What is a
request for proposal (RFP)?

A Request for Proposal (RFP) is a query with which in-house legal departments can outsource their work to external law firms. Especially nowadays, when legal departments are growingly confronted with doing more for less, the RFP is becoming an increasingly important tool. A typical use case is when a business unit needs legal advice and turns to their in-house lawyers for it – this could be a request for an answer to a simple query or, at the other extreme, the organization is contemplating a merger with another company or is facing some serious litigation. Ideally the in-house team has an internal knowledge management or transaction information system that contains a record of previous advice given or work undertaken for the business. The legal team then needs to ask themselves, can the request be handled internally?


If the work is deemed to carry high risk, needs significant resources, and has areas where specialist expertise may be required, then clearly the organization’s external legal advisors should be involved from the start. If this is the case, then we need to begin the process to select an external law firm to instruct. To decide on which law firm should be asked to undertake the work, the in-house department will send a Request for Proposal (RFP).


A RFP for legal services involves a client corporation sending out a request to law firms or legal service providers to submit proposals to do work on behalf of the client’s internal legal team. This can range from being a basic fee estimate up to a full RFP for a major piece of legal work. Clients create and share RFPs with their legal service providers, they can set vendor selection criteria, track responses, and monitor submission rounds before selecting the preferred firm and inviting that firm to begin the work. RFPs can also be sent to legal service providers including those that provide law firm services and not just legal advice, for example, eDiscovery, document review, secondees or other managed services.



If an RFP is being sent to one or more law firms who are new to the client and have not previously been asked to provide their background and work experience information, or are not on a client’s panel of firms, then more information of the following nature will be required: 


  • An introduction to the firm, office locations, lawyers, and jurisdictions will be required in a firm’s overview. Information related to diversity, legal industry awards, and other firm accomplishments is also important.
  • A description of experience by practice area, including supporting detail in terms of example cases to help to highlight the firm’s depth of expertise.
  • References – ideally of the type applicable to the law firm proposal or RFP.
  • IT capability, including data privacy and security policies, as well as good 24/7 communications demonstrate that the law firm has a robust in-house technical ability.
  • Electronic Billing Law firms are advised to demonstrate their capability to provide invoices consistent with any format specified in the client’s billing guidelines.


However, if we discount the RFP aimed at establishing the suitability of a new law firm to work for a client, we should look at the contents of the more “run of the mill” RFP when a client is looking for a proposal/quotation for a new matter but from a controlled list of panel firms, for example. While every law firm proposal will be different, there are several central sections that will appear in most RFPs.



  • Timeline – the RFP will have dates both for the RFP submission and the work itself if the law firm is instructed.
  • Contact persons and responsibilities – the contacts at the client and responsible lawyers in the firm will be identified. The client can select which individual lawyers in the law firm the RFP should be sent to and who is expected to respond.
  • Staffing plans – the client will expect the law firm to detail the staffing plans for the matter – including the time estimated for each timekeeper classification and ratio between them.
  • Rates and pricing – the client will require the law firm to quote the rates that they will charge for each timekeeper classification; the total fee estimate and any expenses; what discounts might be available and suggest any alternative pricing arrangements they could offer.
  • Scope of Work – the client will specify the scope of the work to be carried out, giving as much information as possible. A good RFP will have templates for different matter types to assist the law firm in defining how much work is required and what are the success criteria. This will also include which jurisdictions are covered by the RFP and it may also allow the matter to be broken down by phase, to get a more granular estimate of the expected costs.  
  • Representative Cases – a law firm might be asked to provide a list of comparable matters it has completed (suitably anonymised) to reinforce their experience.


The time is ripe to get more out of your legal department with simple means. In our blog “What legal ops teams should know about RFPs in 2022“, we take a closer look at the RFP process and explain how our legal spend management solution eBilling.Space helps to streamline it. Read the full blog here or request a demo to see our powerful tool for yourself.


Bryan King
Independent Legal e-billing Consultant


How Corporate Legal Teams and Law Firms benefit from RFP