Fee Dispute Arbitration For Clients
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. The attorney's participation 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 (not in N.Y.) 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.
For those cases that do not fall under Part 137, please refer to the WCBA Economic Dispute Committee page (link to the left)
How to Submit a Dispute for Arbitration.
When you retained your attorney, you probably signed a bunch of papers and a retainer agreement. One of those papers may have been a notice that, in the event of a fee dispute, you had the right to send the dispute to Attorney Client Fee Dispute Arbitration instead of to court. If you signed that paper, you are obligated to participate in Arbitration if a fee dispute arises, in which case your attorney will send you, by certified mail or personal service, a copy of the Request for Arbitration form, together with instructions, so you’ll know how to file a complaint within 30 days.
If you did not receive any notice of your right to arbitrate before you and your attorney started to disagree about fees, Part 137.6 provides that, in the event of a fee dispute, the attorney shall forward to the client, you, by certified mail or personal service, notice of the right to arbitration. This notice will inform you that, if you want to arbitrate, you have 30 days to submit the Request for Arbitration form to the “arbitral body”, or the organization in charge of the fee dispute arbitration panel for the locality. In our area, that is the Ninth Judicial District Grievance Committee, which probably will forward the dispute to us at the WCBA.
When the “arbitral body”, the 9th JD, 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 your attorney, who must return them within 15 days. After the time is up, the arbitral body shall schedule a hearing. (Model Forms)
NOTE that if you do not submit the Request for Arbitration form within 30 days, your attorney has the right to commence an action (bring a law suit) to recover the fees in a court of competent jurisdiction.
Is the Result Binding?
The Arbitrator’s decision, called an arbitration award, become final and binding by operation of law if neither party seeks a trial de novo within 30 days. In other words, both you and your attorney have 30 days to file a law suit if you don’t like the result of the arbitration, but, if you don’t file within 30 days, the arbitrator’s decision becomes binding like a Court Order.
Rules and Forms
Copies of all Part 137 rules and forms may be found at http://courts.state.ny.us/admin/feedispute.
Copies of the rules and forms for the Ninth Judicial District, which includes Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Dutchess, and Orange Counties, may be found at: http://courts.state.ny.us/admin/feedispute/9thjd.shtml.
Lisa Florio, Judge Nicolai's Principal Law Clerk, is the program coordinator for the Ninth Judicial District. Geraldine Kane and Christopher Exias work cooperatively with Lisa to facilitate the program. Please feel free to contact them with any further inquiries or questions via e-mail mail to: CEXIAS@courts.state.ny.us, or by phone, (914) 824-5340. Thank you.
New York Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection
The New York Lawyers’ Fund was created by the New York State Legislation to protect consumers from dishonest conduct in the practice of law. If you believe your money has been misappropriated by an attorney, you may be eligible for reimbursement from the New York Lawyers Fund. For further information contact:
The New York Lawyers’ Fund
119 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12210