The construction industry is tough to navigate, especially when it comes to the legal side of owning or operating a construction business. Fortunately, there is one game-changing “tool” or service most law firms (including our own) use to make access to invaluable legal contributions easier. This service is known as a general retainer. Let’s break down what that means.
What is a general retainer and why do you need one?
Here is how we describe our firm’s general retainer: when you sign on to a general retainer, our team is present for whatever legal issue you may have, with a guaranteed 24-hour or less response time. The actual “retainer” is a fee paid to our law firm in advance for services, and to ensure payment for your future lien and legal services, and attorney representation. But to really understand the full benefit of the general retainer, we think it is important to understand why it was created.
The general retainer was created so that you could have a lawyer on demand for all the legal needs of your business. The easiest way to explain the purpose of a general retainer is by describing the need and solution provided to my own family’s construction company.
In her final year of law school, our founder and her husband started a construction material supply company. It was just the two of them, creating a company from the ground up. Making that dream a reality was the hardest thing they have ever done—even tougher than law school and passing the bar. Starting a company from scratch is no laughing matter, and those of you who have done it should be proud.
After I graduated and passed the bar, she left the company to move forward with her legal career. However, almost daily, she would get questions from my husband about legal issues that could affect the company. Questions like the following ones were regular elements of discussion between the two of them.
- “Should I sign this lien waiver?”
- “What is the risk of signing this vendor agreement?”
- “What steps do I need to take to have a valid lien on projects I have not been paid for?”
This made our founder realize that most companies in the construction industry likely had these types of questions and yet had no one to give them honest and prompt feedback (we emphasize prompt because we understand that often the GC or owner wants an answer regarding this legal issue yesterday). That is why we created our firm’s general retainer. With the general retainer, when you have a question, you can simply pick up the phone or send us an email, and we will have an answer in 24 hours or less. In other words, a general retainer amounts to legal advice on demand.
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How Does a General Retainer Work?
At our firm, a $2,500 deposit is required to get started. The amount is then deposited in our IOLTA (trust) account. We do not use it; it just sits in the trust account as a deposit. We’ll explain why that is shortly. When you pay your deposit, you also leave a credit card on file to pay for any work done. We send out invoices every other week. If there is any work done for your company during that two-week billing cycle, you will receive a bill. If there is no work done in that time, you will not get a bill.
Here’s where the deposit comes in. The credit card you have on file will be charged to pay the invoices received. If the credit card does not go through, we will pull from the $2,500 deposit in the trust account, and then we will stop working until new funds are used to replenish those lost due to invoicing. If you ever decide you want to part ways with our firm, the $2,500 can be credited toward your last bill or refunded to you.
As a contractor, you have a powerful tool at your disposal to ensure you get paid for the work you provide; it’s called a lien! A general retainer in some sense is “our lien,” giving our firm a small insurance that we will be paid for the services we provide. The retainer allows us as the business owner to manage and gauge how many attorneys and staff members we need to have on hand every day to handle our current client roster so that we are always here for you and can get back to you promptly and effectively.
Accessibility and getting answers to your questions in a timely manner are benefits no business owner should pass up. In creating our firm’s general retainer, as well as all our other transparent pricing options, we want to prioritize bringing these aspects to the forefront of the practice. Our hope is that we can help every business in the construction industry run a better business because they know where they stand legally and can make informed decisions. Having legal advice on demand is critical to running a successful business in the construction industry, and the general retainer is the solution.
This article is intended as a general educational overview of the subject matter and is not intended to be a comprehensive survey of recent jurisprudence, nor a substitute for legal advice for a specific legal matter. If you have a legal issue, consult an attorney.