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  • ATTORNEY FEE ARBITRATION MAY WORK FOR YOU

    ATTORNEY FEE ARBITRATION MAY WORK FOR YOU

    This week’s question:

    I have a current disagreement with my former attorney about some of his charges. Outrageous is an understatement. We got along fine during my case but when I got his bill, I was floored. What can I do about this?
    /s/Allan A.
    Almaden Valley

    Dear Allen:
    Sorry to hear about your fee dispute with your former attorney, Allan, but with a little luck and hard work maybe the two of you can work it out.
    The last thing you want to do right away is to think about some kind law suit—by either one of you against the other. All too often that just makes matters worse and each of you has better things to do.
    The first thing I would try would be to just talk it over, plain and simple. Give him a telephone call or send him an email to point out the various problems and offer to talk it over. Try to keep the tone pleasant, civil, and business-like. Shouting matches and name-calling seldom result in a settlement.
    If talking it over works, fine. If it does not, you as a client are entitled to go to attorney fee arbitration. This is mandatory for the attorney but optional for you, the client. It seems to me that you would have nothing to lose by going through the fee arbitration process.
    Fee arbitration is not binding unless both of you agree to make it binding. It usually is non-binding, so that the non-prevailing party on either side reserves all rights to proceed with a law suit in court after the fee arbitration.
    As a client, you have the right under §§6200-6206 of the California Business and Professions Code to request arbitration of the subject fees or costs by an independent, impartial arbitrator or panel of arbitrators through a bar association program created solely to resolve fee disputes between lawyers and clients.
    If this dispute arose in Santa Clara County, there is a fee arbitration program administered by the Santa Clara County Bar Association. If the dispute arose in another county, you can see if there is an approved fee arbitration program in that county by heading for the State Bar of California web site and checking it out there.
    Chances are that your non-binding fee arbitration will be heard by an experienced attorney in his or her office at a mutually agreeable time. Please do not be afraid that the arbitrator will be biased against you because you are a non-attorney. He or she will be as fair as possible for both sides.
    It is possible for you to lose your right to have a fee arbitration.
    You will lose your right to fee arbitration if you do not request fee arbitration within 30 days from receipt of Notice of Client’s Right to Fee Arbitration that the attorney is required to send to you. This is a state-mandated form. You need to file your response on a form the bar association sends to you after you contact them for such a form.
    You will also lose your right to fee arbitration if you file an answer to a complaint that the attorney has filed against you in court.
    Another way you can lose your right to fee arbitration is if you file a law suit or a pleading in any law suit which seeks a court decision on the dispute or which seeks damages for any alleged legal malpractice or professional misconduct.
    A non-client of the attorney may also proceed with fee arbitration if that person is liable for or entitled to a refund of attorney’s fees or costs.
    Almaden Times readers can learn more about fee arbitration by going online with their favorite search engine and by entering California Business and Professions Code Section 6200-6206.
    So, Allan, those are a few words as to how you might be able to work out your misunderstanding with your former attorney. I’m sure it is safe to say that each of you would like to have this settled and put behind you. Best wishes in that effort—and it is indeed effort.
    /s/Donald J. DeVries
    Almaden Valley

    You can reach Mr. DeVries with your questions by email at don@almadenvalleylawyers.com, with “Almaden Times” in the subject line, fax at (408)268-6502, telephone at (408)268-9500, or mail at DeVries Law Office at 6475 Camden Avenue, Suite 200, San Jose, CA 95120. Your name will not be used. No attorney-client relationship is created by these articles.

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