For immediate release: August 30, 2006
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Supreme Court of New Jersey Recognizes Volunteers on District Fee Arbitration Committees
The Supreme Court will issue certificates of meritorious service to 77 members of New Jersey's district fee arbitration committees to thank them for serving the Judiciary in this capacity, today announced David E. Johnson Jr., director of the Office of Attorney Ethics. Members of these committees resolve disputes between consumers and their attorneys.
"The fee arbitration program simply could not work without our volunteers," stated Mr. Johnson. "Because of them, we are able to offer attorneys and their clients a knowledgeable and impartial determination regarding the fairness of the legal fees being questioned. We are grateful to our outgoing members for their dedication and their expertise."
The New Jersey Supreme Court created the current fee arbitration system in 1978 as a way to resolve fee disputes between clients and attorneys in a timely and inexpensive manner. Only a few other states offer a mandatory, statewide, attorney fee arbitration program similar to New Jersey's.
Fee arbitration is initiated when a client files an arbitration request form with the secretary of the committee in a district where the lawyer maintains an office for the practice of law. Clients can obtain contact information for the appropriate district committee by calling the automated Fee Arbitration Hotline at 800-406-8594 and entering the attorney's office zip code. The client and the attorney each must pay a $50 administrative filing fee for utilizing the fee arbitration system.
In fee matters, the attorney must prove that the fee charged was reasonable based on a number of factors, including the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved and the legal skills required; the likelihood that serving the client will preclude other employment by the lawyer; the customary fees for similar legal services; the amount involved and the results obtained; the time limits imposed by the client or by the circumstances; the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client; the experience, reputation and ability of the lawyer or lawyers performing the services; and whether the fee is fixed or contingent. Matters involving fees of $3,000 or more are heard before panels of three members of the district fee arbitration committee. Matters involving lesser amounts are heard by a single attorney from the committee. A written arbitration determination is prepared for the parties, who may choose to settle at any time before or during a hearing.
Attorneys and members of the public are appointed to four-year terms. Currently there are approximately 300 volunteers serving on the state's 17 committees. Please see the attached list for the names and hometowns of the departing members.
In 2005, there were 981 fee disputes filed statewide. The committees resolved 927 disputes involving more than $12 million in total billings. Most fee dispute cases were either arbitrated by district fee committees (59 percent) or settled by the parties after fee arbitration was initiated (29 percent). The committees conducted 543 hearings involving $8,022,234 in total attorney's fees. In 37 percent of cases, they upheld the attorney's fees in full. In the remaining 63 percent of cases, the fees were reduced.
More information on the Office of Attorney Ethics and the fee arbitration program can be found at njcourtsonline.com.