attorney fee dispute

How To Dispute Attorney Fees – Part 4

fee arbitration

This post is the final in a series on legal fee disputes with an attorney.
In How To Dispute Attorney Fees – Part 1, I covered the two mediums used by most local bar associations, a fee dispute mediation or a fee arbitration. In How To Dispute Attorney Fees – Part 2, I covered the fundamentals that you must grasp before deciding if a legal fee dispute is right for you. In How To Dispute Attorney Fees – Part 3, I shared a more in-depth perspective on a fee dispute arbitration and what to expect having gone through this myself. Remember that your that your state’s legal fee dispute programs are not the only option to an attorney refund and you should seriously consider my eBook, Dispute It – A Layman’s Guide on How to Get an Attorney Refund & File a Bar Grievance, to fully understand all your options.

A Summary of This Series

In this final series, I will summarize what I have shared so far to help you decide if a fee arbitration is right for you.

Advantages of a Fee Arbitration

  • A binding decision, and only an advantage if ruled in your favor.
  • Saves time versus going the route of filing a grievance with your State Bar.
  • More consumer-friendly than a trial (e.g., relaxed rules of evidentiary procedure).
  • At least one non-attorney on the panel who can relate to you.
  • There is no witness cross-examination by you or your attorney.
  • You can call witnesses during the fee arbitration hearing.

Disadvantages of a Fee Arbitration

  • A more formal hearing than mediation and a bit more confrontational.
  • Legal fee arbitration is a binding decision; therefore, you can never bring up attorney fees again if you decide to file a grievance with the State Bar.
  • Limited to just the fee dispute and not grievances.
  • The legal fee arbitration format of relaxed rules of evidentiary procedure can work against you if your attorney submits last-minute evidence.
  • Requires a clear understanding of the fee arbitration rules; therefore, have a short consultation with an attorney to adequately prepare.
  • Adds delay to the process, if you decide to move forward with filing a grievance afterward. You could be looking at a minimum of sixty to seventy-five days before the fee arbitration hearing, and then a couple of weeks after that for a final decision.
  • Your attorney can call witnesses.
  • You waive your client-attorney privileges.
  • Your attorney can file a counter-claim with a request for additional fees (or to collect unpaid legal bills).You are unable to request any additional documentation (e.g., phone records, emails) from your attorney as could an investigator if you were to file a grievance with your State Bar.

 Do Your Homework before Deciding on a Fee Arbitration

Since my assumptions above could vary from your state, ask these questions of your State Bar representative as a safety measure:

  • Is a fee arbitration the only option in your state to get an attorney fee refund? Ask if the grievance or disciplinary process with the State Bar include the possibility for a refund of attorney fees?
  • Is participation by your attorney voluntary or involuntary? If voluntary and the attorney declines, a fee arbitration is out of the question. However, a decline by your attorney could be perceived negatively by your State Bar, should you decide to move forward with filing a grievance? Therefore, keep a record of your correspondence to include in your grievance petition.Once you request the fee arbitration, how long does your attorney have to respond? Once they do agree, how much time will it take to schedule the hearing? Can the attorney file an extension?
    • Gain a clear understanding of your options after a fee arbitration:
      • Is the fee dispute arbitration final and binding?
      • Can you still file a grievance for non-refund issues?
    • Is the attorney-client privilege waived?
    • Can you call witnesses? Do they need to be in person, or can they conference in by telephone for their testimony?
    • Can attorney fees for the fee arbitration (by your attorney or an attorney they hire) be part of an arbitration countersuit?
    • Can additional or unpaid attorney fees by your attorney be introduced in a countersuit? If they can, be sure you are given plenty of notice to evaluate any offsetting charges. Interrogate all new billing statements that could be introduced and deducted from your refund request.
  • Do you have a clear understanding of the rules of evidentiary procedure? This knowledge will be critical when you are writing your fee arbitration petition. So, ask the following questions:
    • Can additional documentation be introduced at the fee dispute arbitration hearing?
    • Is there a deadline for when additional documentation can be submitted? If so, how much time before the hearing date?
    • Is it required that everything is submitted in advance with your initial filing?
  • If any surprises occur leading up to or on the day of the fee arbitration, then do the rules allow you to delay the arbitration and request a continuance? You may need time to examine any new evidence submitted by your attorney at the last minute.

I conclude this final series with homework by recommending a short consultation with an Ethics & Professional Responsibility attorney. Have your attorney review your final fee dispute arbitration petition and help weigh all of your options.


Ken Gilley is the President of Kenneth R. Gilley & Co., LLC, a small digital marketing company. He is the author of the e-book, Dispute It – A Layman’s Guide on How to Get an Attorney Refund & File a Bar Grievance, and regularly contributes to his blog, Ken holds a B.S. in Marketing from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, LA, and lives in The Woodlands, TX.

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