The State Bars fee arbitration program,
dormant for more than a year, has a new lease on life and is looking for volunteer
Theres a real incentive to join the program because
people who are interested in arbitration can get eperience and it will definitely transfer
to other areas of the law, says new program director Jill Sperber.
Both clients and attorneys can seek fee arbitration from the State
Bar if there is no local bar program or if there is a conflict of interest.
About 300 arbitrators participate in the bars program, but
there is a dearth of volunteers in sparsely populated counties, particularly rural
northern and central California. Twenty-two counties have no arbitrators, 10 have only
one, and five more counties have only two arbitrators.
Volunteers also are needed to handle fee disputes in criminal cases,
particularly in Los Angeles.
Volunteers will receive training from the bar. They schedule hearings
with the parties and conduct the arbitration; the only issue arbitrators are asked to
resolve is the fee dispute.
The bar currently has about 135 matters awaiting assignment to
arbitrators. Sperber said the program also is again accepting requests to enforce
arbitration awards obtained at either the local or state level.
Parties with a fee dispute generally take the matter to a local bar
program, if there is one. If not, they can seek help from the State Bar.
If the disputes involves more than $10,000, the parties may request a
hearing by a three-member panel.
If the client wins the fee arbitration, the attorney is mandated to
honor the award. Failure to do so can lead to penalties attached to bar dues, or in a
worst case scenario, the loss of a law license.
Prior to the shutdown of the State Bars fee arbitration
program, which resulted from former Gov. Pete Wilsons 1997 veto of the bars
fee bill, it assigned more than 2,500 matters to arbitration.
should call 415/538-2026.