Learn what to do if you want to dispute the fee charged by your attorney. 

On This Page

Body

Fee Arbitration Program

The Fee Arbitration Program helps clients resolve disputes with their attorneys about the legal fees they were charged.  The program helps avoid the need to go to court.

There are 17 committees throughout the state made up of volunteers.  The volunteers consist of both attorneys and non-attorneys.  They are appointed by the Supreme Court.

The committees hold hearings to decide if a charged fee is reasonable.  The confidential hearings are fair and inexpensive and are quicker than going to court.

If the bill seems unreasonable, talk to the attorney first.

Try discussing your bill with your attorney, it may help explain the details.

Some reasons your bill may be high:

  • Your case might have been more complicated than what was expected.
  • Your case might have taken more time than what was initially expected. 

Either reason would explain why the initial estimate was less than the actual bill. But by talking to your attorney, they might agree the bill should be adjusted, and may offer a payment plan. 

The attorney must inform you of your right to seek fee arbitration.

The attorney must provide the name, address, and phone number of the District Fee Secretary.  

Fee Arbitration Request Form must be filed within 30 days.  If not, you will lose the right to file a Fee Arbitration. 

How to File for Fee Arbitration

Send the form to the Secretary from the county where the attorney has a law office.  Include five copies of the form and copies of any other relevant documents.

A $50 filing fee must be included with the submission.  The Fee Arbitration Request will not be processed until the $50 filing fee is paid.  The check or money order must be made payable to “Disciplinary Oversight Committee.”

If you cannot afford the $50 fee, you can submit a Fee Waiver Request Form.  A copy of this form must be submitted with your Fee Arbitration Request.  To request a fee waiver form, call the Fee Arbitration Unit at the Office of Attorney Ethics  at 609-403-7800  ext. 34120.  Copy of this completed form must be submitted with your Fee Arbitration Request.

The district fee secretary will review the case.

The district secretary will decide whether to accept a fee arbitration.

Fee arbitration is not available:

  • If the fee is more than $100,000.
  • If the client fails to file within 30-days of receiving a notice from the attorney.
  • If more than six years have passed since the last attorney’s services were rendered, regardless of whether the client has received a proper 30-day notice from the attorney to file Fee Arbitration.
  • If the fee has been determined by a court.
  • If the fee dispute raises substantial legal questions.
  • If other parties have an interest in the fee amount.

Attorney Response

The attorney will be given a copy of the Fee Arbitration Request. The attorney is required to respond. If no response is given, then the attorney will not be allowed to participate in the hearing.

Settlement Prior to Hearing

Fee disputes can be settled without a hearing.  If a dispute is settled before the hearing, the attorney can file a Stipulation of Settlement with the district fee secretary. 

Fee Arbitration Hearing

After review and acceptance of your case, the secretary will schedule a hearing.  The client and the attorney must be given at least ten days’ advance notice of the hearing date.  

  • If the amount in question is less than $3,000, the hearing MAY be before one member of the District Fee Committee.
  • If the amount in question is more than $3,000, the hearing will be before a panel of members from the district fee committee.  A panel typically includes one public member and two attorneys.

Fee hearings are private, and they are not recorded.  If an Interpreter or an ADA Accommodation are required at any of the stages of the fee dispute process, please call 609-403-7800  ext. 34120. Please make this request as early as possible so we may address the request or accommodation.

Fee Arbitration Hearing Decision

If the hearing decides a client is due a refund, then the refund must be paid within 30 days of the hearing decision. The only exception is if the matter has been appealed by either the client or the attorney.

If the attorney fails to refund the amount within 30 days, the client can call the Office of Attorney Ethics Fee Arbitration Unit at 609-403-7800  ext. 34120.  The client can request the OAE  to file a motion to have the attorney suspended from practicing law until they comply with the Fee Decision.

Fee Arbitration Appeals

Fee arbitration decisions can only be appealed in the following circumstances:

  • The fee committee did not follow procedure or there was substantial unfairness during the process.
  • The fee committee commits actual fraud.
  • The fee committee makes gross and obvious mistakes of the law and court rules.
  • Any fee committee member who decided the matter has a conflict of interest in the case.

An appeal must meet on of the above conditions to be filed.

The appeal must be filed within 21 days of the written decision.

The appeal must be filed with the Disciplinary Review Board.

To appeal, complete the Fee Arbitration Notice of Appeal Form and mail to:

Disciplinary Review Board
Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex
P.O. Box 962
Trenton, NJ  08625

Fee arbitration proceedings are confidential.

Do not discuss the fee dispute with anyone.  There are two exceptions for discussing your matter:

  1. With members of the fee arbitration process; or
  2. If you consult an attorney about the case.