Source: OTHERWISE: Non-refundable retainers impermissible – ABA Formal Opinion 505
Under the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, a fee paid to a lawyer in advance for services to be rendered in the future must be placed in a client trust account and may be withdrawn only as earned by the performance of the contemplated services. This protects client funds and promotes client access to legal services in the event the representation terminates before all contemplated services have been rendered. All fees must be reasonable, and unearned fees must be returned to the client. Therefore, it is not accurate to label a fee “nonrefundable” before it actually has been earned, and labels do not dictate whether a fee has been earned.