Letters of Engagement, Warrants to Act and Retainers: Engaging a Lawyer in Singapore
If you are looking to engage a lawyer to represent you in a legal proceeding or get advice on a matter in Singapore, you will be asked to sign a document before your lawyer can begin working on your case.
Depending on which lawyer you approach, this document may be called a Letter of Engagement, a Warrant to Act or a retainer. What are these and why are they important for your lawyer and you, as the client?
What is a Letter of Engagement?
The Letter of Engagement is a document setting out the terms and conditions of your engagement of the lawyer. You and your lawyer will have discussed and agreed to these terms during your initial meetings with each other.
The Letter of Engagement helps you, the client, to understand the work your lawyer will be doing on your behalf, as well as the estimated costs and time involved for doing so.
Your lawyer will send the Letter of Engagement to you once he or she agrees to act on your behalf for a legal case or matter.
What will a Letter of Engagement Say?
A standard letter of engagement will typically include the following:
- Your name and personal particulars
- The scope of the matter for which the law firm/lawyer is being retained to act on. For example, to provide legal advice over a dispute, to act in the sale or purchase of a property, or to represent you in civil or criminal proceedings
- Information on the fees chargeable for handling your case. For example, whether you will be charged on an hourly basis or a fixed-fee basis
- Any deposits payable before the law firm/lawyer begins work on your case
- Circumstances when the retainer may be terminated, either by your lawyer and/or you as the client
- The Warrant to Act
- Any other applicable terms and conditions of the retainer
What is a Warrant to Act?
The Warrant to Act is a short clause found at the end of the Letter of Engagement. It states:
I, ______________________ (NRIC No _______________) hereby agree to engage the services of [Name of Law Firm] on the terms and conditions set out above and hereby grant that firm my Warrant to Act for me in Singapore in connection with legal proceedings relating to ___________________________.
Signed on the ____ day of [year].
The Warrant to Act serves as evidence of your written consent that the law firm/lawyer in charge of your case or matter has the authority to represent you in any legal proceedings. This clause also has to be signed by you.
What is a Retainer?
The Letter of Engagement and Warrant to Act are not separate documents. Together, they are commonly referred to as the retainer. The retainer is therefore a legal contract between the lawyer and client and establishes a lawyer-client relationship between both parties.
What if a Lawyer Represents Me Without Getting Me to Sign a Warrant to Act?
If a Warrant to Act has not been signed and executed by you as the client, this means that there is no formal retainer and your lawyer is not legally authorised to represent you in any legal proceedings.
This can affect the outcome of your proceedings, which will be deemed to be “irregular”, and the court may either set aside the entire proceedings, or part of it. Your lawyer may also be liable for costs resulting from his or her failure to obtain the Warrant to Act.
The issue of whether there is an implied retainer between lawyer and client may also arise in these circumstances. This occurs where there is no formal retainer, but the conduct of both parties would suggest that a lawyer-client relationship exists.
The issue of implied retainers can be raised by the lawyer or the client, to legally prove the existence of a lawyer-client relationship in the absence of a signed Warrant to Act. For example, a client might feel that his or her lawyer is overcharging and wants to raise the issue with the Law Society of Singapore.
While doing so, the client would likely also highlight how he or she had not signed a Warrant to Act if this was the case. The lawyer would then have to prove that an implied retainer existed with the client to avoid facing disciplinary action.
Whether there is an implied retainer between a lawyer and another party depends on factors such as:
- Whether the lawyer had given legal advice to that other party and maintained regular communication and contact about the case or matter
- Whether the lawyer had been aware that no other lawyer had been acting for that other party
- Whether the lawyer had signed off on any legal documents as the lawyer for that other party
How is the Retainer Terminated?
Upon completion of the legal proceedings or conclusion of your case, the Warrant to Act ceases and the retainer is terminated. However, either party can choose to terminate the retainer before the case or matter has concluded.
If your lawyer intends to prematurely terminate the retainer, he or she must provide you with reasonable notice of the termination beforehand.
Your lawyer must also give you a reasonable amount of time to engage another lawyer to take over your case or matter (should you wish to engage another lawyer) and cooperate with your new lawyer(s) in the handing over of your matter.
It is also important to note that your lawyer has to respect your decision on whether you wish to appoint a new lawyer, and who you want to appoint.
In summary, the lawyer’s Letter of Engagement to you contains the terms of the retainer which will arise if you sign the Warrant to Act found in the same letter. It is therefore important for you to be clear about the terms stated in the Letter of Engagement.
If you have any doubts, do check with your lawyer as soon as possible. Your lawyer will be able to clarify your doubts and address any additional concerns that you might have.
This also helps to avoid the possibility of any disputes arising with your lawyer while he or she represents you in your case or matter.
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