May 2011 • Vol. 31 No. 5 | An E-Publication of the Los Angeles County Bar Association

Spotlight on Attorney-Client Mediation and Arbitration Services

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LACBA's Attorney-Client Mediation and Arbitration Services provides professional services in the areas of fee dispute arbitration, law practice mediation, and attorney-client arbitration.

The Attorney-Client Mediation and Arbitration Services program (ACMAS) offers parties an opportunity to resolve fee disputes as an economical alternative to the court system. Under Business and Professions Code Sections 6200-6206, clients have the right to request mandatory arbitration to dispute fees and costs charged by an attorney for professional services. Trained volunteers administer mediation and arbitration services for the program, which is the largest in the state. The informal process allows parties to take oaths, give testimony, present and cross-examine witnesses, and produce documentation that the parties feel substantiate their position concerning the fees and costs.

In addition to arbitration, parties may agree to submit the fee dispute to mediation. The process is voluntary, so each party must agree in writing before the session proceeds. All mediators meet criteria set by the ACMAS Executive Arbitration Committee and serve pro bono for the first three hours of service. If the parties see progress and desire to continue with mediation after the first three hours, they agree in advance to share the mediator's hourly rate, which is no more than $150 under the fee mediation rules.

Unless the client has agreed in writing to arbitration of all disputes concerning fees, costs, or both, arbitration is voluntary for a client and mandatory for an attorney if commenced by a client.

ACMAS will handle fee disputes requested by attorneys against clients, attorneys, and in certain cases, insurance companies. Arbitrations initiated by attorneys are voluntary, which means that all parties must agree in writing to participate in the arbitration process.

The Law Practice Mediation Program (LPMP) provides lawyers with a confidential forum to resolve a wide range of practice issues privately and expeditiously. Besides handling attorney disputes, other types of disputes may include claims of document or file ownership, malpractice, ethics, and other performance issues. Parties may also submit disputes that fall under the Business and Professions Code Sections 6200-6206 when the parties wish to “opt out” of voluntary mediation conducted through the mandatory fee arbitration program to enter mediation without the necessity of submitting a request for mandatory arbitration.

Samples of cases appropriate for law practice mediation include the following:

• Internal office disputes involving partners, associates, staff attorneys, and support staff (including fee allocation)
• Disputes concerning firm names
• Partnership dissolution, firm break, retirement, firm-to firm-disputes
• Litigation disputes arising from the employment of expert witnesses
• Liability for sanctions, expenses incurred, or other issues

Mediators for the program have experience in resolving business, partnership, and employment matters. Parties interested in participating in the Law Practice Mediation Program pay an administrative fee and an equal share of the mediator’s hourly rate.

Under the Attorney-Client Arbitration Program (ACAP), parties may submit a matter to arbitration after exhaustion of their rights under Business and Professions Code Sections 6200-6206 if they previously agreed in writing to submit all disputes regarding fees, costs, or both to arbitration before the Los Angeles County Bar Association when they entered the attorney-client relationship. ACAP is a confidential, affordable alternative to the court system. The arbitrators are experienced in handling and resolving fee disputes, and they must meet specific requirements including the handling of cases submitted to mandatory arbitration. The parties choose the arbitrator, and the proceeding takes place at a mutually agreeable location chosen by the parties that is acceptable to the arbitrator. To initiate arbitration, a party must submit a completed demand for arbitration and a $500 administrative fee that is applied to the arbitrator's fee. Parties participating in ACAP pay an equal share of the arbitrator's hourly rate, which is payable in advance of the hearing.

For more information on any of the above programs, please contact Sharron McLawyer, director, Attorney-Client Mediation and Arbitration Services, at (213) 896-6541 or smclawyer@lacba.org. General questions may be sent to acmas@lacba.org.




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