Disputes Over Legal Bills: Fee Arbitration

The San Diego County Bar Association offers an Attorney/Client Fee Dispute Program.   This fee arbitration program is an informal, confidential, impartial, and lower cost avenue for resolving fee disputes between lawyers and clients.   A lawyer must participate in this fee arbitration program if the client pursues fee arbitration.  However, a lawyer cannot compel a client to participate in this arbitration unless there is a Mandatory Arbitration Clause in the initial engagement letter.  

The San Diego County Bar Association's fee dispute arbitration program will consider cases only if the attorney involved in the dispute has an office in San Diego County or if the majority of services were performed in San Diego County.

The filing fee for the fee dispute arbitration program is 5% of the amount in dispute -  not less than seventy–five dollars ($75.00) and not more that five thousand dollars ($5,000.00). The filing fee includes up to three hours of arbitration time from our panel of experts. If more time is needed, there will be an additional fee, though most cases are completed within three hours. 

See the right side of this page for Frequently Asked Questions.

Download the Fee Arbitration Local Rules of Operation »


I.  Review, complete and submit the following:

  • Complete Arbitration Packet (If you are an attorney initiating fee arbitration, use the "Attorney Request for Arbitration of a Fee Dispute" packet.).  IMPORTANT:  Original signature required on Application and Agreement; Submit your Application, Agreement, and Statement of Facts in triplicate (3) copies (not originals ) of any supporting materials (i.e. letters, bills) . NOTE:  If your fee dispute is over $25,000, you must submit your original Application, Agreement and Statement of Fact and five (5) copies.)Application packet is comprised of:  Locals Rules of Operation  - Fee Arbitration, Client Request for Arbitration of a Fee Dispute application, Statement of Facts form, and Arbitration Agreement.   You should also review:  Preparing for the Fee Arbitration Hearing and Business and Professions Code Article 13 Arbitration of Attorneys' Fees.​
  • Submit Notice of Automatic Stay of Proceedings (click here for instructions and click here to obtain the form from the court.)  Complete only if the attorney has already filed a lawsuit to collect fees from the client.
  • Complete Application for Filing Fee/Waiver Reduction, if applicable.    Filing fees may be waived or reduced based on an applicant's  inability to pay some or all of the filing fees.  If the arbitration results in an award, the balance of the waived or unpaid filing fees will be paid to the San Diego County Bar Association from that award.
  • Submit fees. We accept money orders, cashier’s check and credit cards, payable to San Diego County Bar Association.  Please note we do not accept cash and personal/business checks. 
  • Remit  all forms and payments to:  
    San Diego County Bar Association
    Attn: Fee Arbitration Department
    401 West A Street, Ste. 1100
    San Diego, CA 92101

We accept documents via US Mail, Federal Express, UPS, or courier.  However, please do not send documents with signature required. We cannot guarantee that we will accept or be available to sign for documents.  Please note that we do not have walk-in service. Documents or files will not be accepted at the SDCBA offices.  We will notify you via email when your materials have arrived and are being processed. We must have all required documents, copies, signed forms and payments before we can open an arbitration case.  

II.  Once all documents and filing fees are received, SDCBA will send a copy of your complaint to the other party and request a “Reply”. 

III. Upon receipt of a response, we will assign an arbitrator.  

We will select an arbitrator based on availability, subject matter expertise, and lack of conflicts and we will notify you of the arbitrator(s) assigned to your case.   (Note:  Each party may disqualify one arbitrator without cause.  A party is entitled to unlimited challenges of an arbitrator for cause.)  

IV.   Shortly after the assignment of the arbitrator(s), you will receive a notice with the date, time and location of the hearing.  

You must appear at the location detailed in the “Notice of hearing”.   If the amount in dispute is less than $1000, it will be decided by declaration (paper review, no hearing) by the Fee Arbitration Committee Chair or his/her designee.

V. The hearing will be closed to the public and will not be transcribed or recorded.

The award decision is NOT made on the day of the hearing. The Awards and Findings will be mailed to you within 30 days of your hearing.  

VI.   For more information about your rights after fee arbitration and subsequent actions available to the parties, see:  Notice of Your Rights After Fee Arbitration Rejection of Award and Request for Trial / Client Fee Arbitration , and Petition to Confirm, Correct or Vacate an Attorney Client Fee Arbitration Award.

Please note that the completion of arbitration typically takes four to six months from the date SDCBA receives your complete packet with payment. 

If you'd like additional information on the fee dispute arbitration program, contact the Bar at (619) 231-0781 or via e-mail at arbitration@sdcba.org