Attorneys in these systems work on hourly-rate retainer agreements. Specifically, in the OWCP system, contingency / percentage retainer fees are forbidden. The ECAB has ruled that only fees based on an hourly rate agreement will be approved in accordance with 5 U.S.C. §8127, and OWCP has stated that it will conform its fee approval standards to that of the ECAB. Consequently if an attorney offers you a contingency or percentage retainer agreement, that attorney is not complying with the law regarding representative fees and fee approvals.
Under an hourly fee retainer agreement, you will need to pay the attorney for all time spent on your claim. This includes time spent reviewing your file, speaking with you and other people related to your claim, placing written notes into your file, drafting documents or narratives, performing research, assisting doctors with their reports, interviewing witnesses to your injury event or the wrongdoing of your employing agency among other things.
You will also be required to pay “expenses” which may include payments for a specialist medical report, travel expenses if your representative or doctors need to travel to attend a hearing, copy charges, mailing costs, or other costs that may arise in the course of representation.
Generally you will need to place a sum of money with your attorney as a guarantee against future work. The amount of the retainer varies from attorney to attorney depending on his or her hourly rate coupled with their assessment of your case. The attorney will place that money into a client trust account as required by his or her State Supreme Court, or Bar Association, depending on the rules or laws of the state where your attorney is licensed.
I do not know how non-attorney representatives handle retainer fees, or who, from a regulatory perspective, oversees their handling of client funds.
When the OWCP issues a fee approval in your case, the attorney can then take the money from the client trust account and get paid. Attorneys may apply for multiple fee approvals, often on a monthly basis, as you case progresses. The attorney can take funds from the client trust account to pay for expenses as they come due.