Fee Arbitration Program

State Bar of Wisconsin

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Resolution of Fee Disputes

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As a client, you may feel helpless when a dispute or a disagreement over legal fees occurs. As an attorney, you may be considering going to court to collect your fees.

You have another option — the Fee Arbitration Program.

  • Arbitration is confidential, so both parties preserve their privacy.
  • You don't have to go to court — saving time, money, and undue publicity.
  • Arbitration is cost effective. A nonrefundable application fee ranging from $35 to $150 per party is required to start the process.

To request fee arbitration services, download the fee arbitration application below. If you have questions, contact the Fee Arbitration Administrator at feearb@wisbar.org or State Bar of Wisconsin, P.O. Box 7158, Madison, WI 53707.

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What is fee arbitration?

Fee arbitration is a private hearing between a lawyer and the client before a panel of one to three arbitrators in an informal setting. Trained volunteer arbitrators (lawyer and nonlawyer members of the public) hear the arguments on both sides before making a decision. While it is not required, you may choose to be represented by a lawyer for the hearing, making you responsible for their legal fee. The decision made by the arbitration panel is final and binding, subject only to the appeal rights under Chapter 788, Wisconsin Statutes.

How do I start the arbitration process?

To request fee arbitration services, download and complete the fee arbitration application​ and send it to: 

State Bar of Wisconsin
Fee Arbitration Administrator
P.O. Box 7158
Madison, WI 53707-7158

Applications may also be scanned and emailed to feearb@wisbar.org​. Both parties must agree to fee arbitration for a hearing to be held.

How much will it cost?

The nonrefundable administrative fee that must be paid by each party is as follows:

 

Amount in Dispute Fee Paid by Each Party
Under $5,000 $35
$5,001 to $20,000 $70
Over $20,000 $150

Because the application fee is nonrefundable, we recommend that you talk to the other side before filing your application to find out whether they are willing to agree to arbitration. This fee does not cover expenses that you may incur in the arbitration process, costs for collection actions, other litigation, or appeals after an arbitration decision. Our arbitrators are volunteers and do not charge you for their time.

How long does the process take?

Once the application is received, the entire process takes three to six months. Within three weeks of the hearing, a decision will be sent to both parties. Any payment or a refund of fees must be made within 30 days from the date the decision is mailed.

Are there any exceptions to what can be arbitrated?

In general, all fee disputes between clients and their lawyers may be arbitrated. There are a few exceptions:

  • The lawyer was not licensed to practice law in Wisconsin
  • The case involved services performed outside of Wisconsin
  • There was no lawyer/client relationship
  • The fees were set by law or statute
  • The full amount of the fee, or all terms of which, were fixed or approved by order of a court, such as guardian ad litem fees
  • The applicant's claim does not appear to have merit (e.g. legal action on the fee has been started, the lawyer had not been hired, or the matter is not a dispute over legal fees for services provided)

Your application will not be accepted if your case falls into one or more of the exceptions. While this means that no arbitration hearing will be held, it does not affect litigation or any other solution that you may wish to consider in place of arbitration.

How can I get more information?

Contact the Fee Arbitration Administrator at the State Bar of Wisconsin at org feearb wisbar wisbar feearb org.
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