The California State Bar-approved Mandatory Fee Arbitration Program of the Sonoma County Bar Association handles fee and cost disputes including claims of return of non-earned prepaid fees. Mandatory Fee Arbitration operates under the authority of the California Business & Professions Code sections 6200-6206.
Before a California attorney can proceed to the courts to collect fees and/or costs, they must deliver a "Notice of Client's Right to Arbitration" either before filing suit or concurrently with the summons and complaint. If you have received a "Notice of Client's Right to Arbitration" from the attorney claiming fees, and you wish to arbitrate, you must file a request for arbitration using the proper forms and paying a filing fee with a California State Bar approved fee arbitration program within thirty (30) days of the day you received the Notice or you will lose the right to compel the attorney to arbitration.
You cannot request or maintain arbitration if you answer a lawsuit brought by the attorney claiming fees or file an action against the attorney, with a court, for malpractice or damages after receiving notice of your right to arbitrate. An arbitrator will be appointed who has the responsibility to select a mutually convenient date for a hearing. Each side is given the opportunity to present their case after which the arbitrator makes a decision.
The arbitration award is advisory only unless BOTH you and the attorney agree to make the award binding. A binding award means that the arbitrator's decision is final. An advisory award means that if either party is not satisfied with the arbitrator's decision, that party has the right to have a court decide the matter. An advisory award automatically becomes binding thirty days after the award is mailed to you unless either party requests a trial after arbitration with a court.
- You do not need a lawyer to represent you.
- The hearing is less formal than a courtroom setting.
- The process is much quicker than the court system.
- If your lawyer has already filed a lawsuit to collect fees, you may have the action suspended by filing for fee arbitration within 30 days of being served.
- Our jurisdiction is limited to the issue of attorney's fees only. If the quality of the attorney's services is at issue, then you may contact the State Bar of California at (800) 843-9053. An attorney's alleged malpractice may only be considered by the arbitration panel as it relates to fees.
- The arbitration will be considered advisory only unless both parties agree to binding arbitration.
- Local attorneys and businesspeople volunteer to serve as arbitrators. One-person panels consist of an attorney with more than 5 years of practice experience. Three-person panels consist of 2 attorneys (one who meets the 5-year criterion) and a lay person.
- There is a filing fee required for the Fee Arbitration Program. This fee is based upon the amount in dispute. Please see Client's Request for Arbitration of Fee Dispute form below. The arbitration panel has within its discretion the power to award filing fees to either party.
If you have received a Notice of Client's Right to Arbitrate letter from your attorney, you have 30 days to file a Client's Request For Fee Arbitration with our office. Otherwise, your right to fee arbitration is permanently waived.
For more information or for answers to your questions, please call the Sonoma County Bar Association at (707) 542-1190 extension 190.
Fee Arbitration materials available for download:
- Form: Clients Request for Arbitration of a Fee Dispute (Rev. Jan 29, 2016)
- Document: Rules Local Revised Jan. 29, 2016
- Document: Notice of Rights After Hearing Rev Feb 2012
- Form: Petition to Confirm, Correct, or Vacate Attorney-Client Fee Arbitration Award (ADR-103)
- Form: Rejection of Award and Request for Trial After Attorney-Client Fee Arbitration (ADR-104)