If you have a fee dispute with your lawyer, you may wish to participate in the State Bar's Fee Dispute Resolution Program, which is available to clients who dispute their legal fees. There is no fee to participate in this program. To participate in the program, you must submit your request for resolution of disputed fee within three years after the last time that your lawyer represented you. The program cannot accept a request for resolution of a disputed fee after the lawyer has filed a lawsuit to collect the legal fee. Additionally, the program does not have the authority to waive legal fees. You may obtain the fee dispute resolution petition here or by calling (919) 828-4620 and requesting the Attorney-Client Assistance Department.
Once you have filed your request, a copy of your petition and any accompanying materials will be sent to your lawyer for a response. Not all fee disputes are suitable for facilitation; that determination will be made after a review of all the materials submitted by the parties involved.
Following are some typical questions and answers regarding the Fee Dispute Resolution program.
Q: When is a lawyer required to participate in the State Bar's fee dispute resolution program?
The Revised Rules of Professional Conduct requires a lawyer with a dispute with a client over a legal fee to notify the client of the North Carolina State Bar's program of fee dispute resolution at least 30 days prior to initiating a legal proceeding to collect the disputed fee.
Q: When is a legal fee in "dispute?"
A fee is in dispute if the client questions or objects to the amount billed. Also, if a client fails to pay the bill, it is assumed that the fee is disputed unless the client affirms the obligation in writing or verbally. If a client pays by a check that is subsequently returned for insufficient funds, it is assumed that the client has affirmed the obligation and the lawyer is not required to notify the client of the fee dispute resolution program.
Q: What are the notification requirements to a client relative to the fee dispute resolution program prior to initiating suit to collect a legal fee?
The client must be notified of the right to participate in the fee dispute resolution program at least 30 days before filing suit against the client to collect the fee.
Q: May a lawyer notify a client of the fee dispute resolution program even though she does not intend to sue the client to collect the fee?
Yes. Although a lawyer does not ultimately intend to sue a client to collect a fee if the client fails to pay, a lawyer may nevertheless seek the client's participation in the fee dispute resolution program in an effort to collect the fee or some portion thereof.