If you are embroiled in a fee spat with a client, you’d better brush up on your ethical obligations.
Under the Rules of Professional Conduct, you must notify your client of the N.C. Bar’s program for resolving fee dispute program at least 30 days prior to initiating a legal proceeding to collect the disputed fee.
“The State Bar’s Fee Dispute Resolution Program is available to clients who dispute their legal fees,” according to the State Bar website. “There is no fee to participate in this program. To participate in the program, you must submit your request for resolution of disputed fee within three years after the last time that your lawyer represented you. The program cannot accept a request for resolution of a disputed fee after the lawyer has filed a lawsuit to collect the legal fee. Additionally, the program does not have the authority to waive legal fees.”
Here is a link to the fee dispute resolution petition. Interested parties can also call the State Bar at (919) 828-4620 and request the Attorney-Client Assistance Department.
Not all fee disputes are suitable for facilitation. That determination is made after the bar reviews all the materials submitted by the parties involved.
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NC State Bar Fee Dispute Resolution Program
Following are FAQs from the State Bar website:
Q: When is a legal fee in “dispute?” A fee is in dispute if the client questions or objects to the amount billed. Also, if a client fails to pay the bill, it is assumed that the fee is disputed unless the client affirms the obligation in writing or verbally. If a client pays by a check that is subsequently returned for insufficient funds, it is assumed that the client has affirmed the obligation and the lawyer is not required to notify the client of the fee dispute resolution program.
Q: What are the notification requirements to a client relative to the fee dispute resolution program prior to initiating suit to collect a legal fee? The client must be notified of the right to participate in the fee dispute resolution program at least 30 days before filing suit against the client to collect the fee.
Q: May a lawyer notify a client of the fee dispute resolution program even though she does not intend to sue the client to collect the fee? Yes. Although a lawyer does not ultimately intend to sue a client to collect a fee if the client fails to pay, a lawyer may nevertheless seek the client’s participation in the fee dispute resolution program in an effort to collect the fee or some portion thereof.
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