State Bar of Georgia
State Bar of Georgia
State Bar of Georgia Interior Page Banner

FAQ/Fee Arbitration    [+] Show All Answers

  1. What is Fee Arbitration?

    The State Bar of Georgia, on behalf of the Supreme Court of Georgia, administers the Fee Arbitration Program as a service to both the public and Georgia attorneys. The actual arbitration is a hearing conducted by one or more persons not involved in the dispute. In most cases, two experienced attorneys and one non-attorney public member serve as the arbitrators. Like judges, they review the evidence and hear the arguments on both sides and decide the outcome of the dispute. Arbitration is impartial and usually less expensive than going to court. The purpose of the Program is to provide a convenient mechanism for the resolution of disputes between attorneys and clients over fees. The Fee Arbitration Program also arbitrates certain fee disputes between attorneys and law firms.

  2. How are legal fees determined?

    The value of the professional services of the attorney are not easily measured since legal matters differ widely and no two factual situations are exactly alike. Therefore, in most instances, the fee will depend upon the factors involved in the specific case at hand and cannot be determined by any pre-established general fee schedule. The elements most often considered include:

    • the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the question involved, and the skill needed to perform the legal service properly;
    • the likelihood that the acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment by the attorney;
    • the fee customarily charged in the locality by attorneys with comparable experience for similar legal services;
    • the amount involved and the results obtained;
    • the time limitations requested by the client or by the circumstances;
    • the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client;
    • the experience, reputation and ability of the attorney or attorneys, performing the services;
    • whether the fee is fixed or contingent.

  3. How are the awards collected?

    In most cases, the losing party satisfies the award within 90 days. If this does not occur, the award may be filed with the Superior Court of the county of the losing party and it becomes the equivalent of a judgment of that court. It may be enforced by the parties just as any other Superior Court judgment. The State Bar of Georgia may be able to assist in the collection process, but its participation in the arbitration process normally ends with the filing of the award.

  4. How can I get more information about Fee Arbitration?

    Contact a member of the Fee Arbitration Program, or call the State Bar of Georgia at 404-527-8750, or 1-800-334-6865 extension 8750.

  5. How do I request Fee Arbitration?

    You complete a form known as a petition. This may be obtained by writing or calling the State Bar of Georgia's Fee Arbitration Program.

  6. How long does arbitration take?

    Many cases settle before an arbitration hearing takes place. Some do so within a few weeks, while others take much longer. If the arbitration process goes to conclusion without settlement, a case takes an average of 11 months to complete. Of course, some cases take less than this while more difficult ones may take longer.

  7. How much will I pay for Fee Arbitration?

    Nothing in client/attorney disputes. The Fee Arbitration Program is a free public service of the State Bar of Georgia offered to attorneys and their former clients; however, if appeals, subsequent litigation or collection actions are required after an arbitration is concluded and an award is issued, the parties bear their own expense for such additional litigation.

    Attorneys who file a joint petition for Fee Arbitration for Attorneys or Law Firms are offered up to eight hours of arbitration free for the specific dispute. A modest hourly fee, divided equally between the attorney/law firm parties, is assessed after eight hours of arbitration.

  8. Is the Fee Arbitration award binding?

    Yes, both parties must agree to be bound. We cannot proceed with arbitration if one party does not agree to be bound.

  9. What if my complaint is for faulty legal advice (malpractice) or negligence, an unsuccessful trial strategy or ineffective assistance of counsel (tactics), or unethical conduct?

    • The State Bar has no program to handle cases or complaints for faulty legal advice (malpractice) or negligence, an unsuccessful trial strategy or ineffective assistance of counsel (tactics). You may wish to get legal advice about other possible remedies.
    • Complaints alleging the unethical conduct of attorneys may be addressed with the Client Assistance Program (CAP) of the Office of the General Counsel of the State Bar of Georgia. Please call CAP at 404-527-8759 or write them at the State Bar of Georgia’s headquarters address in Atlanta for more information.
    • The Fee Arbitration Program is designed to handle disputes that are primarily fee oriented. If your case is really founded on faulty legal advice (malpractice) or negligence, an unsuccessful trial strategy or ineffective assistance of counsel (tactics), or unethical conduct, the Committee has the discretion to terminate or suspend any fee arbitration, and except in unusual cases, that is what will occur.

  10. What can clients do to avoid fee disputes in the future?

    Always ask your attorney for a written fee agreement. Although written fee agreements are not required for most fee types, having a written fee agreement helps clarify what the attorney will charge. Ask the attorney questions if you do not understand the agreement. This is critical because a clear initial agreement tends to prevent subsequent disputes. If you were renting a house, you would likely ask if the costs of electricity, water and garbage pickup were included in the rental price. You should ask questions about the agreement and which services the attorney will provide under it. Arbitrators, in most cases, cannot render an award that is contrary to the terms of an executed written fee contract.

    Ask your attorney specific questions. For example, will you be charged each time you call or email the attorney? Does the fee include providing updates to you on a regular basis? What does "regular basis" mean to the attorney? Will the fee increase if the case takes longer than either of you expect? Even though itemized bills are not required, ask the attorney for an itemized bill if the attorney charges by the hour so that you will know how much the case is costing as it progresses.

    Some attorneys will take your case on a "contingency" basis when you pursue a case against someone for money. This means you will not be charged attorney’s fees if you lose the case. If you win, you pay the attorney a percentage of the settlement or judgment. Before you agree to a contingency fee, make sure you understand how it will work in your case. What will the attorney's percentage be? Will it be taken from the total amount awarded or after expenses are subtracted? Ask the attorney to explain the difference between the attorney’s fee and the expenses related to your case. Will the attorney’s fee increase if the case is filed in court? Will the fee be more if you lose in the trial court, but appeal the decision to a higher court and win?

    Most attorneys charge retainers. Get a clear understanding as to whether the retainer is refundable or nonrefundable in the event the case or your attorney/client relationship concludes prior to its expected time.

  11. What is expected of you at the arbitration hearing?

    Arbitration hearings are informal. You may be required to swear to tell the truth, but that is the only part of the arbitration that resembles a court trial. Either party may elect to be represented by an attorney, but representation by an attorney is not required at the hearing. The Fee Arbitration Program was designed so that the clients can present their side of the dispute without incurring the expense of employing a second attorney to reduce the fee requested by the first attorney. However, hiring an attorney for the fee arbitration process is your decision. If you feel that the amount in issue or other reasons warrant you having your own attorney present, you may be represented by the attorney of your choice. If you do elect to have an attorney present, the fee for the attorney is your responsibility.

  12. What should the client do if his or her lawyer's bill seems too high?

    The petitioner is required to make a good faith effort to resolve the dispute prior to filing a petition for fee arbitration. Review your written fee agreement and itemized bills, if applicable. If you had no agreement whatsoever, the law provides that the attorney is entitled to a reasonable fee taking into consideration all factors including those previously listed. If the bill still appears to be higher than your agreement, or seems unreasonable, speak with your attorney about the fees in question. Frequently, disputes can be prevented by you and your attorney discussing your concerns. Ask your attorney to explain why the bill is higher than you expected. You may find out the case was more complicated and took more time than you realized. On the other hand, the attorney may agree that there is a billing mistake. If, after discussing the situation with your attorney, you have not come to a satisfactory solution, you may wish to file a fee arbitration petition.

  13. Who are the arbitrators?

    There are normally three arbitrators. Two of the arbitrators are attorneys who must have a minimum of five years' experience practicing law. The third arbitrator is a non-lawyer public member. In cases in which the disputed amount is $2,500 or less, one lawyer arbitrator may decide the case. All arbitrators serve voluntarily and without payment. These arbitrators decide your case, not the State Bar of Georgia. The role of the State Bar is to facilitate the fee arbitration process by coordination and administration of the program.

  14. What cases may be arbitrated?

    In general, all disputes between clients and their attorneys over fees may be arbitrated. There are a few exceptions as follows:

    • Cases involving fees charged by an attorney who is, or was, not licensed to practice law in the state of Georgia at the time the services were performed.
    • Cases involving services performed outside of Georgia or from an office located outside of Georgia.
    • Cases in which there was no express or implied attorney/client relationship between the parties at the time the legal services in question were performed.
    • Cases in which the disputed fee is $1,000 or less.
    • Cases in which fees are governed by law or statute.
    • Cases in which the full amount or all terms have already been fixed or approved by order of a court.
    • Cases filed more than two years after the date on which the controversy first arose.
    • Cases in which the petition fails to include the following information:
    1. date;
    2. signature of petitioner;
    3. the identities of both the client and the attorney and the contact information for both;
    4. a statement of the nature of the dispute and the particulars of the petitioner's position, including relevant dates;
    5. a statement indicating the petitioner has made a good faith effort to resolve the dispute and the details of that effort;
    6. the agreement of the petitioner to be bound by the result of the arbitration.
    • Cases in which the petitioner's claim does not appear to have merit.

    If your case is determined to be covered by one or more of the foregoing exceptions, you will be notified that jurisdiction is declined. While this means that no arbitration hearing will be conducted, it does not affect other rights that you may have under Georgia or federal law.