A Better Way of Resolving Attorney’s Fees Disputes
I’ve been receiving more inquiries in recent months from prospective clients who are in disputes over fees charged by an attorney who previously represented them in a matter, and who now claims that fees are owed by the client. In many instances these clients have legitimate concerns about the amount of the fees that were charged for the representation. However, the thought of having to fight lawyers over fees in court may seem frightening and often forces clients into believing that they have no choice but to pay the bill.
Fortunately, there’s a better way to resolve these disputes.
The Massachusetts Bar Association has a program in place to efficiently resolve fee disputes between attorneys and their clients. It is known as the Fee Arbitration Board, and it provides for arbitration before the board of such disputes. In matters where $10,000 or less is in dispute, the arbitration is heard by one arbitrator; where more than $10,000 is at stake, the matter is heard by a panel of three arbitrators.
Arbitration is an informal way of presenting issues for resolution. The arbitrator(s) hear evidence and ultimately render a decision that is final and binding on the parties; that is, there is no right of appeal from the decision. The process from beginning to end usually takes only a couple of months, and the Board charges at most a few hundred dollars (the arbitrators donate their time). There is always at least one arbitrator who specializes in the area of law that was the subject of the representation; this allows for presentation by the client of his/her position without the need for an expert witness to testify concerning the reasonableness or necessity of various charges.
Although many fee agreements in Massachusetts have provisions require that disputes be submitted to the Fee Arbitration Board (and such provisions are considered valid), many do not. Nonetheless, I’ve found that nearly all attorneys would rather submit such disputes to the Board.
If you have a legal fee dispute with a Massachusetts attorney, please feel free to contact me to discuss your rights and the process in greater detail.