If you have ever hired a professional in any industry, you likely signed some form of contract. A written engagement letter, commonly referred to as an engagement agreement, is a type of contract—and it is a necessary foundation on which to build a professional relationship.
An engagement letter (or engagement agreement) is a written document that outlines:
- The scope of the services that the provider will perform,
- The starting and ongoing costs for these services,
- How the client will make payments, and
- An outline of both parties’ respective duties throughout the course of representation.
At Minc Law, we take pride in our transparency regarding the process of seeking and hiring legal representation. In our years litigating hundreds of internet-related lawsuits across the U.S., we have seen first-hand the kinds of questions and concerns clients have about how to read a legal engagement agreement.
We understand that the decision to hire an attorney is not one that you should take lightly. It is important to us that you understand the components and elements of the written agreement for your upcoming legal engagement, whether you choose to hire us or another law firm specializing in internet defamation and online harassment.
Below, we discuss the definition and creation of an engagement agreement in more detail. Then, we show you how to review an engagement letter—and how to negotiate changes before and after you sign one.
What is an Engagement Letter?
An engagement letter, or engagement agreement, is a written agreement in which two parties sign a contract for the provision of goods and/or services. One party (the provider) provides the good or service, and the other party (the client) receives and pays for the good or service.
Video: What is a Legal Engagement Letter, and How Do I Read It?
The engagement letter should lay out the scope, cost, and terms of the service or good to be rendered. It should also define the responsibilities of both parties during the timespan of the agreement.
It is also important to note that a written contract is not binding on either party until it is signed.
What is the Difference Between an Engagement Letter & a Contract?
Simply put, an engagement letter is a form of contract, albeit a less formal, easier-to-read version. A contract is defined as an “agreement between private parties creating mutual obligations enforceable by law.” When an engagement letter is signed, it becomes legally binding in a court of law—making it a contract.
While a letter of engagement serves the same purpose as a traditional contract, it generally contains less legal jargon. It is also much shorter. An engagement letter is just that; a letter.
It concisely and accurately describes the important points of a legal contract. These points include the terms, scope, and compensation for the service.
When Do You Need a Legal Engagement Letter?
An engagement letter is sent if and when you are ready to proceed with retaining a professional for their services. The provider (in this case, Minc Law or another internet attorney) sends an engagement agreement before the engagement commences, to help avoid misunderstandings.
If you are having issues with internet defamation or want a piece of content removed from the internet, you can contact Minc Law or another internet law firm for an attorney consultation. Within 24 hours after the initial consultation, we will send you an engagement agreement. This document will allow you to retain one of our attorneys for legal services.
If you decide you would like to retain the firm, you would sign the agreement and submit payment at that time.
Minc Law Attorney Search Tip: Make sure to do your research when searching for a trustworthy attorney to handle your matter. You should always ask thorough questions and check their client reviews. It is also advisable to review attorney search databases such as Avvo or Martindale to find their areas of practice, additional reviews, and disciplinary records (if any).
Key Benefits of Engagement Letters
Some individuals who have never retained a law firm may feel that a formal attorney engagement letter is too excessive. After all, a verbal agreement is legally binding, right?
Unfortunately, while they are technically legally binding, verbal contracts are difficult to enforce in a court of law. This fact leaves both parties vulnerable. If one party fails to uphold their end of the bargain, there is no recourse without a written agreement.
Engagement Letters Set Clear Expectations of the Professional Relationship
It is always best to document the terms and parameters of an agreement in writing—which both parties review and sign. This process sets clear expectations and makes sure that everyone is on the same page at the outset.
A legal engagement letter protects both lawyer and client and makes the relationship clear to both parties.
Engagement Letters Outline Cost Expectations & Parameters
Engagement letters provide the client the reassurance of knowing when the attorney will complete the service. They also provide complete clarity about how much a service will cost (or the parameters for determining the entire cost).
The agreement will make clear any other costs involved that are not covered in the agreement. These types of costs include filing fees or third-party fees that may arise while completing the client’s matter.
Find out the average costs and fees you can expect when engaging Minc Law to resolve your internet-related issue by checking out our Pricing Page.
Engagement Letters Protect Both Parties
And the agreement benefits the attorney by documenting the scope of work to perform in the event that any dispute should arise later.
For example, imagine a simple content removal case. Joe hires an attorney, Lisa, to remove content from a website. Later, Joe claims that Lisa should have also removed another piece of content from a second website.
Without a written agreement, it would be difficult for Lisa to prove that this extra work was not agreed upon (or paid for) in advance.
An engagement letter clearly defines the scope of the work as well as the expected payment for those services. It is therefore helpful when either party needs legal recourse.
What Are Business Engagement Letters?
While engagement letters are often used in attorney-client relationships, they occur in many business transactions. The issuing of the business engagement letter marks the beginning of the professional relationship.
In general terms, a business engagement letter signifies the date on which:
- The client begins paying for services;
- Client confidentiality is invoked. This is due to the official start of the provider-client relationship (if the provider is bound by rules of confidentiality);
- The service provider must be mindful not to engage other new clients whose interests conflict.
An engagement letter is a tool often used by providers of professional services, such as lawyers and certified public accountants (CPAs). These documents establish a relationship with a client, define the terms of the relationship, and detail the work to be done. They define the expectations the service provider and the client may have of each other during the length of the relationship
A service provider issues an engagement letter after a client agrees to contract for services. The body of the letter sets the parameters of the business relationship and identifies the reason for its creation.
Besides defining when the relationship starts, the engagement letter also defines the end date. This end date is usually defined by the resolution of the reason for the professional relationship. For example, the relationship may end when a CPA has filed that year’s taxes, or when the attorney has completed litigation on a case.
Finally, the engagement letter may state that confidentiality is an element of the relationship. It may clarify how records of the relationship will be stored or disposed of after the relationship terminates.
What Should Your Engagement Agreement Include?
A strong engagement agreement sets the terms of the agreement between two parties. It will include details such as the scope, fees, and responsibilities of each party. It will also designate how the working relationship starts and ends.
When you sign an engagement agreement with Minc Law, the document will include an explanation of the legal fees and payment terms. This inclusion is to ensure a mutual understanding between the client and the firm. The financial information typically covered in a Minc Law engagement agreement includes:
- The hourly rates of all attorneys involved in the matter;
- Possible fees that may occur;
- The amount of time allotted to the client to dispute fees or expenses after they are billed;
- The starting retainer fee payment due at the time of signing the engagement agreement;
- The firm’s ability to cancel the contract upon failure to pay legal fees;
- Interest amounts due upon late payments and bounced checks.
The agreement also grants Minc Law permission to transfer electronic documents from the client. These documents may include screenshots, receipts, letters, or anything else that we may request about your matter. It is often most convenient for everyone if these documents are delivered electronically rather than by mail.
There is also a section in the letter giving a guarantee of the service offered, and the scope of that service. Or, depending on the type of case, the section may specify that there is no guarantee of favorable results.
Finally, a Minc Law engagement agreement covers the client’s rights to terminate the representation. The firm has the same right, as long as we provide the client reasonable notice to arrange alternate representation. The terms of termination are clear within the agreement so that both parties understand the process if there is a need to cut ties.
Minc Law Legal Tip: Legal terminology can be overwhelming and confusing for many new clients. To make things easier, we have compiled a comprehensive guide to understanding basic legal terms you might encounter during the course of your legal engagement.
Minc Law’s 3 Types of Engagement Agreements
Below, we list our three engagement agreement types to help demonstrate their possible variation in scope and terms.
1. Guaranteed Engagement Fee Agreement.
This first type of engagement agreement is for matters of guaranteed removal. In these instances, we charge a flat fee to remove unwanted content from a list of specific websites. Guaranteed removals are offered for websites that we remove content from on a regular basis, such as cheater websites, shaming websites, scam websites, and some mugshot websites. If we do not successfully remove the content, your money will be refunded.
This agreement states:
- The terms of the payment: that we charge a flat fee for this removal service and offer a refund for any content that we are unable to remove;
- The flat fee for removal from a list of specific websites from which we can remove content (along with a link to each website);
- That if more content is discovered before or after content is removed, the client understands that more fees may apply to secure the removal.
This agreement also clarifies that we are not affiliated with third-party service providers. We have no affiliation with any of the sites from which we attempt removal.
You can read up further about guaranteed removals and how much they cost by checking out our article ‘How Much Does a Guaranteed Removal Cost?’
2. Hourly (Litigation or Non-litigation) Engagement Agreement
This second type of engagement agreement states the starting retainer fee amount for legal services.
In this scenario, there is not a flat fee; instead, the client is billed on an hourly basis. The final cost of representation depends on how much the attorney works on the matter. The charges are deducted from the starting retainer amount until the balance is depleted. Then, the client will be responsible for paying additional hourly charges as noted on their Minc Law legal invoice.
If you are interested in further reading on our firm’s pricing structures, we recommend checking out the video below, where we go over the key benefits and reasons for using retainer fee agreements.
Video: Attorney Retainer Fee Agreement: What is It & How Does It Work?
This engagement agreement provides attorney-specific hourly rates. It also provides the starting retainer amount that will be due for the attorney to begin working on the matter. While outcomes in hourly litigation and non-litigation matters are not guaranteed, we always strive to put the client in a better place than when they initially reached out.
3. Financing Engagement Agreements (Hourly or Guaranteed)
This engagement agreement is the same as the guaranteed removal and the hourly engagement agreement. However, there is one additional section stating that the client:
“…acknowledges and agrees that the Firm has advised and given the client full opportunity to seek and obtain independent legal and financial advice with respect to any and all risks and other considerations relative to paying the Firm’s fees through a third-party fee financing agreement.”
In these cases, the client has obtained third-party attorney retainer fee financing to pay for Minc Law’s legal services. In short, this statement clarifies that the client is aware of their responsibilities. By signing, the client is agreeing to the terms established in the financing agreement.
Considering reaching out to Minc Law? Make sure to check out our blog post ‘Thinking About Contacting Minc Law? Here’s What to Expect’ where we explain how to contact us, what to expect after your initial contact, how we conduct consultations, and more.
Who Should Prepare an Engagement Agreement?
Regardless of the industry or service, the provider should prepare the engagement agreement. In this case, that provider is the attorney, who has the expertise, legal knowledge, and experience writing these documents.
Once the agreement is drafted, the attorney will send it to the client to review and sign. If the client agrees with the terms of the letter, a person authorized to do so signs it and returns a copy to the attorney.
Once signed, the contractual relationship has been initiated, and services can begin (upon payment). Both payment and a signed engagement agreement are required to be completed before our attorneys start work on a matter.
Why is it Necessary to Include Everything in an Engagement Letter?
An engagement letter is less formal than a traditional contract. However, it is still crucial to include every important aspect of the relationship between the provider and the client. This ensures transparency and demonstrates professionalism from the beginning of an attorney-client relationship.
Being thorough in drafting the engagement letter also reduces “scope creep,” or adding additional features or functions of a new product, requirements, or work that was not authorized at the start. If you do not set specific parameters of your work, the lines can quickly become blurred between what you were hired to do and what may crop up over the course of the project.
For instance, if you are a building contractor, you may be hired to renovate your client’s master bathroom. Before you are done with the project, the client asks if you can replace the fixtures in another bathroom to match the newly renovated one. Then, a few days later, they ask you to repaint the master bedroom to match the master bathroom’s new color scheme.
Would you be frustrated at this scope creep?
Something similar to the above scenario often happens in many other lines of work. In any collaboration, it is easy for the scope to shift without firm boundaries in place—even if all parties involved are well-intentioned.
That is why it is so crucial to set firm expectations in the engagement letter. That way, the client knows exactly what they are paying for (and what to expect), and the provider understands exactly what work they are expected to do.
Of course, when it comes to legal matters, it is not uncommon for more potential work to present itself. For instance, you may hire Minc Law to remove content from a specific website. In the course of our work, our attorneys might discover similar content that should be removed from other websites.
This occurrence is the reason why a quality engagement agreement should specify how to proceed if the client needs more work done. The document will provide guidance on how to add scope to the agreed project and readjust the price of the work. This guidance usually includes an amended or new engagement letter.
Important Points to Pay Attention to in a Legal Engagement Letter
While engagement agreements vary between companies, they generally contain the same basic components. Below, we have included a sample attorney-client engagement letter for your reference.
We recommend that you look for the following points and ensure they all meet your approval before signing a legal engagement letter:
- Who is the client?
- What is the scope of work? Are there any exclusions to the work being described?
- What are the fees and costs associated with the contracted service?
- What are the responsibilities of both parties?
- Are there grounds for withdrawal or other consequences for breach of the agreement?
- Is there a time limitation for the contract? When does the agreement take effect?
- Does the agreement stipulate any guarantees or state that there is no guaranteed result?
What Should You Do if You Disagree With Provisions in an Engagement Agreement?
If, after reviewing the engagement letter, you disagree with certain elements or points in the document, you do not need to sign it right away. You have the option to negotiate the contract.
Contract negotiation is the process of coming to an agreement on a set of legally binding terms. When two parties negotiate, they both seek favorable terms and minimal financial, legal, and operational risk. Even if it may not feel that way to you, remember that you still hold a certain amount of leverage to ask for what you want.
If you do not agree with part of the agreement, consider what you have to gain if you can have that part altered. Or, how much might you lose if you do not change that section?
Before you sign the engagement agreement, point out any sections that you disagree with and ask the attorney if they can alter those items in any way. Suggest your preferred version.
For instance, you may wish to extend the time limit for the contract. Or, you may want to change the fee payment terms. There is no harm in asking for those changes.
The provider will likely be willing to work with you to find a middle ground that satisfies you both. If they are not willing to listen to your requests, consider having a mediator review the engagement agreement. An impartial third-party can tell you if they think it sounds fair to both parties.
When to Discuss Changes to Your Engagement Letter
In situations where services must change, it is best to obtain a new attorney engagement letter or a supplemental letter. If work on a new matter is needed, the attorney should send a new engagement agreement—with new expectations for work—to the client.
An attorney could use one engagement letter to cover several types of services to be rendered. Or, they may use a separate engagement letter for each type of service. It is usually best for an attorney to have one engagement letter that relates to each assignment. That way, additional letters can be used as more work is discovered.
How Often Should Engagement Letters be Updated?
Engagement letters can be effective for a very long period of time. We recommend that the attorney and the client review the terms of the agreement at least once annually. This review can determine if any changes are needed.
If and when services change, a new attorney engagement letter or a supplemental letter should be obtained right away. If the pricing of an attorney rate changes, the attorney should notify the client immediately that that change will be reflected on future legal bills and invoices.
When Should an Attorney Withdraw From an Engagement?
Even for the best law firms, some cases become dead ends. Unfortunately, certain matters simply cannot be solved in a manner that benefits the client.
In rare cases, when we at Minc Law terminate representation, we will immediately refund the balance of any funds not used from the retainer.
In those cases, we at Minc Law terminate representation and immediately refund any unused fees as soon as we become aware that we will not be able to complete the client’s matter.
There are other scenarios in which an attorney might withdraw from an engagement. For example, a lawyer may withdraw from the matter because the client has not paid the agreed-upon fee.
Or, the client may persist in instructing the lawyer to act contrary to professional ethics. If the client asks the attorney to take any action that is inconsistent with the lawyer’s duty to the court (or that will lead to a breach of the American Bar Association Rules of Professional Conduct), the attorney has the right to withdraw from representation of that client.
Of course, the client may discharge the attorney for one of several reasons as well. They may be unhappy with the attorney’s customer service or communication. Or, they may feel that the lawyer is not competent to handle the case.
If the terms of the agreement are not being met on either end, it is often best to withdraw from the engagement.
Get Started With Your Internet-Related Issue Today!
At Minc Law, we pride ourselves on our transparency, integrity, and proven success in resolving internet defamation, sextortion, and online harassment issues for our clients. We understand that if you are seeking out legal representation for your matter, you are likely already feeling anxious and frustrated—which means that the last thing you want is to be confused by your attorney’s engagement letter.
Our consultations are “no-obligation.” This means that you retain the freedom to make your own informed choice before engaging contractually with us. You are not obligated to take any action unless you feel Minc Law is a good fit for you and your internet issue. You can meet with us, review the engagement agreement, and still decide to walk away.
“They were very understanding. They did not judge me and they were very helpful. It gave me peace of mind to have someone who I could turn too in a stressful situation.”
Jordan Fong, January 7, 2022
If you have any additional questions about the process of retaining Minc Law for your internet law issue, or if you would like to schedule a free consultation, contact us to schedule your free, initial no-obligation consultation. You can reach us by calling us at (216) 373-7706, speaking with a Chat representative, or filling out our online contact form.