Filing a Fee Dispute Complaint

Are you genuinely disputing fees which your attorney has charged you or which you have recently paid to your attorney? Have you attempted to resolve your fee dispute with the attorney to no avail?

If so, the Legal Fee Dispute Resolution Program may provide assistance to you. When a client is genuinely disputing fees for legal services and has made a good faith effort to contact the attorney to resolve the dispute but the efforts have been unsuccessful, the client may petition the Legal Fee Dispute Resolution Committee to hold an arbitration hearing to determine the reasonable value of service that the attorney provided to the client. The arbitration panel's decision is a binding decision which is enforceable in court.

 



General Information About Your Fee Dispute With Your Attorney and the Fee Dispute Program
 

    • Before a petition for fee dispute arbitration may be filed with the Legal Fee Dispute Resolution Committee, you (the client) must make a good faith effort to resolve the fee dispute with your attorney. You will be required to explain in your petition how you attempted to resolve the dispute.

       
    • If you have not already received an accounting (i.e., a detailed statement of the time the attorney spent on your case with his or her accompanying charges) you may request one. An attorney is obligated to provide you with an accounting if you request it.

       
    • Once you receive an accounting, you can review the individual time charges to determine if you still believe that the total fee is unreasonable. Remember that an attorney is generally entitled to be compensated for time s/he spent on your case, despite the result obtained in your case or whether s/he was discharged by you prior to completion of the case.

       
    • You may wish to send a letter to the attorney requesting that the fee be adjusted based on the reasons you believe that the fee is unreasonable. You can reference specific charges in the accounting with which you disagree. You should keep a copy of any letter you send to the attorney in this regard as proof that you attempted to resolve the dispute with the attorney prior to filing a fee dispute petition.

       
    • Even if you have already tried to resolve the dispute with your attorney without success, you may wish to send him/her a letter giving him/her in writing another chance to resolve the dispute with you before you pursue fee dispute resolution.

       
    • Please note that if you wish to participate in the Fee Dispute program and you also wish to file a grievance against the same attorney because you believe his/her conduct was unethical, you must file the grievance first and wait for a final determination by the Certified Grievance Committee regarding the ethical issues. If, after the grievance process is complete, there remains an unresolved fee dispute, you could then file the fee dispute petition with the Legal Fee Dispute Resolution Committee.

       
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Frequently Asked Questions
 


Is there a statute of limitations (i.e., the period of time within which the fee dispute petition may be filed) for filing a fee dispute petition?
Is there a fee associated with filing a fee dispute petition?
What types of disputes are intended to be arbitrated by the Legal Fee Dispute Resolution Committee?
How is 'reasonableness' of the fee determined?
Do I have to retain an attorney to represent me to file a fee dispute petition (or at the fee dispute hearing)?
May I file a fee dispute petition if the lawyer already has sued me for the fees?
Must I attend the hearing in my fee dispute matter?
Is participation in the fee dispute process required by the attorney?
Is the Panel's determination final and can it be enforced?
If a party is ordered to pay money after an arbitration hearing, when must payment be made?
Can I contact the opposing party during the pendency of the fee dispute petition to settle the fee dispute?
Must payment of an award be made in full or can it be made in payments over time?
 


 

    Is there a statute of limitations (i.e., the period of time within which the fee dispute petition may be filed) for filing a fee dispute petition?
    Yes. Section 16(e) of the Committee Bylaws requires a fee dispute petition to be filed within two years after the lawyer-client relationship has been terminated or within two years after the final billing has been received by the client, whichever is later.

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    Is there a fee associated with filing a fee dispute petition?
    No. Filing the fee dispute petition is free.

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    What types of disputes are intended to be arbitrated by the Legal Fee Dispute Resolution Committee?
    Fee disputes where a client is genuinely disputing a fee that s/he has paid or been charged for legal services are those which the Legal Fee Dispute Committee contemplates resolving. The Committee only has jurisdiction to determine the reasonable fee for the work the attorney performed. Although they might have bearing on the reasonableness of an attorney's fee, case expenses cannot be determined by the Committee. Similarly, other legal issues like legal malpractice, while perhaps relevant to the attorney's fee, cannot be determined by the Committee. Moreover, the Committee does not have jurisdiction to award a party punitive damages, that is, a monetary award for alleged loss sustained. The Committee is limited to making a finding of fees not to exceed the total which was ultimately charged by the attorney. Finally, this process is designed to provide an informal alternative to sometimes lengthy and expensive litigation over fees. The process is not intended to arbitrate very complicated fee matters, and it is not equipped to provide comprehensive discovery and other rights similar to those which may be allowed or guaranteed in a court of law.

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    How is 'reasonableness' of the fee determined?
    Reasonableness is determined at the conclusion of an arbitration hearing after the panel has taken into consideration the facts of an individual case, along with other factors enumerated by the Supreme Court of Ohio, such as the time, labor and skill required, the novelty or difficulty of the questions involved, the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services, the amount involved, the time limitations involved, the experience and reputation of the lawyer, etc.

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    Do I have to retain an attorney to represent me to file a fee dispute petition (or at the fee dispute hearing)?
    No. You may retain an attorney to represent you at the fee dispute hearing, but you are not required to do so and in fact are not encouraged to do so because the program is intended to be an informal resolution that will not be costly to the parties or unnecessarily complicated.

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    May I file a fee dispute petition if the lawyer already has sued me for the fees?
    No. The Legal Fee Dispute Resolution Committee cannot take jurisdiction over a fee dispute when the matter is currently being litigated in court or when a court (or other tribunal with jurisdiction over the fees) has already made a determination of the reasonable fees.

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    Must I attend the hearing in my fee dispute matter?
    Yes. You are required to be present at the scheduled hearing to present to the arbitration panel your position with regard to the attorney's fees. If you do not appear at your scheduled hearing, the Committee will dismiss your dispute with prejudice, which is a final decision to close your file. Because you are required to appear at the hearing, even if you cannot be present at a hearing for a good reason, such as that you live out of state, the Committee cannot take jurisdiction over the matter.

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    Is participation in the fee dispute process required by the attorney?
    Yes. Rule V(4)(G) of the Rules for the Government of the Bar of Ohio, the same rules which govern the attorney disciplinary process, requires that the attorney participate in fee dispute arbitration when a client requests it. In the event that the attorney does not agree to participate in the fee dispute process, the Committee is required to stay its proceedings and refer the attorney's non-cooperation to the Certified Grievance Committee for a review and possible attorney discipline. Please note that if the Committee would not otherwise have jurisdiction over the fee dispute because another tribunal already has jurisdiction over it (e.g., a lawsuit over the fees is currently pending in court), it cannot compel the attorney to participate in fee arbitration.

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    Is the Panel's determination final and can it be enforced?
    Yes. When you sign the petition and consent forms for fee dispute arbitration you are agreeing to binding arbitration, which makes the determination final and in most instances, unappealable. Moreover, the panel's decision can be enforced by either you or the attorney in a court of law. Please note that the Committee cannot assist you in the process of enforcing or collecting upon an arbitration award.

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    If a party is ordered to pay money after an arbitration hearing, when must payment be made?
    Payments in compliance with an arbitration award must be paid directly to the party to whom the money is owed within thirty days of receipt of the panel's written determination.

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    Must payment of an award be made in full or can it be made in payments over time?
    Section 41 of the Committee Bylaws requires that payment of an award be made within thirty days of receipt of the panel's written decision. The parties may privately agree on a payment schedule, but the neither the Committee nor the panel can assist the parties in coming to such agreement.

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    Can I contact the opposing party during the pendency of the fee dispute petition to settle the fee dispute?
    Yes. Negotiated settlements and compromises between the parties are encouraged and the parties may agree to settle the dispute at any time prior to the conclusion of the arbitration hearing. Notice of the settlement and a copy of the settlement agreement should be provided to the Committee so that it may close its file.

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Instructions for Filing a Fee Dispute Petition
 

  • Complete and execute the petition and consent forms. All parties who are responsible for payment of the legal fees should agree to be bound by the arbitration decision and should sign the petition and consent forms.

     
  • Attach to the petition and consent forms additional sheets of paper which include a typed or printed statement which details the following: 1) a description of your efforts to resolve the dispute with the attorney, 2) your understanding of your fee agreement, and 3) a detailed account of your dispute.

     
  • Attach copies of the following: 1) your fee contract, 2) any bills or accountings that you have received regarding the fees you are disputing, 3) receipts or other proof of payments already made to the attorney, 4) any letters to your attorney wherein you have attempted to resolve the dispute, and 5) any other documents which you believe support your position. Please note that any materials you wish to submit to an arbitration panel as evidence to support your position must be submitted with your petition packet. (Please do not attach original documents as they will not be returned to you.)

     
  • Make five copies of the packet of materials and send the original and five copies to the Legal Fee Dispute Resolution Committee at the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association.

    The information provided herein is general in nature and not intended to give legal advice or an opinion on a specific factual scenario. If you have a legal question about your own situation, you should seek the advice of a private attorney. The Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association can not provide legal advice to you.

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