Arbitration is a way of resolving fee disputes at an early stage and at low cost. The program benefits the attorney, as well as the client, increasing client satisfaction with the legal community and decreasing the incidence of professional liability suits against attorneys.
Note: If you are a non-attorney looking for information on filing for fee arbitration, click here.
- What is Fee Dispute Arbitration?
- Is there a cost to file?
- What is the Fee Dispute Arbitration process?
- Is the Fee Dispute Arbitration binding?
- Is there any information available to prepare for the hearing?
- What happens if the client wins the arbitration?
- Are there training programs available to become a Fee Dispute Arbitrator?
- Who is in charge of the San Luis Obispo County Fee Dispute Arbitration Program?
- How do I sign up to become a Fee Dispute Arbitrator?
Information & Forms For Arbitrators:
- Notice of Client's Right To Arbitration[pdf]
- SLO Bar Fee Arbitration Rules [pdf]
- State Statutes Governing Fee Arbitration
- State Bar Fee Arbitration Mandatory Advisories
- Your Rights After Fee Arbitration[pdf]
The San Luis Obispo County Bar Association (SLO County Bar) provides a Fee Dispute Arbitration Service to assist clients and their attorneys in resolving disputes concerning fees, costs, or both, charged for professional services by California licensed attorneys. The SLO County Bar only has jurisdiction over attorneys who are members in good standing of the Association and have an office in San Luis Obispo County. All others are under the jurisdiction of the State Bar Fee Arbitration Program.
The California Business and Professions Code, §§6200 through 6206, establishes a fee arbitration program which is mandatory for attorneys if commenced by a client but voluntary for clients.
Fee Dispute Arbitration does not deal with the following matters:
- the attorney is also admitted or only admitted to another state's bar
- no services were rendered in California
- a malpractice or professional misconduct suit has been filed against the attorney
- the fee or costs to be paid by the client has been determined pursuant to statute or court order.
The cost to the client to file a Fee Arbitration Dispute is as follows:
- If the amount in dispute is less than $5000, the filing fee is $50.00.
- If the amount in dispute is between $5000 - $10,000, the filing fee is $100.00.
- If the amount in dispute is more than $10,000, the filing fee is 1% of the disputed amount.
The attorney does not pay a filing fee for the first arbitration in any calendar year, but if there are two or more, the attorney shall pay a filing fee equal to the fee paid by the client.
Before an attorney can sue a client for recovery of fees, costs or both for professional services rendered, the attorney must forward to the client an approved State Bar form entitled "Notice of Client's Right to Arbitration." If this notice is not given, the action can be dismissed. These notices can be obtained from the SLO County Bar.
If the request for arbitration is withdrawn or the matter is settled by the parties prior to the assignment of an arbitrator, 50% of the filing fee shall be refunded.
The client contacts the SLO County Bar Fee Arbitration Program for the forms. The client submits the completed forms back to the SLO County Bar. The attorney is notified of the request to arbitrate and must respond within 20 days.
If the attorney seeks arbitration, it shall proceed only if the client provides written consent within 20 days.
Either party may be represented by an attorney at the hearing at their own expense and may waive their personal appearance.
Hearings shall commence 45 days after the arbitrator is appointed.
The arbitration is heard by a SLO County Bar volunteer who is experienced in either civil or criminal law, at the option of the client. Rules of Procedure have been adopted by the State Bar Board of Governors and are available on its web site: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/calbar/pdfs/MFA/feearbrules.pdf along with excerpts from the relevant code sections.
Each party may disqualify one arbitrator without cause and shall have unlimited challenges for cause. Any relevant evidence shall be admitted if it is the sort of evidence on which responsible persons are accustomed to rely in the conduct of serious affairs, regardless of the existence of any common law or statutory rule to the contrary.
Decisions are made 15 days upon completion of the arbitration hearing.
The arbitration is not binding unless all parties agree in writing that it will be binding. If any party does not agree, they may request a trial after arbitration in a civil court within 30 days after the arbitration award has been mailed. If a trial is not requested within that time period, the award automatically becomes binding 30 days after it is mailed. However, if any party willfully fails to appear at the arbitration hearing, that party is not entitled to a trial after arbitration.
The State Bar of CA has the following information available:
If the client is awarded a refund of previously paid fees and/or costs, the client may request State Bar assistance collecting the award. If an attorney is ordered to pay a refund of fees or costs and has not complied with that award, the State Bar shall enforce it by placing the attorney on involuntary inactive status until the refund has been paid and can also assess monetary penalties. If the attorney is awarded fees and/or costs, he or she is then able to commence a civil suit for damages against the client.
The State Bar provides fee arbitrator training programs throughout the state, which can be found at the State Bar web site:
The ADR Section of the SLO County Bar Association is responsible for overseeing the Mandatory Fee Arbitration Program, which is administered by the Bar staff. A list of volunteer arbitrators is maintained by the SLO County Bar, but additional arbitrators are always needed, especially those knowledgeable in the field of family law.
Information to become a member of the Fee Dispute Arbitration Program can be obtained contacting the SLO County Bar Association via:
SLO County Bar Association
Fee Dispute Arbitration Program
Post Office Box 585
San Luis Obispo, CA 93406
Telephone: (805) 541-5930