Fee Dispute Mediation
NALFA’s Attorney Fee Dispute Mediation Program
Attorney fee disputes are the result of a breakdown in the attorney-client relationship. This breakdown may be a misunderstanding in the fee agreement or confusion over the law firm billing records. Whatever the cause, mediation is the quickest, simplest, and most cost-effective way to resolve these attorney fee disputes. NALFA offers a private mediation service specifically designed to resolve attorney fee disputes of all types and sizes.
Types of Fee Disputes
NALFA has identified 4 types of fee disputes that qualify for our mediation program:
- Attorney-Client Fee Dispute: Dispute between an attorney and a client over the fees/costs in an underlying matter.
- Opposing Party Fee Dispute: Dispute between a prevailing party and a non-prevailing party over the reasonableness of fees/costs in a fee award.
- Attorney Fee Allocation Dispute: Dispute among attorneys over their share of fees/costs.
- Attorney Fee Entitlement Dispute: Dispute among attorneys over entitlement to fees/costs.
Our fee dispute mediators are uniquely qualified to resolve fee disputes between parties in a cost effective and confidential manner. Our fee dispute mediators are trained neutrals who understand the underlying issues in fee and billing dispute matters. Our fee dispute mediators include former judges, seasoned litigators, and in-house counsel.
Our fee dispute mediators are highly knowledgeable on reasonable attorney fees and proper legal billing practices. They understand the array of issues in fee dispute cases such as fee agreements, hourly rates, tasked performed, fee entitlement, attorney fee ethics, and fee award factors. Our mediators can often provide each side with an unbiased assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of their case. They can also discuss with the parties what might happen if the fee dispute does not settle.
Since our program began in 2012, NALFA’s Fee Dispute Mediation Program has achieved a 86% success rate—parties who mediate in a session are resolved six out of every seven times. This rate is significantly higher than most bar-administered fee dispute programs.
NALFA is dedicated to providing parties a mediation process that offers flexibility, a level playing field, and time and cost savings. Parties control when and where the mediation will occur, who will serve as the mediator, and whether they will accept a settlement offer. Unlike most bar-administered programs, NALFA stays with the case as long as necessary to bring it to a resolution.
NALFA uses a customized approach for each fee dispute case. NALFA provides administrative support throughout the process and monitors the quality of the mediation experience. A typical mediation processes through the following stages:
Request for Mediation:
This is the first step of the mediation process. When one party expresses an interest in mediation, NALFA will contact the other parties to determine their interest. The parties may submit all or some of the issues in dispute to mediation. NALFA will explain the mediation process, answer any questions and help facilitate the parties’ agreement to mediate.
After conferring with the parties, NALFA will send a list of proposed fee dispute mediators from its database of contacts. NALFA will include a follow-up report that contains mediation-specific materials including the mediator’s rate (hourly or flat fee), any travel or cancellation policies, educational and employment experience, type of cases mediated, the number of cases mediated and how many settled, all of which help the parties select the mediator who best meets their needs.
Mediations can take place in person, telephonically, or by video conference; however, all parties and the mediator must agree with the arrangements. Mediations usually take one day, and are scheduled for a time and location mutually agreeable to the parties. During the mediation, all parties may be represented by an attorney or represent themselves.
Before the mediation begins, the mediator will request information related to the case. The mediator may ask for a summary or history of the dispute, pleadings (if available), billing records or other documents.
At the mediation, the mediator may begin with a joint session, which is a meeting where all parties are in attendance. During this meeting, the mediator may use this time to explain how the mediation process will proceed, remind parties of their duty of confidentially in the mediation process, and ask the parties to present the issues in dispute to the mediator and the opposing side.
As the mediation process continues, the mediator may use separate caucuses, which are private meetings with one party at a time. The mediator and the party will candidly discuss settlement expectations, and the mediator can help parties see the strengths and weaknesses of the case. Through a series of separate caucuses, the mediator will facilitate the exchange of settlement offers, and help the parties reach common ground.
The majority of NALFA fee dispute mediations conclude with a settlement between the parties. While mediation is non-binding, once parties sign a settlement agreement, the agreement is final and enforceable.
When the parties reach an agreement, they are responsible for recording the settlement in writing. The mediator will help parties document the terms of the settlement, even if it is handwritten, and have the parties execute the agreement. The agreement may be finalized formally at a later date.
Since mediation is non-binding, there are times when the parties decide not to settle. Or they resolve only part of the case in mediation by narrowing some of the issues. In those instances, claimants maintain their right to file a suit in court or arbitration.
Regardless of whether the parties agree to settle, feedback from users of NALFA’s Fee Dispute Mediation Program indicates that their mediation experience has prepared them to pursue or continue their claim because they have a better understanding of their case.
NALFA charges a one-time, non-refundable Administrative Fee to begin the mediator selection process. NALFA’s Administrative Fee is $3,600 per case. Parties can split this Administrative Fee.
The Mediator’s Fee is a charge for the mediator’s services. Mediators set their own rates, which can be an hourly fee or a flat fee.
Sometimes parties will select a mediator who needs to travel to a distant location. In that instance, the travel costs are the parties’ responsibility. When a mediator cannot provide conference space, and NALFA space is not available, parties may need to pay for conference space. In those instances, NALFA staff will help parties find a location.
All fees are apportioned equally, unless the parties agree to a different arrangement.