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What happens at a fee arbitration hearing?
Arbitration hearings are informal, but you should obtain a copy of the rules of procedure from the program handling your fee dispute to educate yourself about the process.
The program will assign your dispute to a volunteer attorney arbitrator who must be licensed in good standing with the State Bar. Depending on the amount of your fee dispute, the panel will consist of one attorney arbitrator, or a three-member panel consisting of two attorney arbitrators and one nonattorney arbitrator.
You may be represented by a attorney, but it is not necessary. You can arrange for an interpreter to attend the hearing with you.
Both you and the attorney will have a chance to make statements, ask each other questions, and present evidence, such as letters, billing statements, or the fee agreement. You may also present witnesses, for example, someone who heard you and your attorney agree to the fee. If you have problems obtaining papers needed for the hearing from the opposing attorney, you may ask the arbitration panel to intervene.
If you think you will need moral support, ask the arbitrator if a family member or friend can accompany you to the hearing. Fee arbitration hearings may be closed to everyone else except the witnesses while they are testifying.
Most local bar programs don’t allow the arbitration hearing to be recorded or transcribed for confidentiality reasons.
Also, keep in mind that fee arbitration aims to determine if the fee amount is appropriate for the attorney’s work on your case. Arbitrators also consider the attorney’s performance in your case to reach their decision, but they cannot award any additional money for what may be attorney malpractice or professional misconduct.