A scenario where an independent company engaged the services of a lawyer with a written contract between the parties for a legal retainer at a cost, but an omission that the retainer is for a term subject to renewal is fatal because a lawyer having received instructions from his client and delivered on the instructions expects to be remunerated.

While retainer agreements are generally for a period of one year, they must contain a renewal clause. Else, they are taken as only for a year and terminate at the end of the year. See; BABATUNDE v. OSUN STATE COLLEGE OF EDUCATION [2020] 1 NWLR (PT. 1705) 344. The Rules of Professional Conduct also provides for a standard retainer agreement because the tests applied by the courts to determine the intention of parties to a contract are objective rather than subjective. The court considers the terms of the contract, the conduct of the parties, terms implied by custom or trade usage, and the circumstances of the case. In Nigeria, Part F of the RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT FOR LEGAL PRACTITIONERS, 2007 regulates remuneration and fees. Rule 49 (1) – (4) states as follows:

(1) Subject to sub-rule (2) of this, a lawyer may accept general or special retainers.
(2) Where a lawyer accepts a retainer in respect of litigation, he shall be separately remunerated by fees for each piece of work; and accordingly, a lawyer shall not –
(a) represent or undertake to represent a client for all his litigation or a part of it on an agreed lump sum over a period of time; or
(b) accept instructions from a client on terms that a particular class of court cases shall be done at a fixed fee in each case irrespective of the circumstances of each case.
(3) A lawyer who accepts a retainer shall not –
(a) in the case of a general retainer, advise on, or appear in any proceedings detrimental to the interest of the client paying the retainer during the period of the retainer; or
(b) in the case of a special retainer, accept instruction in any matter forming the subject matter of the retainer which will involve advising or arguing against the interest of the client paying the retainer.
(4) In this rule – “retainer” means an agreement by a lawyer to give his services to a client; “general retainer” means a retainer which covers the client’s work generally; and “special retainer” means a retainer which covers a particular matter of the client.
The need to emphatically have an apposite retainer agreement is of paramount significance.

LEGALTIPS is anchored by Ms CIA Ofoegbunam, an Abuja-based lawyer who is passionate about legal practice.LEGALTIPS offers quick hints on substantive law, as well as rules of practice and procedure, and serves as a handy reference guide to lawyers, especially in court.Published on a weekly basis, the LEGALTIPS Series is CIA’s modest contribution to legal development in Nigeria


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