by making sure you know he has his "hand on his sidearm", if ya know what I mean. I am not sure how it all works, because my attorney was always really cool with me. For all three of my actions with him, he only charged me a $500 retainer fee from which he began deducting his expenses and hourly charges. Then he would bill me monthly for whatever the exact charges were. I believe that most attorneys demand a larger retainer than mine did....because at $300 per hour, that $500 is gone before they can bat an eye. So...mine was really cool about the money. I never had an overpayment, so I imagine it could be handled either as a refund if the funds weren't used up...or held as retainer for the future as your ex said. In my last action, ex was ordered to pay $4000 of attorneys fees, $2000 immediately and the balance at $200 per month for 10 months. My attorney had it written that ex would pay HIM (the attorney) because he felt first that the ex wouldn't fart around with the payments like he might if he had to pay me, and second, my attorney got some perverse pleasure out of sending ex a collection statement each month and knowing how much my ex would have stewed over receiving it and sending it the check. I LOVE my attorney...he has the same sense of humor and quite vengefulness that I do. Anyway....whenever the payments accumulated for a few months, the attorney would cut me a check until the last installment was done. I could have had him hold it as future retainer also, but I just took the payments.