Attorney Fee Disputes
On this page you will find information about:
Fee arbitration is a process you can use to resolve a dispute over fees with your attorney. An impartial panel hears the dispute and makes a final and binding decision based on the facts and evidence presented by you and the attorney.
You may arbitrate a fee dispute with your attorney if:
- The attorney is licensed to practice in Alaska: or
- The services involved a legal matter conducted in Alaska
You must try to resolve the dispute over fees with your attorney on your own before starting arbitration. You cannot use the fee arbitration process if the fee was set by a court decision, by a statute, or by court rule.
Request Fee Arbitration
Mediation is a confidential and informal way to resolve a dispute with the help of a neutral third person assigned by the Bar Association (mediator). The mediator works with both parties to help them reach a mutually agreeable solution to their differences.
Mediation proceedings are confidential and informal. The mediator can’t issue subpoenas or swear witnesses. The mediator can’t force the parties to resolve their differences. But the mediator can help the parties reach a solution agreeable to both of them.
If the parties work out all or some of their differences, the resolution - or agreement - is put in writing and signed by both the parties. Under Alaska Bar Rule 13(e), the agreement is considered a contract and is legally enforceable in court.
Matters that are not resolved are referred back to bar counsel. The dispute will then proceed through the Fee Arbitration Process.
If you are interested in mediation, complete the Request for Mediation.
NOTE: You must file the Fee Arbitration Form along with the form for mediation
How do I ask for fee arbitration?
Complete the Petition for Arbitration of Fee Dispute. Some of the questions you will be asked are:
- When did you hire the attorney? (if it has been more than 3 years ago you will need to explain why you waited longer than 3 years to file the petition)
- What did you hire the attorney to do?
- How much do you think you were overcharged?
- Why do you believe the fee was excessive
You must state the efforts you have made to settle the dispute with your attorney.
If you are filling out the petition electronically you will need to print out the completed form to sign and send the original to:
Alaska Bar Association
PO Box 100279
Anchorage, AK 99510-0279
IMPORTANT: we cannot accept forms filed electronically or by fax. We cannot accept a Xeroxed copy of your completed petition. We can only accept your petition with an original signature and the date you signed it.
Instructions for submitting a Petition for Arbitration of Fee Dispute
- Complete the Petition for Arbitration of Fee Dispute. Remember you must send in the form with your original signature and the date you signed it.
- It is important that you answer all the questions on the petition. Not answering all of the questions may be grounds for denying your petition. If you are uncertain how to answer a question please contact the Alaska Bar Association at 907-272-7469 or email us at email@example.com.
- If there are papers or documents which would help explain your fee dispute with your attorney, attach copies.
- Attachments to the petition should be arranged in a neat and orderly fashion. Please do not use staples or tabs.
- Keep a copy of everything you submit to the Alaska Bar Association.
If you have questions concerning the fee arbitration form or process in Alaska, please contact the Alaska Bar Association at 907-272-7469 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Fee Arbitration Process
Initiating the Process. The process is started when you file your petition with our office. We review it to make sure that you have filled it out correctly. A copy of your petition and any attachments you provide are sent to the attorney by certified mail. The attorney is given a 10-day grace period to work out the fee dispute directly with you—which they may or may not do.
Assignment of Arbitration to Hearing Panel
A single member of the fee arbitration committee will hear the matter if the amount in dispute is $5,000 or less. Otherwise, a panel of three members, one of whom is not an attorney, is selected from a local standing committee in the community where the legal services were provided. There are local standing committees in Anchorage/Kenai, Fairbanks, Juneau, and Ketchikan. Special arrangements are made for disputes in communities outside these areas.
You and the attorney will be given twenty (20) days advance notice of the hearing. The arbitrator or chairperson conducts the hearing and decides what testimony and documents may be used as evidence. Relevant and reliable evidence will be admitted. If you or the attorney fails to appear at the hearing, the hearing may proceed in that person's absence. Special procedures may be used by you or the attorney to: submit a written statement in addition to, or instead of, testimony at the hearing; submit witness affidavits instead of a witness presenting testimony in person; and participate by conference call. The cost of the call generally is paid by the party requesting it.
The hearing panel will make its decision within thirty (30) days after the close of the hearing. The decision must be agreed to by a majority of the hearing panel members. The panel may decide that the attorney should refund fees already collected; that the attorney should collect only part of the fees; or that the fees are reasonable.
FAQ’s about Fee Arbitration
My attorney sued me in court, what do I do?
- If my attorney has sued me in court, how long do I have to file for arbitration with the Alaska Bar Association?
If your attorney’s fees are the subject of a court case, you can request the court case be put on "hold." This is called a "stay" of the proceedings. You must file a petition for fee arbitration with the Bar Association within twenty (20) days of receiving a "Notice of Client’s Right to Arbitrate" and the civil complaint from your attorney. Next, you will need to file your request for stay of court proceedings form with the court. You can get a sample stay from the Bar Association.
- What is complex arbitration?
The fee arbitration executive committee may determine a case as complex based on any of the following:
A. complex legal or factual issues presented
B. the hearing may last at least 8 hours, or
C. the amount in dispute exceeds $50,000.
One or both parties may be required to pay for reasonable costs of a complex arbitration. This would include an hourly fee for each arbitrator. The parties will be given the estimated costs before the hearing.
- Is fee arbitration confidential?
Fee arbitration proceedings are confidential. Generally, hearings and records for the arbitration are only open to the parties to the dispute and not to the public.
- Is fee arbitration binding?
You and the attorney are bound by the decision of the fee arbitration panel, unless the decision is set aside by the superior court on appeal, as discussed below. You or the attorney may apply to the court for an order "confirming" the arbitration decision. A decision confirmed by the court may be enforced in the same manner as a court judgment.
- How long does the fee arbitration process take?
Generally 4 to 6 months. However, there are other matters which could prolong the process such as a complex arbitration, schedule conflicts, etc. There is not one answer for all matters.
- Can I appeal the decision?
A fee arbitration decision may be appealed by you or the attorney to the superior court within the time period and under the limited grounds set out in Alaska Statutes 09.43.120-180. Procedures for appeal are set out in the Rules of Appellate Procedure 601-612.
- Can I get assistance in filing?
The Bar Association staff is available to provide you with information and assistance in the processing and handling of your fee dispute.
- Do I have to go to mediation?
No. Mediation can be requested by either party but must be agreed to by both parties in order to proceed. If mediation fails the fee dispute goes back to fee arbitration. If you wish to try resolving your fee dispute through mediation fill out the Request for Mediation form. We cannot accept a request for mediation without a completed Petition for Fee Arbitration.
- Where can I find a copy of the Alaska Bar Rules concerning Fee Disputes?
- Where can I find a copy of the Alaska Bar Rules concerning Ethical Conduct?
- Where can I find a copy of the adopted Ethics Opinion regarding misleading to characterize a fee or retainer as "non-refundable"?