The Chicago Bar Association Committee on Professional Fees handles resolution of fee disputes between clients and lawyers. The Committee resolves approximately 300 fee disputes per year.
What is the Committee on Professional Fees?
From time to time disputes occur between a client and attorney relating to attorneys fees. Ideally, a lawyer and client will reach an agreement about the lawyer's fees before the work is begun, and that agreement will be adequate for the length of the case.
If a problem does arise, The Chicago Bar Association (CBA) Committee on Professional Fees can help to resolve the fee dispute. Committee members are lawyers and members of the CBA, one of the largest and most prominent metropolitan bar associations in the country. The Committee's services extend to all attorneys who practice in Illinois, not just members of the CBA.
The services of the Committee are free. Any client may register a fee complaint against his or her attorney. The process of resolving the complaint depends on the cooperation between the client and the attorney. Without cooperation, there is little the Committee can do.
What can the Committee do?
The Committee can:
- Hold hearings to decide whether an attorney's fee is illegal or excessive.
- Recommend that the attorney refund a portion of the fee if it is found to be excessive.
- Refer the attorney's name and the Committee's file to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, if the ultimate fee charged by the attorney to the client is found to be excessive. (NOTE: The Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission is an arm of the Illinois Supreme Court. It is the only authority for officially investigating attorney misconduct which may lead to suspension or revocation of an attorney's license to practice law).
- Arbitrate the dispute between the client and attorney. If both parties agree to this option, the Committee's decision is legally binding and enforceable in court.
When does the Committee dismiss complaints?
The committee will dismiss complaints:
- When the Committee finds the complaint does not relate to fees. (This frequently occurs when the client is unhappy with the outcome of the case and believes the attorney could have handled it differently).
- When the Committee finds the attorney's fees do not violate the professional code of ethics. (A copy of the rule relating to fees will be sent to the client for a further explanation.)
- When a petition for fees, or other court action in regard to fees, is filed in court before the complaint is filed with the Committee.
When are hearings held?
If the Committee reviews the file and finds that your claims suggest illegal or unethical behavior involving your attorney's fees, the Committee will hold a hearing. In this case, you and your attorney will be notified by mail of the time and date. Hearings are held at The Chicago Bar Association, 321 South Plymouth Court, Chicago, IL.
The Committee does not have subpoena powers, however, and cannot force you or your attorney to come to the hearing. If you or your attorney choose not to appear, the hearing will take place with whomever is present.
At the hearing, you and your attorney each present your side of the dispute to a hearing panel comprised of two or three Committee members. The hearing panel will report on the hearing and make a recommendation to the full Committee at its next Committee meeting. At the meeting, the Committee may decide to dismiss the complaint if it finds there is not enough evidence suggesting the attorney's fee was illegal or excessive. If the Committee finds the attorney charged an illegal fee, it will refer the file to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. If the Committee finds the attorney charged an excessive fee, it may recommend that the attorney refund part of the money, or refer the file to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, or both.
What is arbitration?
Instead of holding a hearing, the Committee may offer to resolve the dispute through arbitration. In arbitration, you and your attorney must each agree to present your sides of the dispute to an arbitration hearing panel, and then to abide by the decision rendered by the panel in the form of an arbitration award. The arbitration award is legally binding and may be enforced in court. If you and your attorney agree to this option, you will each be mailed arbitration agreement forms and an arbitration hearing will be scheduled. After the arbitration hearing, you and your attorney will each be mailed a copy of the arbitration award, usually within two weeks.
How do you file a complaint with the Committee?
If you wish to file a complaint with the Committee, contact Professional Fees Committee Staff Liaison at 312-554-2062 to request a Fee Complaint Form be mailed to you or download the Fee Complaint Form in pdf format
How does the Committee handle these complaints?
Once you complete and return the form, a file is opened. Your completed form will be forwarded to the attorney named, asking him or her to resolve the problem directly with you. In many cases a complaint is resolved at this point and no further action by the Committee is required.
If you and your attorney are unable to reach an agreement, the Committee will ask the attorney to answer the complaint. Upon receipt of the attorney's answer, a copy will be mailed to you requesting a written reply within ten (10) days. If you do not reply, the file will be closed.
If, however, you disagree with your attorney's answer to the complaint and mail a reply, the file will be assigned to a Committee member who will review and investigate your claims and report to the full Committee. The Committee will decide by majority vote what action to take. You and your attorney will receive written notice of the Committee's decision.