Bay Street report

These lawyers let clients decide how much to pay

To turn an unhappy client into a happy one, just offer them a discount
To turn an unhappy client into a happy one, just offer them a discount

When a restaurant serves a burnt steak or a soggy salad, the manager tries to make up for the error — often by simply giving the diner a discount on the meal.

Yet legal bills are etched in stone, says Erin Cowling, co-founder of Flex Legal, a small network of freelance lawyers that launched in January. “Clients often think, We pay for all your time no matter what we get in the end,” she says. At Flex Legal, though, this is not the case: 10 percent of every bill is optional. “Our clients pay what they think we deserve.”

And as of April, 2015, Cognition LLP is trying a similar tack. When clients receive their invoice, they can choose to fill out an electronic report card, on which they score the firm on such areas as quality of work and speed of service. If clients dole out low marks, they can get a discount of up to 10 percent. And conversely, if clients give the firm a rave, they can choose to add as much as 10 percent to the bill.

For both Flex Legal and Cognition the long-term goal is the same: to prevent client relationships from permanently souring if a file goes awry. “It’s unusual, but things don’t always go the way a client hoped,” says Shari Zinman, director of client happiness at Cognition. Indeed, a handful of clients have already received a discount after conferring shoddy marks on the firm. “And each time,” says Zinman, “it’s helped renew their excitement about our firm.”

Cover of the Fall 2015 Issue of PrecedentThis story is part our series on how Bay Street firms are getting better, from our Fall 2015 issue.