Remember, it is your job to persuade the arbitrator that the attorney fees should be reduced. You'll do a much better job of presenting your case if you get organized before you go!
Get Organized for Your Hearing
- Organize your testimony. You will be given time to tell your side of the story. Think carefully about what to tell the arbitrator(s) to support your argument. Put your ideas in writing before the hearing so that you can refer to them at the hearing.
- Witnesses. If you need to bring a witness, find out what you should do when you download and read the Fee Dispute Rules of Procedure.
- Fee agreements. Did you have an oral agreement or a written fee agreement with your lawyer? If so, use this agreement and be specific as to why you are questioning your bill or statement of services.
- Organize your documents and make copies. The arbitrator(s), and the attorney you have the dispute with, will already have copies of the documents you submitted earlier. If you wish to submit additional documentation you must submit copies at least 15 days before the hearing to your arbitrator(s) and to the other side. Make sure you make copies for yourself and bring these copies to the hearing.
Please Note: Do not bring any new material with you to the hearing. You must submit all evidence at least 15 days before your hearing.
Here's What Will Happen at the Hearing
- The arbitrator may administer an oath to all individuals to tell the truth.
Usually you will testify first about why you are disputing the attorney's fee. Your testimony should be simple, factual, and directly related to the disputed bill.
- Present your witnesses. The arbitrator(s) might ask the witnesses questions.
The attorney then gets a chance to ask you questions about your testimony.
Then it is the attorney's turn to give his or her testimony and present any witnesses.
- Feel free to take notes to refer to when it is your turn to question the attorney.
- The arbitrator may question both of you.
- Both parties get a chance to sum things up. During this time, do not interrupt or speak when the other side talks.
- Refrain from personal attacks; do not reference matters outside the relationship, or matters for which there is no evidence.
- After the hearing is over, the arbitrator takes the matter "under submission" and closes the hearing.
You will not get a decision (referred to as an "award") on the day of the hearing. The award will be mailed to you after a final decision has been made. This award will also include information called "Notice of Your Rights After Arbitration." It will answer many questions about protecting your rights after arbitration.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does the Attorney/Client Fee Dispute process take?
Usually four to five months, which is less time than a court case would take.
Who pays the fee?
The person submitting the Petitioner’s Request form pays the entire filing fee, which then becomes part of the dispute and may be allocated differently by the arbitrators when the award is issued.
If I win the case can I get a refund?
No, the fee paid to BASF covers the administrative costs of running the program. However, the arbitrator(s) can order the other side to refund some or the entire filing fee back to you.
Do I need an attorney for the hearing?
No, in fact, more than half of the parties use this process without an attorney representing them. Of course, you do have the right to have an attorney if you choose to.
What if my attorney is in another county?
Normally, BASF only hears cases with attorneys who practice in San Francisco. If the attorney is in another county, you should contact the Bar Association in that county, since most provide the same service. If your county doesn’t have a program, or if both parties prefer to come to San Francisco, BASF can take the case if both parties stipulate in writing.
What if I want to file a complaint against the attorney for misconduct?
You will need to contact the State Bar of California at (800) 843-9053; they are the licensing and disciplinary agency for all attorneys. Our program can only help with your dispute over the attorney's fees and/or costs.
What if I need legal advice about how to proceed?
We can't give legal advice in this program; contact the Lawyer Referral and Information Service to set up a consultation with an attorney.
How much does the amount in dispute have to be for BASF to arbitrate my case?
We can arbitrate any amount over $1,000. If the amount is less than $1,000 you should call the State Bar of California at (415) 538-2020.
I don't speak English, what do I do?
You must find someone to help you complete the forms and attend the hearing with you; we don't provide interpreters. This can be a friend, relative or neighbor; we do not require a professional interpreter. You must notify the other side, the arbitrator(s) and BASF in writing if someone will attend the hearing with you.
When will I know the decision of the arbitrator(s)?
You will receive the written decision, the award, of the arbitrator(s) after it has been reviewed and approved by our Executive Committee. You will not receive or be told the decision the day of the hearing.
Can I contact my arbitrators after the hearing?
No, you may not contact the arbitrators for any reason after the hearing. Please write to BASF if you have a question or think there might be a problem. You must also send a copy to the attorney.
You may not call or write your arbitrator after the hearing. They will be unable to help you. If you have any questions please call us at (415) 982-1600 and ask for ADR Services.