Attorney - Client Fee Dispute Arbitration FAQ
What is Fee Dispute Arbitration?
Part 137 of the Rules of the Chief Administrator establishes a statewide Attorney-Client Fee Dispute Resolution Program that provides that in the event of a fee dispute between an attorney and client, the client may seek to resolve the dispute by arbitration. Arbitrators will determine the reasonableness of fees for professional services, including costs, taking into account all relevant facts and circumstances. In other words, if you and your attorney disagree about the legal fees charged, you may take your dispute to an arbitrator who will determine if the fees were reasonable.
Can You Get Fee Dispute Arbitration?
Part 137 applies to any fee dispute where the attorney-client relationship began after January 1, 2002, the representation concerned any civil matter, the attorney is admitted in New York, and if the amount in dispute is between $1,000 and $50,000; if the disputed amount is less than $1,000 or more than $50,000, you and your attorney still can consent to submit your dispute to arbitration. Fee disputes that do not fall under Part 137 may be submitted to the Grievance Committee.
If the case falls within the Part 137 parameters, the attorney's participation in this arbitration is mandatory at the client's election – if the client wants to arbitrate, the attorney has no choice and must participate.
Part 137 does NOT apply:
- In criminal cases
- If the amount in dispute is less than $1,000 or more than $50,000, unless the parties consent to submit their dispute to arbitration
- There are substantial legal questions, including professional misconduct or malpractice
- There are issues of damages
- The fee is determined by rule, statute, or court order
- No attorney services have been rendered for more than two (2) years
- The attorney is admitted in another jurisdiction and does not maintain an office in New York, and no material portion of the services was rendered in New York
- The request for arbitration is made by a person other than the client or legal representative of the client.
The Fee Dispute Resolution Process
Unless the Client has previously consented in writing to submit fee disputes to arbitration under Part 137, generally by signing a consent form (available on the web, link below) at the time the retainer agreement is signed, arbitration is voluntary for the client. Where an agreement to arbitrate exists, no further notice shall be required.
When a dispute arises and no prior consent exists, the attorney must serve notice of the right to arbitrate to the client and the client has 30 days to submit to arbitration. When the “arbitral body”, the WCBA or another, receives the Request for Arbitration form from the client who wants to arbitrate, they will forward all necessary forms and a copy of the Attorney Response Form to the attorney who must return them within 15 days. After the time is up, the arbitral body shall schedule a hearing.
NOTE that if the client does not submit the Request for Arbitration form within 30 days, the attorney has the right to commence an action to recover the fees in a court of competent jurisdiction.
In arbitration, the burden is on the attorney to prove the reasonableness of the fee based on a preponderance of the evidence. Evidence may be presented, witnesses may be called, and, while the attorney has a right of reply, the client has the right of final reply.
Is the Result Binding?
The Arbitrator’s decision become final and binding by operation of law if neither party seeks a trial de novo within 30 days.
Rules & Forms
Copies of all Part 137 Rules & Forms
Rules and forms of the 9th Judicial District
(includes Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Dutchess, and Orange Counties)