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Bar’s Grievance Mediation and Fee Arbitration Program seeks volunteers

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Volunteers NeededThe Florida Bar’s Grievance Mediation and Fee Arbitration Program is seeking new volunteers to serve in the program.

Established in 2004, the program is governed by Chapter 14 of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar and offers attorneys and former clients the means by which to resolve their fee disputes outside of the civil court system.

Because the services are free, the Bar must seek out volunteer mediators and arbitrators to handle these matters.

“At this time, we are seeking volunteer arbitrators and mediators throughout the state for both programs,” said Shanell Schuyler, the program’s director. “Our search includes not only members of the Bar, but also non-lawyer arbitrators willing to serve on a panel.’

Since the pandemic, Schuyler says most arbitration hearings and mediation conferences have been conducted online via platforms such as Zoom. Volunteer mediators and arbitrators schedule the cases on dates and times convenient to their schedules. Volunteers are also asked to commit to taking two arbitrations per year.

One of the benefits of volunteering is the experience gained while acting as a neutral. Schuyler says volunteers gain experience through the arbitration process while weighing the evidence, determining the credibility of witnesses, and, ultimately, determining who should prevail.

“Along the way, we can pretty much guarantee you will gain valuable insight into your own practice and learn how to handle various issues that may arise with your own clients over fees and billings,” Schuyler said. “The experience you will gain as an arbitrator is unique because you will have the perspective from the trier of fact’s view as opposed to the attorney who bills the client.”

She says the process provides a faster, less expensive, and more efficient way for members of the public and the Bar to resolve their disputes without court filings, depositions, discovery, and endless hours in court.

“Most mediations and arbitrations are completed in a few hours or less,” Schuyler said. “The program offers a win-win-win scenario: members of the public gain confidence that their dispute is being addressed by a fair, independent neutral; attorneys get a resolution with a former client in a forum that is not in a public setting with court filings and accusations against them filed in the public domain; and program volunteers get to provide a valuable public service.”

One more reason to volunteer is the benefit of getting free CLE. The Florida Bar allows for up to 5 hours of CLE credit per reporting cycle for taking a case. Volunteers also receive a free training course approved for 2-hours of CLE credit.

“Because this is a voluntary program, you are not paid for your time in terms of money,” Schuyler said. “However, there are many other ‘benefits’ you receive when you act as a program volunteer. Most of all, you will be providing an important and valuable service to The Florida Bar every time you serve.”

If you or anyone you know may be interest in becoming approved as an arbitrator and/or mediator under The Florida Bar’s Fee Arbitration and Mediation Programs, complete the Program Mediator/Arbitrator Application form and return it to The Florida Bar, Attn:  Susan Austin, 651 E. Jefferson St., Tallahassee 32399 or [email protected].  For further information, you may also contact Schuyler at 850-561-5647.  The volunteer arbitrator and mediator eligibility requirements are listed here.

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