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Fee Arbitration Program works to end disputes.

When fee disputes arise, The Florida Bar has a program in place to set things right.

The Bar's Fee Arbitration Program is an informal, inexpensive service provided to resolve legal fee disputes between attorneys and clients and between attorneys.

The Fee Arbitration Program also is now looking for volunteers (attorneys and public members) to serve on the circuit fee arbitration committees, according to Angela Reynolds, who coordinates the Fee Arbitration Program for the Bar.

Prior to the Supreme Court's approval of the Fee Arbitration Program, the Bar had no jurisdiction over such matters unless the fee charged was clearly excessive, illegal, or otherwise prohibited by rule.

"Many fee disputes are basically matters of misunderstanding or a lack of communication that could be fully resolved without the formality and expense associated with a lawsuit," said Reynolds. "With the establishment of the Fee Arbitration Program, a uniform alternative now exists throughout the state for resolution of legal fee disputes between attorneys or between lawyers and clients."

The Bar publishes a pamphlet, Consumer Guide to the Legal Fee Arbitration Program, to familiarize the consumer with the program designed to provide an alternative to the court system for the resolution of legal fee disputes.

The Fee Arbitration Program, however, does not have jurisdiction over a dispute that is already in the court system, Reynolds said, adding the program also is limited to disputes between an attorney and a client or between attorneys, and also depends on the mutual assent of the parties.

"There are some types of recurring situations, such as the classic example of a collection suit by an attorney, that the fee arbitration system can legitimately handle and, thereby, relieve some of the burden now carried by the courts," Reynolds said.

In addition to easing court case loads, Reynolds said, the Fee Arbitration Program also offers many attractive features to the parties. It is a less formal and much less expensive process (both parties will be subject to a filing fee of $15 to defray the administrative costs of the arbiration proceedings); it offers more privacy to the parties; and, perhaps most important, it offers expeditious resolution. The Supreme Court has imposed a 55-day deadline from assignment of the case to an arbitrator, to the entry of a final award.

Circuit arbitration committees must consist of at least three members, with at least one-third nonlawyer members. All attorney appointees must have been members of The Florida Bar for at least five years. Voluntary bar association presidents within each circuit and the Florida Council of Bar Presidents may tender names of prospective circuit arbitration committee members for consideration. Terms of service for each circuit committee member are for one year, beginning July land expiring June 30 with no member serving more than three consecutive years.
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Publication:Florida Bar News
Date:May 15, 2001
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