A Request for Proposal (RFP) is a powerful tool for legal departments to streamline their work and to meet the growing demand in corporates to do „more for less“. In our blog “What is a Request for Proposal” we have introduced some key functions of an RFP tool to you and summarised which information is typically included. If the term RFP is new to you feel free to read this blog first. First, let’s explore the numerous advantages, smart RFP tools offer for in-house legal teams (and their law firms).
THE BENEFITS TO CLIENTS OF A FORMAL RFP FUNCTION:
Traditionally law firms would respond to a request for a quotation for legal work in a variety of formats – this could include e-mail, a written document or even a phone call. Obviously from a client’s perspective this has several drawbacks, not least of which is that the client has difficulty in reviewing the different proposals and identifying the best provider of this legal work. Having an RFP procedure in place, such as in eBilling.Space, allows the client to see all the law firms’ proposals together – meaning there is a consistent and single source of truth. Further, the in-house team can have a visual representation of the different quotes – showing the resources proposed, for example, the split of partner and associate involvement, the rates and hours for these timekeepers, the average hourly rate, total estimated costs/expenses, and an overall time frame for the matter thus allowing easy comparison and review of the quotes. It will also allow the law firm to propose an alternative charging arrangement if required, including doing the work for a fixed or capped fee.
Crucially from a risk perspective, the use of a purpose-built RFP application also allows the client to see an audit trail of the process. This point is important, as using software to support the procurement process enables the client to demonstrate that an “even-handed” decision had been made and this evidence can be used to justify the final decision. This has important safeguards for everyone involved in the proposal/procurement process.
Finally, we should look at some unexpected benefits observed after seeing law firms use this technology for a time which may not have been foreseen when RFPs were initially implemented. RFPs allow legal departments to quantify the results of their negotiations with law firms and thus make them visible. For example, they can reduce the time spent by their timekeepers during the RFP process and show the savings later in their reports. One key area is that the client can monitor those firms who are consistently under or over bidding in their proposals – for whatever reason – and perhaps review why; for example, is the client allowing enough time for the response to be properly prepared or does the law firm lack the necessary resources to present a convincing and detailed proposal? The client can also collect useful data for each of the law firms and this will be invaluable in relationship negotiations and allow a sensible conversation to be held with the law firms based on real data.
As previously noted, using RFP technology means that the client can hold all proposal information in one secure place; retain all previous proposals and monitor how law firms have performed by comparing actual costs versus estimates. Also, this type of application allows in-house lawyers to share documents with law firms in a secure and controlled manner and in addition it aids the client in building a centralized pricing knowledge repository. Request a demo of BusyLamp’s legal spend management solution eBilling.Space today and see our RFP functionality for yourself.
THE BENEFITS FOR LAW FIRMS:
We can see that the RFP function has many benefits for clients, but the question is often asked: ”What can the law firms gain from it?”
Through our many years of expertise and close cooperation with our clients and law firms we gathered interesting feedback from the user of our RFP process in eBilling.Space. In practice, the law firms are embracing the introduction of this technology and have said that a well-structured RFP presents them with guided questions, has clear instructions on how to respond, can be tailored to the type of matter being quoted for and is seen to be a fair and unbiased process.
Another benefit is that law firms have long-term access to all their previous quotes or responses to requests from this client, they can see what work they have been asked to quote for and had accepted; as well as what work has been undertaken. Also, they will have a record of the rates quoted and the forecast mix of lawyers working on the matter, and from their own matter records will know the actual costs, time recorded, the billed charges and the profitability of the work. Incidentally part of the data validation within RFPs is that incorrect rates will be flagged during the process.
One positive side effect we have discovered is that clients can include law firms in the RFP process even if they have not yet been onboarded for e-billing. These firms can be given restricted access to the eBilling.Space system to respond to an RFP which of course if successful would ultimately result in the firm needing access to the full eBilling system.
ISSUES AND LESSONS LEARNED
Using RFP functionality in the ‘real world’ has highlighted several issues for both law firms and clients and the provider of the application is considering how best to meet the challenges.
We have seen the need for flexibility on the dates for ending the RFP process for each matter, which is why the firms within eBilling.Space are able to re-submit proposals beyond the initial end date, either to enable further negotiations to take place or for the parties to add more information for clarity. The client is also able to see any changes made to the proposals and law firms can amend these up until an agreed time – to allow different rates or hours to be quoted, or as a result of any negotiations.
One potential downside of using an RFP process can be seen by clients as duplication of effort – for example, a client may set up matters initially in their own matter management system, not the e-billing system, therefore may have to set up matters again for RFP purposes. Logically there would be integration between a client’s matter management system and the RFP process within the e-billing system, so matter information only needs to be entered once. The eBilling.Space solution allows users to automatically create a matter upon accepting an RFP, avoiding this duplication of data input and potential errors.
Finally, a potential issue from the law firm perspective, is that RFPs must be completed by the lawyers responsible for this client’s matters. This is a departure for many law firms who, in the past, have been happy to have their specialist teams do all work connected with e-billing and these teams are the only users of such systems as eBilling.Space. This does raise questions around who now needs to be given access to the e-billing system and to what functions, for example can we still limit lawyer access to RFPs and no other e-billing functions?
The Request for Proposal process completes the life cycle of the legal procurement and spend management function. On the client side, modern Legal Spend Management solutions such as BusyLamp’s eBilling.Space bring much more than e-billing to the law firm relationship. As we have seen a client in-house team can have access to the full end to-end spend management function – including the RFP, selection of a vendor, matter instruction, assignment of external lawyers, monitoring WIP, draft and final invoice approval and data analysis and reporting. These days the in-house legal team will also have access to a wide range of other Legal Tech solutions, including a matter management system, as well as further applications including Contract Lifecycle Management, Legal Holds, Document automation and drafting, Contract review and a fully functional reporting/analytics suite.