In the movie, Gone Girl, Nick hires a lawyer from New York, Tanner, whose legal retainer is 100k.

I searched a bit on the internet, a legal retainer is an upfront fee that you pay for in order to ensure a lawyer's commitment. It does not represent the total cost of a legal case.

  • In short, it is the minimum fee to have a lawyer see a case through.

But Nick has never been charged in this movie, hence no legal case. I am wondering if Nick is required to pay off Tanner.

  • My assumption is he does indeed pay tanner off, as Tanner walks away from Nick on good terms.

3 Answers 3


You are misunderstanding what a retainer is. It is not a fee, but rather a deposit, from which any fees are deducted. Any money left over when the case is over is refunded to the client. Should fees exceed that amount, the client pays that.

For example, your lawyer charges a retainer of $7500 and $500 an hour. The case goes more smoothly and quickly than anticipated and the lawyer only does 10 hours of work on your case. The $5000 (10 hours times $500) would be deducted from the retainer and the remaining $2500 would be refunded to you


The costs of lawyers depend on their reputation.

In Gone Girl's case, Tanner was interested to fight for Nick. When nick visits him, the lawyer says "You have come to the right guy" after providing some contacts. Which could mean, tanner was trying to build his reputation. So, he might have done it as a pro-bono. Or Nick could have paid him. The exact answer is irrelevant anyway as the move is about "Gone Girl".


They likely arranged some kind of payment plan. Tanner says "they'll work something out" or words to that effect and it's not like many normal people just have 100k lying around for a rainy day. Besides, with as high-profile as the case was, it makes sense Tanner would use it to increase his visibility and recognition and he's obviously got considerable assets as a lawyer already and wouldn't need all of the 100k up-front. Margo also makes reference to mortgaging her house to help pay for Nick's legal fees.

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