Written by attorney Vincent Peter White

How to File a Fee Dispute Against Your Attorney in New York

What is the FDRP?

Lawyers in New York State are generally required to provide their clients with retainer agreements or letters of engagement which discuss the fees and expenses to be charged. At the initial conference with your lawyer, you should request a retainer agreement or letter of engagement and ask any questions you may have regarding the fee to be charged. Despite the letter of engagement and discussions about fees, sometimes disputes arise. In general, your lawyer may not sue you in court over a fee dispute unless he or she first provided you with notice of your right to utilize the FDRP. Once you have received this notice you have 30 days to decide whether to use the FDRP. If you don’t choose to participate in the FDRP within 30 days, your lawyer is free to pursue the matter in court.

The FDRP is made up of a network of State-approved and monitored

local programs

that resolve attorney-client fee disputes outside of court through arbitration.

What is the fee arbitration?

Arbitration is a hearing conducted by one or more neutral persons who have special training and experience. One arbitrator or a panel of three arbitrators (at least one of whom must be a nonlawyer) listen to the arguments on both sides and decide the outcome of the dispute. Fee arbitration is fair, inexpensive and usually faster than going to court.

When does the FDRP Apply? - Your attorney practices in New York and your case involved a civil matter (personal injury and criminal cases are not covered); - The amount in dispute is between $1,000 and $50,000 (fee disputes can involve fees that you have already paid your attorney and for which you seek a refund, or fees that your attorney claims are owed by you); - The legal representation began on or after January 1, 2002; - Your attorney has rendered services to you within two years prior to the filing of the request for fee arbitration.

How does the fee arbitration process start?

A ] There are three ways in which you can enter the FDRP. In all three situations, the filing of a Request for Fee Arbitration form officially starts the process. Situation 1. Your lawyer has mailed you a Notice of Client’s Right to Arbitrate. A dispute over fees exists between you and your lawyer and he or she has provided you with a form entitled “Notice of Client’s Right to Arbitrate" (UCS 137-1). You now have 30 days to decide whether to utilize the FDRP by filing a form entitled “Client Request for Fee Arbitration" (UCS 137-4a) with the appropriate local program. Once you file the Client Request for Fee Arbitration your attorney will be required to participate in the FDRP unless your dispute is one that the FDRP is not designed to handle. If you do not file the Request for Fee Arbitration within 30 days, you lose your right to utilize the FDRP and your lawyer will be free to take legal action. Situation 2. You have not received the Notice of Client’s Right to Arbitrate. You have not received the Notice of Client’s Right to Arbitrate from your lawyer but decided to look into the FDRP on your own. You may have found information on this website, contacted a local program directly or asked your attorney to provide you with information about the FDRP. If you believe you have a fee dispute you should read the Fee Dispute Brochure carefully. If you then want to use the FDRP, complete the Client Request for Arbitration form by downloading a packet from the local program’s page (UCS 137-4a) and file it with the local program. Once you file this form, your attorney will be required to participate in the FDRP unless your dispute is one the FDRP is not designed to handle. Situation 3. You and your lawyer have agreed ahead of time to use the FDRP. You and your attorney previously agreed in writing to resolve fee disputes through the FDRP rather than in court. You probably agreed to this option when your attorney first began representing you and after you had the opportunity to read about the FDRP and how it works. If you believe that you have a fee dispute, you may simply file the Client Request for Arbitration form (UCS 137 - 4a) with the local program, together with a copy of the agreement to arbitrate. Filing the request form with the local program will start the process and your attorney will be required to participate.

Alternatively, your attorney can start the process by filing a Request for Arbitration with the appropriate local program. If your attorney starts the process, you will be required to participate under the terms of your agreement.

I filed a request for fee arbitration, what happens now?

A ] The process officially starts once you file the Client Request for Arbitration form with the local program (and pay the administrative fee, if there is one). Upon receiving your Request for Arbitration, the local program administrator will forward it to the attorney, who then has 15 days to complete an Attorney Response form (UCS 137-5a) and return it to the local program, with a copy to you. Unless the fee dispute is rejected by the local program for jurisdictional reasons, you will then be given 15 days advance notice of the time and place of the arbitration hearing and the identity of the arbitrator(s). Prior to the arbitration hearing someone from the local program may contact you in an effort to settle the dispute. In addition, some local programs may offer mediation services and you may be asked whether you wish to participate in mediation. Mediation is voluntary for both sides. If one side does not wish to mediate, or the attempt at mediation proves unsuccessful, the next step in the process is the arbitration hearing.

To find your local program, select the Judicial District where the majority of the legal services were performed in your case.

First Judicial District (New York County)

Second Judicial District

(Kings County)

Third Judicial District

(Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Schoharie, Sullivan and Ulster Counties)

Fourth Judicial District

(Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Montgomery, Saratoga, Schenectady, St. Lawrence, Warren and Washington Counties)

Fifth Judicial District

(Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, Onondaga and Oswego Counties)

Sixth Judicial District

(Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Madison, Otsego, Schuyler, Tompkins and Tioga Counties)

Seventh Judicial District

(Cayuga, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne and Yates Counties)

Eighth Judicial District

(Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming Counties)

Ninth Judicial District

(Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester Counties)

Tenth Judicial District

(Nassau & Suffolk Counties)

11th Judicial District

(Queens County)

12th Judicial District

(Bronx County)

13th Judicial District

(Richmond County)

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