Nancey Watson works with law firms on proposal strategy and in-house legal counsel to produce the best request for proposals (RFPs) possible. According to Watson, for in-house lawyers to find legal services providers that can meet their needs, it’s key to define goals and maintain clear communications about needs and wants.
Take Time To Define Your Goals
“Defining your goals is critical,” Watson said. “For example, if in-house counsel is looking for strategic advice, what exactly are they looking for? Are they looking for general regulatory insights? Or are they looking for information about the regulatory impact in a particular country?”
When in-house professionals refer to strategic advice, once again they have to be specific about what kind of strategic advice they are they looking for. “For example, if the goal is to improve efficiency, they need to specify what that looks like,” she explained.
Watson also pointed out that efficiency is a big, broad topic. “Are you talking about using technology to assist with matters such as contract management? And if so, what kinds of systems are being used and what kind of benefits might they present? How does it actually help improve efficiency for the company?”
Clarity about the process is also important. “What processes would a law firm have in place?” Watson asked. “Are they looking to process manual work faster and better using technology?” She continued, “For example, in contract management, we have been able to use technology to implement contracts much more efficiently than an individual could by cutting and pasting from a huge database of clauses and paragraphs.”
“Law practices are really being transformed by technology,” Watson said. “A huge number of new software companies are coming into this field. Some of these providers are new but others have been in the technology field for quite a while and have experience working with law firms. Now vendors recognize that on the corporate side, they need to work with in-house attorneys.”
Watson advised, “For example, if you are asking for improved efficiency in technology for RFPs, consider specifying how you want to use that technology. Will you post answers in the tool or platform? Will you want to provide templates and checklists? What kind of technology does the legal department already have? Have they grown it themselves or have they purchased it?”
She added, “I generally support RFP software because I’ve responded to a lot of proposals, and I can see firsthand that it is a great technological advancement for in-house counsel. In-house counsel can take the RFP response data and later on compare proposals to the actual performance. Using today’s technology, you can run a much more efficient, data-driven legal operation.”
Communicate The Key RFP Information Clearly
Once you have identified your goals, communicating them clearly in the RFP is critical. “The vaguer the questions are, the vaguer -– and less useful the information coming back from the law firm and other vendors will be,” Watson said. “The more specific they are, the more specific vendors can be when responding to the request for proposal.”
“For example,” she added. “RFPs often don’t state the purpose of the RFP. They think it goes without saying or is unnecessary. But it’s helpful to know upfront whether the RFP is looking for a lower fee, whether it’s for a panel firm, or whether they’re just looking for local representation.” She continued, “A lot of times they just give a brief overview of the company. Then they go right into questions. But it can be helpful and effective to discuss the overall goal of the request for proposal.”
“I love RFP requests that include upfront what they are looking for,” Watson said. According to her, not all proposals focus on the same thing.
“Some legal departments are looking for a 10% to 15% discount across the board. In many cases, when in-house procurement professionals or lawyers can say ‘we saved 10%’ on our annual legal spend they get kudos from management.” Watson said.
“And that is really because they’re getting pressured by either the GC or the CFO or management that they need to cut their overall legal fees by a certain percentage,” she explained. “Discounts are not the best way to cut down on the legal fees, but it is easy to calculate, and everyone seems satisfied. I recommend that in-house and law firms look seriously at alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) for a more flexible way of getting assurances for legal spend going forward and it does not have to be an annual occurrence but can be spread over the year.”
Selecting panel firms is another possible purpose for sending out a request for a proposal. “It is important to know upfront if it is a panel firm RFP,” Watson said. “Then the law firms know that they are going to get a shot at a decent volume of work. Many big legal departments have relatively small panels with five or six members.” She continued, “Of course, it’s important that that panel firms actually get the work, rather than assign work to non-panel firms who have an established relationship with in-house lawyers.”
Requests for local counsel is another particularity. “It’s important to define what you mean when you say that you are looking for a local counsel,” Watson said, adding, “Do they partner with a local law firm that they have worked with previously? Do they work through an organization? Or are they are really looking for law firms that have offices that are located locally and have local feet on the ground and bricks and mortar?”
Specification and communication are key when you’re soliciting legal services proposals. In the RFP process, all sorts of opportunities exist for miscommunication, redundancies, and inefficiencies. To cut through it all and ensure a smooth RFP process, be sure to communicate upfront as much as possible about what you want.
Olga V. Mack is the CEO of Parley Pro, a next-generation contract management company that has pioneered online negotiation technology. Olga embraces legal innovation and had dedicated her career to improving and shaping the future of law. She is convinced that the legal profession will emerge even stronger, more resilient, and more inclusive than before by embracing technology. Olga is also an award-winning general counsel, operations professional, startup advisor, public speaker, adjunct professor, and entrepreneur. Olga founded the Women Serve on Boards movement that advocates for women to participate on corporate boards of Fortune 500 companies. Olga also co-founded SunLaw, an organization dedicated to preparing women in-house attorneys to become general counsels and legal leaders, and WISE to help female law firm partners become rainmakers. She authored Get on Board: Earning Your Ticket to a Corporate Board Seat and Fundamentals of Smart Contract Security. You can email Olga at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @olgavmack.
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