Requests for Proposals of Legal Services

Clients start retaining outside counsels by sending out a request for proposal which specifies scope of work and clients’ expectations. The relationship between clients and lawyers will be formed and maintained overtime if lawyers are finally engaged.

One of inside counsel’s work is to select outside counsels (solo practitioners or law firms) who will render the best service and give the best advice and counsel for the inside counsel’s specific needs at a fair cost. The inside counsel, as a client, should identify its specific objectives and goals at the beginning of the selection process. The objectives are various subject to the needs of the client. For instance, the client may desire that the outside counsel successfully prosecute or defend a single litigated matter, or that the outside counsel represent the company in a series of transactions, or that the outside counsel handle a portfolio of the company’s matters in a particular area of law. 

Purpose of RFP

In getting the selection process started, the request for proposal (RFP) is the first thing for in-house counsel to prepare. The goal of the RFP process is to provide an arena for fair competition between two or more outside counsels as candidates. The selection of the law firm is based both on quality and cost. Thus, an RFP can be adjusted to fit the scope of the engagement as the scope of the project requires.

Key components of RFP

An effective RFP comprise the following information:

1. The scope of the work involved;

2. The method of compensation (unless method of compensation will be part of the response);

3. The required format of the proposal;

4. The criteria for evaluation;

5. The schedule for the proposal process; and

6. Information about the company.

RFP Process

There are many ways to structure RFP process, here are the normal steps:

Step 1 • Define the subject matter and the scope of the representation (this should be done by both in-house counsel and the appropriate business unit).

Step 2 • Determine the basis of the purchase, i.e., the fee arrangement.

Step 3 • Determine which qualified law firms will be considered.

Step 4 • Narrow the list of qualified firms to those that will participate in the selection process. One approach is to review the published information on the firms, narrow the list, and then meet with candidates to determine whether the firm has the right culture to work with the client. Another approach is to make the first cut based solely on objective criteria and to leave the culture analysis to the final selection.

Step 5 • Request proposals. The time provided to the law firms for the preparation of the proposal should be sufficient to allow a comprehensive submission.

Step 6 • Evaluate the proposals. The evaluation process for complex proposals may take several weeks.

Step 7 • Notify the responders of the results. This should be accomplished in a day or two, whether the RFP is complicated or simple. The post-selection step of debriefing the losing firms may take a few weeks.

Practice consideration 

One factor that will influence a selection process is the amount of time available to the client. A client must give adequate time to competing law firms for them to receive and digest the facts and background of the case or matter for which they may be retained. 

Conducting an early interview is needed to save time and money by eliminating early any particular counsel who will obviously not be acceptable. An interview can be conducted at the law firm or the client’s premises or conducted online. The client should also consider including members of the client’s organization who will likely be involved directly with the law firm and those client employees who have particular knowledge of the matter or subject. Finally, kind of legal matters, past experiences, and culture of the organization and its law department also influence the selecting decision.

As usual, after a client identifies potentially suitable law firms, it should select at least three to four law firms for further consideration. The client will be best able to make an informed selection if there are alternatives.

Bui Tien Long (Rudy)