The Fee Dispute Resolution Program

What is This Public Service Program About?

This program is offered as a public service by The Missouri Bar. The program is designed to assist clients who question the amount or reasonableness of a fee charged by their lawyer for legal services. While only clients may file the complaint petition with the program, lawyers may suggest this program to their clients as an alternative to resolve disputes over fees. Participation in the program is voluntary.

The Missouri Bar program accepts fee dispute resolution cases from throughout the State of Missouri with the exception of the Kansas City area. The Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association sponsors a similar program and should be contacted if the dispute concerns a lawyer that practices in this area.

The amount in dispute must be at least $500.00.  Cases are normally accepted up to two years from the date the legal matter was concluded.  However, the Committee, in its discretion, may accept cases beyond that time frame.

What are the Advantages of the Fee Dispute Program?

  • Informal proceedings - much less formal than court trials or hearings
  • Faster resolution - generally cases are moved to resolution much faster than a court case
  • Confidential proceedings - unlike court cases that may result in a public disclosure

What is the Cost of Using This Program?

There is no charge to either the lawyer or client for using the Fee Dispute Resolution Program unless another lawyer or a court reporter is hired.

What is the Difference Between Mediation and Arbitration?

In a mediation session, the mediator(s) will assist the parties to reach an agreement, but will not make a decision. In a binding arbitration hearing, the arbitrator(s) will hear both parties and their witnesses and will make a decision/award which the parties have agreed to be bound by in advance of the hearing.

Who are the Mediators and Arbitrators?

The mediators and arbitrators are volunteers from throughout the state serving the general public in recognition of this public service program. They are lawyers and other non-lawyer professional persons who have experience or who have completed training in the areas of mediation and arbitration.

What Should I Do First When Involved in a Fee Dispute?

Clients are encouraged to directly discuss the fee dispute with their lawyer. In all fairness, the lawyer is entitled to know of the client's dissatisfaction and be given an opportunity to explain the fee. A very frank discussion often brings a satisfactory solution. However, if this fails, this program is offered as an alternative to a law suit. The program assists to achieve a resolution either through mediation or arbitration following an investigative process.

How Does The Missouri Bar Fee Dispute Resolution Program Work?

Step 1: How to Begin
Contact the Fee Dispute Resolution Program at The Missouri Bar by writing to PO Box 119, Jefferson City, MO 65102 for a complaint petition form or, a copy of the complaint petition form may be downloaded from this web site.

Step 2: Completing and Mailing the Form
Submit the completed complaint petition form to the Fee Dispute Resolution Program at The Missouri Bar.

Step 3: Fee Dispute Resolution Committee Review
Upon receipt of the complaint petition form, the program administrator and the Fee Dispute Resolution Committee chair will review the matter for jurisdiction. If it is determined the program has jurisdiction, the client and other persons bringing the complaint will be notified by mail that their case has been accepted. The lawyer respondent will be notified that a complaint has been filed and a copy of the complaint petition will be sent to the lawyer respondent.

For matters involving a fee dispute of $1,000 or less, a facilitator will be assigned to the case in attempt to informally resolve the matter.  However, if a resolution is not possible the parties may elect to proceed with mediation and/or binding arbitration.

Step 4: Client's Consent to Mediation and/or Binding Arbitration
The client and other person(s) bringing the complaint will be asked to sign a form giving consent to participate in a mediation session and/or binding arbitration hearing with 30 days. If the parties choose both mediation and binding arbitration, they will be asked to specify their first preference. If all parties consent to mediation, one or more mediators will meet jointly with the parties and assist them to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. The mediator(s) will not make a decision. If arbitration is selected, the arbitrator(s) will jointly meet with both parties, hear the facts and make a final decision. It is usually desirable to attempt mediation initially, although, it is the client's choice.

Step 5: Lawyer's Response and Consent to Mediation
At the same time, the lawyer respondent will be asked to file a written response to the complaint within 30 days. Likewise, the lawyer respondent will be asked to give consent to participate in mediation and/or binding arbitration. If the lawyer does not respond, the case will be assigned to a facilitator who will contact the lawyer personally about participating in mediation or binding arbitration. The facilitator may also aid in informally resolving the complaint, if appropriate. If the lawyer refuses to participate in mediation and/or binding arbitration, the client and person's bringing the complaint may choose to go forward with an ex parte (non-binding) arbitration hearing if the committee believes it may be helpful. The arbitration panel will render a decision with or without the lawyer's participation; however, the arbitrator's decision is not binding unless all parties give written to consent to participate in arbitration.

Step 6: Preparing for Mediation
The program administrator will arrange for the mediation in a convenient setting for all parties. Mediations are often held in library meeting rooms, civic center offices, court house meeting rooms, or other such settings. The parties have the right to have a different lawyer represent them at the mediation, but this is not required.

Step 7: The Mediation Session
The mediator(s) will hear both sides of the issue and will assist the parties in reaching a satisfactory conclusion. The agreement will be reduced to writing and the parties will sign the document. If the lawyer and client cannot settle the dispute, the parties may request a binding arbitration hearing, but both must give written consent in order to go forward with binding arbitration.

Step 8: Preparing for a Binding Arbitration Hearing
Typically, one arbitrator will be appointed for disputes in amounts of $10,000 or less. For disputes over $10,000, a panel of three arbitrators will be appointed. At least one member of the arbitration panel will be a lawyer and one member a non-lawyer volunteer; the third member may either be a lawyer or non-lawyer. For good reason, either party may request that one arbitrator be replaced by giving proper notice. Both sides may hire another lawyer to represent them at the hearing at their expense, although this is not required.

Step 9: The Binding Arbitration Hearing
If either party fails to appear at the hearing after both have signed the arbitration agreement form, the arbitrators may proceed and enter a binding decision/award.

At the hearing, all parties shall be given an equal opportunity to be heard, to present evidence and to cross-examine witnesses.

Step 10: The Decision
The arbitrator(s) will provide a written decision or award within 30 days after the close of the hearing. The parties will be bound by the arbitrators' decision whether or not it is in their favor.

Step 11: Enforcement of Awards
After an award is made, if the party against whom the award is assessed fails to pay the amount voluntarily, the other party may seek enforcement by filing the signed agreement consenting to binding arbitration and the arbitration award with the local circuit court.

Who Do I Contact for More Information?

Fee Dispute Resolution
The Missouri Bar
PO Box 119
Jefferson City, MO 65102
Telephone: (573) 635-4128
Email: lboling@mobar.org  

Kansas City:
Fee Dispute Resolution
Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association
1125 Grand Ave.
Suite 400
Kansas City, MO 64106
Telephone: (816) 474-4322