The California State Bar's Mandatory Fee Arbitration Program is an informal, confidential, and low-cost forum for resolving fee disputes between Attorneys and their Clients*.
Clients* have the right to have a neutral party—an “Arbitrator"—hear fee disputes with their Attorney.
The Arbitrator determines whether the fees and costs charged by the Attorney are reasonable for the services provided.
This kind of arbitration is mandatory for a lawyer if requested by a Client*.
* A Request for Arbitration of a Fee Dispute may also be made by a person who is not the Client (for example, a third-party payer) but who may be liable for payment or entitled to a refund of Attorney’s fees or costs.
If a Californian Attorney claims their Client owes them an outstanding balance of legal fees or costs, the Attorney MUST
1️⃣ Provide their Client with this “Notice of Client’s* Right to Fee Arbitration” form approved by the California State Bar; before or at the time of
2️⃣ Filing a lawsuit, or other proceeding to collect the amount allegedly owed.
3️⃣ The Client* then has the option of asking for Mandatory Fee Arbitration with the appropriate Local Bar Program within 30 days of receiving this Notice, or with the State Bar Program if the appropriate Local Bar Association does not have a Local Bar Program that offers Mandatory Fee Arbitration or refuses to hear the matter.
⭐️ If the Client* fails to request Mandatory Fee Arbitration within 30 days, they will have waived their legal right to arbitration, and the Attorney may take legal action (or continue with legal action already on foot) to collect the legal fees or costs.
4️⃣ After the Client* submits a Request for Arbitration Form and filing fee to the appropriate program, the Attorney can respond to the request.
5️⃣ A neutral Arbitrator, or a panel of three Arbitrators, depending on the amount in dispute, will be assigned to listen to both the Client and the Attorney, and decide the appropriate fees.
6️⃣ The Arbitrator may decide that the Client paid the Attorney more than is appropriate, and the Client may be awarded a refund of Attorney’s legal fees or costs already paid.
7️⃣ The Arbitrator may also decide that the Client must pay the Attorney unpaid fees, or that neither party owe anything further.
⚖️ In no event will an Arbitrator order the Client to pay more than what is agreed to in the legal fee agreement.
If a Client decides to apply for arbitration, the Attorney MUST participate UNLESS one of the following applies:
⚖️ Fees set by law or the courts, such as the ordinary charges for probating a Will, or Attorney’s fees that a judge orders one spouse to pay the other in a divorce;
⚖️ Fees charged by an Attorney who is 1️⃣ Not a member of the State Bar of California, 2️⃣ Who does not have offices in California, and 3️⃣ Who did the majority of the work for the Client out of state;
⚖️ Fee disputes in which the Client or the Attorney have filed a lawsuit, and the Attorney notified the Client of their right to arbitrate, using this “Notice of Client’s* Right to Fee Arbitration” form, BUT the Client filed a lawsuit or answered a lawsuit in court BEFORE requesting arbitration;
⚖️ Fee disputes in which the Attorney notified the Client of their right to arbitrate, using this “Notice of Client’s* Right to Fee Arbitration” form, and the Client failed to request Mandatory Fee Arbitration within 30 days, as the Client will be deemed to have waived their legal right to request Mandatory Fee Arbitration; or
⚖️ Fee disputes in which the party requesting arbitration is not the Attorney’s Client, UNLESS the party requesting arbitration paid fees* to the Attorney for a Client (i.e., a third-party payer).
An application for fee arbitration may generally be made to the State Bar Program in the following situations:
1️⃣ No Local Bar Program exists in the county where most of the legal services were provided;
2️⃣ The Local Bar Program is no longer accepting new cases (!); or
3️⃣ The Local Bar Program does not have filing jurisdiction to hear the matter.
As of 15 February, 2023 the State Bar of California website lists the following counties as NOT CURRENTLY having a Local Bar Program:
Alameda, Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, Del Norte, El Dorado, Glenn, Humboldt, Imperial, Kings, Lake, Lassen, Madera, Mariposa, Mendocino, Merced, Modoc, Placer, Plumas, San Benito, San Francisco (!), San Joaquin, San Mateo (!), Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Stanislaus, Tehama, Trinity, Tuolumne, Yolo.
The State Bar Program may consider an application for fee arbitration in the following situations:
⚖️ The Applicant believes~ they cannot receive a fair hearing through the Local Bar Program;
⚖️ The Local Bar Program does not waive filing fees and the Applicant is requesting a waiver of filing fees (#);
⚖️ The Local Bar Program requires the arbitration to be binding (B), and the Applicant wants the arbitration to be non-binding;
⚖️ The Local Bar Program will not arbitrate with incarcerated Clients and the Client is incarcerated (^);
⚖️ The Local Bar Program declines for any reason to hear the case, for example:
➲ Disputes where the client seeks affirmative relief against the attorney for damages or otherwise based upon alleged malpractice or professional misconduct (section 6200 (b)(2)); or
➲ Disputes where the fees and/or costs to be paid by the client or on his or her behalf has been determined pursuant statute or court order (section 6200 (b)(3);
➲ Disputes that fall outside of the filing jurisdiction of the Local Bar Program
1️⃣ A substantial portion of the legal services were performed in the county; or
2️⃣ At least one of the Attorneys involved in the dispute has an office or maintained an office at the times the legal services were rendered.
🧩 Where the Local Bar Program (L) has a different filing jurisdiction, this has been indicated using a special notation in the selection list beside the county name.
⭐️ Watch out for the following special notations which indicate some variation in filing jurisdiction that needs to be checked carefully.
(*) This Local Bar Program may have filing jurisdiction whether the Attorney maintains an office in the county or not.
(R) This Local Bar Program may have filing jurisdiction where the Client resides in the County. Additional conditions may or may not need to be satisfied.
(S) This Local Bar Program may have filing jurisdiction where the Client and the Attorney stipulate an agreement.
(<> DB) This Local Bar Program will not accept any filing that conflicts with the filing jurisdiction of the Desert Bar Association.
Other special notations you may see are for your information only and indicate the following:
(^) indicates the Local Bar Program will NOT arbitrate with an incarcerated Client.
(?) means that it is NOT INDICATED whether the Local Bar Program will arbitrate with an incarcerated Client.
If the Client is incarcerated the Applicant will need to check directly with the Local Bar Program.
(#) indicates the Local Bar Program does NOT offer a fee waiver or it is NOT INDICATED whether they offer a fee waiver.
If a fee waiver is required the Applicant will need to check directly with the Local Bar Program.
(B) indicates the Local Bar Program has a requirement for full or partial (up to a certain monetary limit) binding arbitration.
(!) indicates the Local Bar Program is no longer accepting new cases.
In the event there is no filing jurisdiction, we recommend selecting "No Local Jurisdiction".
⚖️ The Applicant may also have some other validly arguable reason that they want the State Bar Program to consider.
~ If "no fair hearing" is the reason selected by the Applicant, the Applicant MUST submit a written declaration signed under penalty of perjury or provide a letter from the Local Program to support the belief.
The State Bar Program will determine whether the Applicant's showing is satisfactory.
If the Applicant does not provide the required written support for their "no fair hearing" belief, their request for the State Bar Program to handle the dispute instead of a Local Bar Program will be rejected.
⭐️ Request for arbitration of a fee dispute (This form is for the State Bar Program only);
➲ Contact the relevant Local Bar Program (refer below) for local bar forms.
Orange ?#RSB $1.5k
San Bernardino ^#R
San Francisco ^! (no longer accepting new cases)
San Mateo ?! (no longer accepting new cases)
Members of the public can visit the State Bar of California Fee Disputes webpage for consumer-oriented Mandatory Fee Arbitration forms and information.
Business and Professions Code, Article 8.5 Fee Agreements (§§ 6146-6149.5).
Code of Civil Procedure, Article 2 Limitations of Time (§§ 1288-1288.8)
Fee arbitrator appointments application (Note: All arbitrators must complete the Basic Fee Arbitrator Training program, available here as a self-study MCLE video, before they can be assigned to hear a MFA case.)
This Notice of Client's* Right To Fee Arbitration ➲ California has been designed and developed with care 👨💻 by James D. Ford Esq., GAICD CIPP/US | ⚖️ Principal Solicitor of Blue Ocean Law Group.
© 2023. Blue Ocean Law Group℠.
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