Fee Arbitration



What is Fee Dispute Arbitration?

Arbitration is a way of resolving fee disputes at an early stage and at low cost. The San Luis Obispo County Bar Association (SLO County Bar) provides a Fee Dispute Arbitration Service to assist clients and their attorneys in resolving disputes concerning fees, costs, or both, charged for professional services by California licensed attorneys. The SLO County Bar only has jurisdiction if at least one of the attorneys involved in the dispute has an office in San Luis Obispo or maintained an office in San Luis Obispo at the time the services were rendered or performed substantial legal services on behalf of the client within the County of San Luis Obispo . The filing of any lawsuit, arbitration, or similar such action within the County of San Luis Obispo is considered performance of substantial legal services within the County. All other disputes are under the jurisdiction of the State Bar Fee Arbitration Program.

The following disputes/claims are not subject to fee dispute arbitration:

  • disputes where the attorney is also admitted to practice in another jurisdiction, or where the attorney is only admitted to practice in another jurisdiction, and he or she maintains no office in the State of California, and no material portion of the services was rendered in the State of California;
  • claims for affirmative relief against the attorney for damages or otherwise based upon alleged malpractice or professional misconduct;
  • disputes where the fees or costs to be paid by the client or on the client's behalf have been determined or are determinable pursuant to statute or court order;
  • disputes where the request for arbitration is made by a person who is not liable for or entitled to a refund of attorney's fees or costs;
  • disputes where the claim has been assigned by the client.

Fee Dispute Arbitration is mandatory for attorneys if requested by a client.


Is there a cost to file?

Filing fees for arbitration are as follows:

  1. Less than five thousand dollars ($5,000.00) in dispute: fifty dollars ($50.00);
  2. Five thousand dollars ($5,000.00) or more, but less than ten thousand dollars ($10,000.00), in dispute: one hundred dollars ($100.00);
  3. Ten thousand dollars ($10,000.00) or more in dispute: one percent (1%) of the disputed fee but in no event will the filing fee exceed $5,000.

Attorney Response Fee

Respondent attorneys shall pay a response fee equal to the filing fee set forth in the schedule above.

Refunds are handled as follows:

If the matter is settled after the request for arbitration has been served on the respondent party by the program but before assignment of an arbitrator, the program shall retain 25 percent of the filing fee paid up to a maximum of $500. After assignment of an arbitrator, if written notice of the settlement is received by the program at least 10 days prior to the date of the scheduled hearing, the program shall retain 50 percent of the filing fee up to a maximum of $750. The remaining fee shall be refunded to the party who paid it. There shall be no refund of filing fees if notice of written settlement is not received within ten days of the scheduled hearing.


What is Fee Dispute Arbitration process?

The Fee Dispute Arbitration Process is outlined in the “San Luis Obispo County Bar Association Mandatory Fee Arbitration Rules” available for review and download at Rules of Procedure[pdf]

Following is a brief summary of the rules:

The client contacts the SLO County Bar Fee Arbitration Program for the forms. The client submits the completed forms back to the SLO County Bar. The attorney is notified of the request to arbitrate and must respond within 20 days.

If the attorney seeks arbitration and there is no written agreement between the parties that fee disputes be submitted to fee arbitration, arbitration shall proceed only if the client consents in writing on the approved form within 20 days of service of the request.

One arbitrator is appointed by the program when the amount in dispute is $25,000 or less and a three arbitrator panel is appointed when the amount in controversy exceeds $25,000. The arbitrators are SLO County Bar volunteers who are experienced in either civil or criminal law, at the option of the client. In the case of a three arbitrator panel, one of the arbitrators is a non-lawyer. The Rules outline the procedure for disqualifying an arbitrator.

Special rules apply when a dispute involves $1,000 or less.

Decisions are made 30 days after the arbitration hearing if one arbitrator hears the matter and 60 days after the hearing if three arbitrators hear the matter.


Can I be represented by an attorney at the arbitration hearing?

Either party may be represented by an attorney at the hearing at their own expense and may waive their personal appearance.


Is the Fee Dispute Arbitration binding?

The arbitration is not binding unless all parties agree in writing that it will be binding. If any party does not agree, they may request a trial after arbitration in a civil court within 30 days after the arbitration award has been mailed. If a trial is not requested within that time period, the award automatically becomes binding 30 days after it is mailed. However, if any party willfully fails to appear at the arbitration hearing, that party is not entitled to a trial after arbitration.


What happens if I win the arbitration?

If the arbitration is non-binding, and one of the parties timely requests a trial after the arbitration, that party can file a civil suit for damages regardless of who prevailed at the arbitration. If the arbitration is binding and the client wins, the client may request State Bar assistance collecting the award. If the arbitration is binding and an attorney is ordered to pay a refund of fees or costs and has not complied with that award, the State Bar shall enforce it by placing the attorney on involuntary inactive status until the refund has been paid and can also assess monetary penalties. If the arbitration is binding and the attorney is awarded fees and/or costs against the client, he or she can enforce the award against the client using Superior Court procedures.


Who is in charge of the San Luis Obispo County Fee Dispute Arbitration Program?

The ADR Section of the SLO County Bar Association appoints a member of the Section as Chair of the program. The Chairperson is responsible for overseeing the Mandatory Fee Arbitration Program, which is administered by the Bar staff.


Where do I get the forms to start the Fee Dispute Arbitration process?

SLO County Bar Association
Fee Dispute Arbitration Program
PO Box 585
San Luis Obispo, CA 93406

Telephone: (805) 541-5930

Via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Or download the Fee Arbitration Request Form[pdf] and mail to the address above with your payment.

Download and read the complete Rules of Procedure[pdf].