If a prospective client doesn’t sign and return your fee agreement, you can send a letter provisionally declining representation until he or she “cures” this defect by returning the executed agreement. You can even make sending in the retainer fee part of the deal, if you want.
If you decide to send such a letter, make sure that it also explains that, unless and until the agreement (and fee) are received, there’s no attorney-client relationship.
Consider this sample language:
Thank you for contacting our office on the matter we discussed on the above date. As you will recall from our discussion, before I can represent you in that matter, it is necessary that you sign and return the fee agreement that was [presented/mailed] to you on [___]. Unless and until I receive the signed agreement [and fee] within 30 days, we will not be in an attorney-client relationship and I will not take any action on your behalf, monitor developments, advise you, or otherwise represent your interests with respect to that matter. In addition, because we have not entered into an attorney-client relationship, I have not investigated or evaluated the facts or legal merits involved in your matter, and I have not given you legal advice on how to proceed.
You should also refer to the possible existence of a limitations period within which the prospective client must take action to secure his or her legal rights. You’ll want to state that you haven’t investigated and aren’t advising on whether such a limitations period exists, but are simply urging the individual to seek other advice.
Make it clear that you will keep any papers or other materials that the client brought to you in connection with your discussion until you receive the signed agreement (and fee), but will return them by mail within 30 days, for example, if the prospective client doesn’t return the agreement (and fee) or tells you that he or she doesn’t want to engage your services. In any case, make it clear that you won’t retain a file on the matter.
Just starting out or recently went solo? You need samples! Get additional sample nonengagement letters and advice to use in a variety of circumstances in CEB’s California Client Communications Manual: Sample Letters and Forms, chap 2.
Other CEBblog™ posts you may find useful:
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