have a website. However, having a good website speaks well about the firm you are about to hire.
  2. The law firm must have the expertise and experience to handle your legal requirements. No matter how reputable the firm is, if the services and expertise it provides does not meet your legal needs, then there is no reason to retain it. A good firm will be very confident and honest to tell you if their expertise or field/s of practice does not fit your needs and will even refer you to other firms who can better represent you in the transactions you make. It is best to look at their track record and their roster clients, past and present. Do not readily equate the lawyer’s length of membership in the Bar as a gauge of his level of experience. Instead look at actual experience in the field of law or practice where you need the services for. To illustrate, in engaging a retainer for litigation, an esteemed lawyer who spent decades of his professional life as an academician and who almost never appeared in court as a litigator might not be as effective and skilled as such than a young lawyer who has spent a meager three to five year experience in his professional career litigating cases in court almost every day. In the same way, a seasoned and reputable criminal lawyer might not deliver what you expect if he is retained for corporate law concerns. Therefore, one must inquire from the firm actual cases that it has handled which is in the same field of practice where you need the retainer service for. One can look at the credentials of the actual lawyers that you will deal with and make sure that all of them are members of the Bar in good standing and that they all have valid licenses to practice law in the Philippines. You may contact the office of the Integrated Bar of Philippines to inquire whether the lawyers in the Firm are actual members in good standing of the IBP.
  3. The law firm and the client must share the common values of integrity, justice, and high ethical standards. It is important that both the client and the firm express the commitment to professional integrity. Lawyers are ministers of justice and are given by law a distinct and significant franchise to represent others for the sake of justice. Lawyers and Clients must share ethical beliefs and convictions to avoid conflict and to make sure that rights are protected. It is important that lawyers and clients are not placed in a situation that will make them uncomfortable because of ethical issues.
There are a number of other points that you can consider such as the budget concerns, geographical location of offices etc., and the above are just a few suggestions to get you started. Hopefully, the above gives a glimpse on how to decide on which retainer firm best fits your legal needs.

The Law Firm of Mallari Fiel Brillante Ronquillo

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