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CALL FOR COMMENTS – Proposed Wyoming Rules for Fee Arbitration
At a meeting held January 22, 2016, the Board of Officers and Commissioners of the Wyoming State Bar approved new Wyoming Rules for Fee Arbitration to be distributed to members for comment.
Comments should be submitted to Mark Gifford, Bar Counsel, at email@example.com, on or before February 29, 2016.
The Wyoming State Bar’s role in resolving fee disputes dates to 1981, when the Wyoming Supreme Court first adopted Fee Arbitration Rules. Those rules were substantially overhauled in 1997 with the adoption of the current Rules for Resolution of Fee Disputes, which have been in place without amendment since that time.
The present rules provide for a 27-member Fee Dispute Committee, with one member from each of the 23 counties except for Laramie, Natrona, Sheridan and Sweetwater counties, which have two members each. Fee dispute arbitration is mandatory if the client requests it within 120 days of receipt of a final bill. When the amount in dispute is $2,000 or less, the matter is assigned to one committee member for hearing. If the amount in dispute is greater than $2,000, a 3-member hearing panel is assigned. The hearing panel must issue a written decision within 15 days of the hearing. The hearing panel’s decision may be challenged by filing a petition for judicial review with the district court.
The proposed rules would replace the current rules and are based in large part on ABA Model Rules for Fee Arbitration, with significant departures to reflect the practical needs of Wyoming. By way of overview, the following proposal envisions the following framework:
- The Fee Dispute Committee would be reduced in size from 27 members to six, with two members being nonlawyers. Rather than serve as the pool for hearing panels, the Committee would be responsible for compiling a list of qualified arbitrators, lawyers and nonlawyers alike, to serve on fee dispute hearing panels. The Committee would also have greater hands-on responsibility for administration of the program.
- The threshold for appointment of a 3-person hearing panel would be increased from $2,000 to $10,000.
- Before a lawyer sues to collect a fee, he or she would be required to give the client written notice that fee arbitration is available, so long as the client files a fee dispute petition within 30 days of receipt of the notice.
- Following the fee dispute panel’s decision, either party may request a trial de novo. This eliminates the due process concerns associated with the present rules and does away with an awkward judicial review procedure.
- With greater flexibility in the formation of hearing panels, hearings by conference call could give way to in-person hearings.
- This proposal retains the benefits of an expedited procedure for resolving fee disputes while implementing significant improvements in numerous areas.
The proposed rules, which would take the place of the current Rules for Resolution of Fee Disputes, have been vetted with current members of the Resolution of Fee Disputes Committee, and are submitted herewith for review and comment by the members of the Wyoming State Bar.
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