OAE Fee Arbitration Program

The fee arbitration process helps litigants and attorneys resolve disputes over legal fees without going to court. This binding arbitration program is conducted by impartial fee arbitration committees composed of volunteer attorneys. The process is fair, inexpensive, and generally quicker than litigation.

Talk to the attorney first if the bill seems unreasonable.

You might find out that your case was more complicated and took more time than you expected. Perhaps the cost of representing you were more than expected. On the other hand, the attorney might agree that the bill should be adjusted.

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

The attorney must send you a formal notice of your right to seek fee arbitration before the attorney may file a lawsuit to recover their legal fee. In that notice, the attorney must also list the name, address, and phone number of the district fee secretary. They must inform you that you have 30 days to file a Fee Arbitration Request Form with the district fee secretary.

How to File for Fee Arbitration

  • Send the completed form and five copies to the district fee secretary in the county where the attorney has a law office.
  • Include copies of any relevant documents.

You must include a $50 filing fee.

The check should be payable to the “Disciplinary Oversight Committee.” If you cannot afford the $50 fee, call the or complete at Fee Arbitration at 609-403-7800 ext. 34120 the Fee Waiver Request Form and submit it with your arbitration request. The case might be assigned a tracking number, but it will not be filed until the $50 fee is paid or the fee waiver request is approved.

The district fee secretary will review the case.

The secretary has final authority under the Rules of Court to determine questions about jurisdiction and whether the case will be filed.

The arbitration is binding.

Once the client chooses to pursue fee arbitration and signs the binding arbitration form, they have 30 days in which to withdraw the request. After that, the client is bound by the fee committee’s decision. The attorney is also bound by the decision. The only exception is if both the attorney and the client agree together on the dismissal of the fee arbitration. If that happens, the case is dismissed.

Fee arbitration is not available in certain cases.

  • If more than six years have passed since the attorney’s services ended.
  • If the fee is more than $100,000.
  • If the fee has been set by a court, such as in worker’s compensation cases.
  • If other parties have an interest in the fee amount, such as if other clients might have to pay the fee award.
  • If the dispute raises substantial legal questions, such as a claim of legal malpractice.
  • If the client missed the 30-day deadline even though their attorney told them of their right to file for fee arbitration.

A panel from the district fee committee will schedule a hearing.

  • The client and the attorney must be given at least ten days’ notice of the hearing date.
  • If the amount in question is less than $3,000, the hearing will be before one member of the district fee committee.
  • For fee disputes more than $3,000, the hearing will be before a panel of district fee members. Usually, the panel includes two attorneys and one member of the public.
  • Fee hearings are private. They are not recorded.
  • You do not need to hire another lawyer to represent you in the fee dispute, but you can choose to do so.
  • If you need an interpreter or an ADA accommodation, you must do so well in advance of the hearing.
  • If the parties reach an agreement before the hearing, they can file a Stipulation of Settlement with the fee secretary

You must come to the fee hearing prepared with witnesses and documentation.

  • You must choose the evidence you will use and the witnesses whose testimony you want presented at the hearing.
  • You must ensure that the witnesses attend.
  • If the witness is important, and will not appear voluntarily, you can ask the fee secretary to issue a subpoena that requires them to appear.
  • You can also compel people to provide documents through subpoenas from the fee secretary if they will not cooperate with you voluntarily.
  • Requests for subpoenas should be made no later than when you receive the hearing notice.
  • You are responsible for delivering the subpoenas you have requested to the witnesses and document holders. They should be delivered in person or by certified mail.

The fee arbitration panel will try to make its decision within 30 days.

If the attorney owes the client money, it must be paid within 30 of receiving the arbitration determination. The only exception is if the matter is under appeal.

If the attorney fails to pay the client what is owed, the client can call the  OAE   609-403-7800 at  to request that the OAE file a motion to have the attorney suspended from practicing law until they comply with the fee determination.

The arbitration can be appealed only in certain cases.

  • If a panel member has a conflict of interest in the case.
  • If the fee committee did not comply with the mandatory procedures or there was substantial unfairness in the process.
  • If actual fraud by any member of the fee committee.
  • If there were gross and obvious mistakes of law by the fee committee.

The appeal must be filed within 21 days of the committee’s written arbitration determination. Complete the Fee Arbitration Notice of Appeal Form and mail to:

 
Disciplinary Review Board - Administrative Office of the Courts
Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex
P.O. Box 962
Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0965

Fee arbitration proceedings are confidential.

Under the Court Rules, once you file for fee arbitration, you are required to keep all communications and records about the fee dispute confidential. You can not talk about the fee dispute to anyone except members of the fee arbitration. You can, however, discuss the case with witnesses or consult an attorney about the case.