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Parameters for a fixed-fee retainer paid to a law firm for occasional short calls

Many law departments would like to have an arrangement with a law firm whereby in-house lawyers or clients can telephone with a quick question and yet not worry about racking up fees. The solution is a retainer agreement whereby the law department pays a firm that has the requisite specialists a fixed fee to cover all such quick-advice, “counseling” calls. The law department and firm can structure the commitment in a number of ways.

The law department might agree to restrict the calls to clients of a certain level and above, such as only Vice Presidents. Those executives are busy, smart, and won’t waste time.

The department might agree that only phone calls of less than 30 minutes are covered, after which the meter starts running. If the facts and law are complex, they fall outside the scope of the retainer.

The department might restrict calls to no more than a total of 60 minutes every two days – or any number of permutations of level, frequency, or total amount. Small doses of legal advice – shoot from the experienced hip, as it were – need to be the key.

Another limitation might be that no research will be done by the firm (See my post of March 19, 2009: no research triggered by a call without permission.). Even so, it might be good for the firm to record briefly the gravamen of the question and answer so that the knowledge accumulates. Perhaps one requirement is that the client put the basic facts and question in writing.

The department might agree that a gatekeeper will be the one to call, which means that person will be the focal point for all contacts with the firm under the agreement. The gatekeeper will become a jailhouse lawyer and will develop a sense of when is it right to ask the firm for advice, and how often.