RULES FOR PROCEEDING BEFORE THE FEE ARBITRATION COMMITTEE
*to download a copy of the Arbitration of Fee Disputes Agreement & Petition click here; forms must be returned to the Rhode Island Bar Association with original signatures.
**Please note that the Rhode Island Bar Association does not handle disputes for fees less than $750; fee disputes less than $1500 will be settled by one arbitrator on the basis of written submission only.
1. APPOINTMENT OF COMMITTEE MEMBERS
The Fee Arbitration Committee shall consist of a minimum of nine members and not more than twelve members to be appointed by the President of the Rhode Island Bar Association for three-year terms. Initially, one-third of the members of the Committee shall be appointed for a period of one year, one-third for a period of two years and one-third for a period of three years. As each member’s term of office on the Committee expires, his/her successor shall be appointed for a period of three years. The term of any member which expires while an arbitration is pending before him/her or before a panel of which he/she is a member shall be extended until such arbitration is concluded, but such extension shall not interfere with the President’s own power to appoint a successor to the Committee. The President shall appoint the Chairperson (or up to two (2) Co-chairpersons as the President shall determine) of the Committee each from among the members.
Members of the Committee should be selected to provide a representation from a broad spectrum of the Bar from the standpoint of firm organization (i.e., large firms, small firms and sole practitioners), geography, and types of practice (i.e., general practice, litigation practice, criminal practice, etc.). Committee members should be experienced in the practice of the law and no member should have practiced for less than five (5) years.
2. APPOINTMENT OF ARBITRATION PANELS
The Arbitration Panels will consist of three persons, one to be a member of the Fee Arbitration Committee of the Rhode Island Bar Association who shall act as a Chairperson of the Panel and who shall be appointed by the Chairperson of the Fee Arbitration Committee, the other two members of each Arbitration Panel shall be appointed by the Chairperson of the Panel.
All Arbitration Panel members shall be members in good standing of the Rhode Island Bar Association.
To the extent practical all Arbitration Panel members shall be experienced in the area of law involved in any dispute referred to a panel.
Record of Arbitration Proceedings: The Chairpersons of each Arbitration Panel shall keep records of all proceedings and decisions of the Arbitration Panel. Upon completion of an arbitration proceeding, the records shall be filed with the Rhode Island Bar Association.
An Arbitration Panel may exercise jurisdiction of fee disputes between clients and attorneys and/or between two or more attorneys. When a petition is filed, a copy of the petition and all pertinent information shall be forwarded to the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island and the parties so informed. A Petition for Arbitration may be filed directly with the Rhode Island Bar Association or after referral from the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court.
Arbitration shall be instituted by filing with the Rhode Island Bar Association a Petition for Arbitration ("petition") and an Agreement to Submit Controversy to Arbitration ("agreement") both in the form prescribed by the Rhode Island Bar Association.
Filings with the Rhode Island Bar Association shall be made by submitting the signed and dated petition and agreement in triplicate to the Executive Director thereof at 115 Cedar Street, Providence Rhode Island 02903.
Promptly following the receipt of the petition and agreement signed by the petitioner, and being satisfied that the controversy is a proper one for arbitration, the Executive Director shall submit the petition and agreement to the respondent by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested. Upon the failure or refusal of the respondent to sign and return the agreement to arbitration within 30 days of receipt, it shall be conclusively presumed that the respondent is unable or unwilling to agree to arbitration and the petitioner shall be so informed.
In the case of any doubt as to the propriety of arbitration in any particular case, the Executive Director shall consult with the Chairperson of the Committee.
5. INFORMAL ARBITRATION
If the initial complaint is filed with the Disciplinary Counsel, Disciplinary Counsel may endeavor to resolve the dispute with the complainant and the respondent. If the dispute is resolved informally, the complaint shall be deemed to have been withdrawn.
6. FAILURE OF THE RESPONDENT TO SUBMIT TO ARBITRATION
Both the petitioner and the respondent shall be informed that should the respondent not agree to be bound by the decision of an Arbitration Panel, an Arbitration Panel shall not be appointed and the petitioner may take such other actions as he or she deems appropriate.
7. DEFAULT BY EITHER PARTY
After agreement to be bound by the decision of an Arbitration Panel by both petitioner and respondent, the Arbitration Panel to which the petitioner is referred shall hear the petition and make its determination notwithstanding a failure by the respondent to defend the petition. A failure by the petitioner to prosecute the petition shall be deemed a withdrawal of the petition.
8. RIGHT TO COUNSEL
Each Party to a fee dispute has the right to be represented at his/her own expense by an attorney-at-law at a hearing or at any stage of arbitration.
9. REFERRAL TO ARBITRATION PANEL
a. The petitioner shall be referred for hearing to any duly appointed Arbitration Panel.
b. The petitioner and the respondent shall be properly notified as to the names and business addresses of the members of the panel designated to arbitrate the dispute.
c. The petitioner and the respondent shall be properly notified as to the date, time and place of the hearing.
d. The notice of hearing must inform the parties of their right to present witnesses, and documentary evidence in support of their positions, and, at their own expenses, to have a record of the proceedings made.
10. ARBITRATION HEARING
a. The Rhode Island Arbitration Act, General Laws of Rhode Island Title 10, Chapter 3, will apply.
b. On the hearing date, which shall be as soon as may be practicable after the appointment of the Chairperson, the Arbitration Panel shall meet, swear witnesses, take testimony and receive evidence and have a complete and full hearing on the matter.
c. The Chairperson of the Arbitration Panel may adjourn the hearing from time to time as necessary. Upon request of a party to the arbitration for good cause, or upon his/her own determination the Chairperson may postpone the hearing from time to time.
The Chairperson of the Arbitration Panel shall preside at a hearing. He/she shall be the judge of the relevance and materiality of the evidence offered and shall rule on questions of procedure. He/she shall exercise all powers relating to the conduct of the hearing, and conformity to legal rules of evidence shall not be necessary.
e. The parties to the arbitration are entitled to be heard, to present evidence and to cross-examine witnesses appearing at the hearing.
f. If any party to an arbitration who has been notified fails to appear at the hearing, the Chairperson of the Arbitration Panel may either postpone the hearing of proceed with the hearing and determine the controversy upon the evidence produced, notwithstanding such failure to appear.
g. Any party may have the hearing reported at his/her own expense, but if he/she does so he/she must provide a copy free of charge to the Arbitration Panel. Further, in such event, any other party to the arbitration shall be likewise entitled to a copy of the transcript at his/her own expense by arrangements made directly with the reporter.
11. ARBITRATION DECISIONS
a. A decision of an Arbitration Panel shall be rendered promptly after the close of the hearing and, in any event, within sixty (60) days after conclusion of the hearing and written submissions if any.
b. The decision shall be made by majority of the Arbitration Panel. The award shall be in writing and signed by the members concurring therein. It shall state only the amount of the award, if any, and the terms of payment if applicable.
c. If a majority of the Arbitration Panel cannot agree on a decision, the matter shall be resubmitted, de novo, to a new panel.
d. If a majority of the Arbitration Panel believes that a fee charged by an attorney licensed to practice law in the State of Rhode Island is illegal or clearly excessive within the meaning of Rule1.5 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, the Panel shall, in addition to rendering its decision in accordance with this section, notify the Disciplinary Counsel in writing.
12. WAIVER OF HEARING
If both the parties in writing waive a hearing, the Arbitration Panel may dispense with the hearing and decide the matter on written submissions. In such case the Panel shall give the parties suitable time to present their cases in writing and to respond to assertions of the other. If the panel, after reviewing the written submissions, concludes that a hearing is necessary, it shall call one; otherwise, it shall render its decision on such submission.
a. All record, documents, files, proceedings and hearings pertaining to the arbitrations of any fee dispute under these rules shall be confidential, and shall not be open to the public or any person not involved in the dispute.
b. The decision of the Arbitration Panel may be available to those having a legitimate interest therein.
14. FUNDS HELD IN ESCROW
a. Any Arbitration Panel has the authority to open and maintain an interest-bearing escrow account.
b. With the consent of the party making the deposit, funds may be placed in this escrow account pending the outcome of an Arbitration proceeding. These funds shall be distributed in accordance with any decision reached by the Arbitration Panel in the proceeding.
This information has been prepared to inform the client and attorney of available procedures for the resolution of fee disputes through proceedings before the Fee Arbitration Committee.
PUBLISHED AS A PUBLIC SERVICE BY THE
RHODE ISLAND BAR ASSOCIATION
115 Cedar Street
Providence, Rhode island 02903
This piece is produced as a public service by the Rhode Island Bar
Association and intended to provide background information. This is not a
substitute for legal advice and representation by a licensed attorney of the
Rhode Island Bar.