Forms and Documents for Fee Arbitration
For forms and documents related to the Fee Arbitration Board click
The Massachusetts Bar Association Legal Fee Arbitration Board
(FAB) is organized primarily to help resolve legal fee disputes
between attorneys and between attorneys and their clients. FAB
provides an alternative to the use of the Small Claims, District,
or Superior Courts. The arbitration hearing has only one purpose:
to decide what is the fair and reasonable value of the
attorney's legal services. The arbitrators will
not make rulings about the behavior or ethics of
FAB also serves as a resource for both attorneys and clients by
providing a staff person to answer questions regarding legal fees,
by publishing model fee agreements and by presenting programs that
promote healthy communications between attorneys and clients with
regard to their professional association.
The following headings will help you learn about FAB
What is binding fee
Who are the
arbitrators and what do they do?
What materials should be
supplied to the Legal Fee Arbitration Board?
When will I be notified
of the hearing?
What will happen at the hearing?
Should I be represented
by an attorney at the hearing?
What if I win at the
What if I disagree with
the arbitrator's decision?
What is binding fee arbitration?
In order to begin the arbitration procedure, either party to a
legal fee dispute may file a "Petition for Arbitration." The
Agreement to Arbitrate only addresses the issue of what is a fair
and reasonable fee. Once received, the Board will seek the
agreement of the other party to participate. The Board does not
have the authority to compel anyone, attorney or client, to submit
to the jurisdiction of the Board, nor are the arbitrators empowered
to make any rulings on the behavior or ethics of the attorney.
Once these forms have been filed with the Legal Fee Arbitration
Board, including full payment of the appropriate filing fee, the
petitioner and the respondent are legally required to arbitrate the
dispute and to accept the decision of the arbitrators. At this
point, neither party may withdraw from the arbitration process
unless the other party agrees. If there is no agreement to
withdraw, the party refusing to arbitrate may be compelled by a
court to participate in the arbitration.
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What if I disagree with the arbitrator's decision?
Who are the
arbitrators and what do they do?
Arbitrators are either volunteer attorneys who are members of the
Massachusetts Bar Association or trained non-attorney neutral
volunteers. At the hearing, a single arbitrator
will render a decision in all matters involving
$10,000 or less. A
three-member panel will hear all matters involving
more than $10,000. All fee
arbitration appointments will include at least one
attorney-arbitrator, designated as the Chief Arbitrator, who is
experienced in the area of law from which the dispute arose.
The Board fosters open and full discussions at all hearings. The
arbitrators will hear testimony and take evidence, including the
actual fee charged by the attorney, and the client's opinion of
what is a fair fee. However, the final decision may not agree with
either party's figure. The arbitrators have the right to award a
fee which is either higher, the same as, or lower than the
attorney's actual bill. It is important to note that the only issue
that will be considered by the arbitrators at the hearing is the
fair and reasonable value of the lawyer's services. The arbitrators
will not make rulings about the behavior or ethics of any attorney.
The decisions of the arbitrators are delivered to the parties
within ten business days after the hearing. All FAB awards are
final and binding.
What materials should
be supplied to the Legal Fee Arbitration Board?
It is important that the arbitrators learn as much as possible
about the fee dispute and the matter that the lawyer was handling.
Therefore, in addition to the information supplied on the printed
filing forms, each party is urged to provide the board with as many
of the following documents as possible:
All written evidence must be submitted to the Legal Fee
Arbitration Board no later than ten days prior to the hearing.
When will I be notified of the
You will be given ample notice of the time and location of the
hearing and the names of the arbitrators who will be on the
arbitration panel. Once you have been notified of a hearing date,
the arbitrators will hear the case on that date. You may choose not
to be present at a hearing. If you choose not to attend you should
fill out and return to the Legal Fee Arbitration Board the form
entitled Waiver of Appearance. This form will be sent to
you upon request.
If you want to be present at the hearing, and later learn that
you cannot be there on the scheduled date, you must call or write
to the Legal Fee Arbitration Board to request a postponement as
soon as possible. If the request is granted (or party agreed), a
new date may be arranged without delay.
Note: Unless you have notified the board within a
reasonable period of time, the arbitrators may conduct the hearing
happen at the hearing?
The client and the attorney will meet the arbitrators and
will be sworn in at the opening of the hearing. The hearing is held
in a conference room of the Boston or Springfield Massachusetts Bar
Association. The client and the attorney will sit at separate
tables accompanied by any witnesses in attendance. Generally, the
petitioner will have the first opportunity to tell his or her side
of the dispute. The respondent will then be allowed to ask
questions. Next, the respondent will have the opportunity to
present his or her side of the dispute, and the petitioner will be
allowed to ask questions.
Note: The arbitrators will only listen to evidence
that is directly related to the fee dispute.
The arbitrators may ask questions at any time during the
hearing. You should try your best to completely answer any question
asked by the arbitrators. They will be better able to reach a fair
decision if they have all of the details and pertinent facts
relating to the fee dispute. You should not interrupt the opposing
party or an arbitrator while he or she is speaking. You will have a
chance to respond to statements made by the other party, and you
will also have an opportunity at the end of the hearing to
summarize the basis for your position.
Should I be
represented by an attorney at the hearing?
The arbitration hearing is a formal proceeding, just as a
court hearing would be. Although the rules of evidence followed in
a courtroom are not followed at the arbitration hearing, the chief
arbitrator has the right to decide which evidence and testimony may
be presented at the hearing. Therefore, while you do not have to be
represented by an attorney at the hearing, you are strongly urged
to have an attorney present at the hearing if you have any doubts
about your own ability to represent yourself. If you choose to
represent yourself at the hearing, it may be advisable for you to
consult an attorney earlier in the arbitration process if you have
any doubts about your own ability to represent yourself at any
point in the proceedings.
What if I win at the arbitration hearing?
If a party is awarded monies and those monies are not paid within
30 days, the prevailing party may make an application to the
Superior Court for an order to confirm the award of arbitrators.
This will require a filing fee and your appearance in court.
However, because this is a formal court proceeding, it may be
advisable to retain an attorney.
What if I disagree
with the arbitrator's decision?
If you do not agree with the arbitrator's decision and you want to
attempt to have it overturned, you have only 30 days after delivery
of the award to you in which to vacate the award. Within this
30-day period, you must file an application in the Superior Court,
together with a filing fee, asking the court to overturn the
decision of the arbitrators. This is called an Application to
Vacate, and it may only be made for one or more of the
You will need enough proof to convince the Superior Court that
the award of the arbitrators should be overturned and for at least
one of these reasons. This application to the Superior Court is a
formal court proceeding. In most cases, it will be advisable for
you to retain an attorney before filing this application. After you
receive the notice of decision, if you have any doubts about your
rights to appeal the award, you are strongly urged to consult an
If you have any questions about the Massachusetts Bar Association's
Legal Fee Arbitration Board process or if you need further
information, please call (617) 338-0646 or e-mail Fee Arbitration Board.