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Fee arbitration offers cheaper, faster alternative to litigation

After a new round of appointments last month, the State Bar’s Fee Arbitration Panel now numbers 433 volunteers, the largest fee arbitration panel in State Bar history and nearly double the number from four years ago. The fast-growing program provides clients and attorneys with a quicker and cheaper alternative to litigation when a dispute arises over an attorney’s fees and costs. Through the confidential process, parties can avoid the expense of hiring counsel, reduce the possibility of malpractice counter-claims and have an opportunity to resolve disputes before trained fee arbitrators.

Although most fee arbitrations are conducted through local bar associations, the State Bar steps in when there is no local program (in about 20 counties), the program lacks jurisdiction or a party asserts that a fair hearing cannot be obtained locally. 

In order to cover fee arbitrations throughout the state, the State Bar actively recruits volunteers from all counties.

 “We need to maintain a healthy inventory of fee arbitrators available to cover all 58 counties,” said Program Director Jill Sperber. Free training programs sponsored by the State Bar are designed to encourage volunteer lawyers to give back to the profession and the local community. “Fee arbitrators report back that it is a good time-manageable way to volunteer that gives people immediate results, unlike protracted litigation,” Sperber said. “As the sole arbitrator, you can hold the hearing and write the award in the convenience of your own office.” Training by the State Bar also ensures that the educational content is consistent throughout the state.

“Our statewide experience demonstrates that the outcome of fee arbitrations is fairly evenly split, with roughly half favoring attorneys and half favoring clients,” said Palm Desert lawyer Arne Werchick, the State Bar’s Presiding Arbitrator. “It’s a neutral program that gives everyone a fair shake.”

The program is overseen by the State Bar Mandatory Fee Arbitration Committee, chaired by Oxnard attorney Joel Mark, an arbitrator for more than 20 years. The assistant presiding arbitrators are Daniel Reith of Monterey and former committee chair Michael J. Fish of Novato. For a complete list of volunteer arbitrators, visit

Attorneys interested in becoming a fee arbitrator may call 415-538-2020 for further information.

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