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RFP Nightmare? 5 Tips for Meaningful Legal Technology Evaluations

By Susan Ethridge

RFPs — requests for proposals — are used by organizations of all kinds, but they are especially prevalent in the legal industry. Given the complexity and cost of legal technology products, especially for e-discovery and litigation support, buyers must thoroughly evaluate potential partners, and RFPs are one of the most relied-on assessment methods. However, since the RFP process is time-consuming and resource-intensive on both sides, it’s important to design and execute them with an eye toward maximum effectiveness.

Whether it’s your first vendor selection effort or your thousandth, these guidelines will help you produce a technology RFP that works.

Conduct a Thorough Assessment of Your Needs

Before starting any RFP process, it’s critical to thoroughly understand your needs and expectations. For example, for e-discovery, how many matters do you anticipate being involved in during the next quarter? The next year? What kinds of data do your cases typically include? Where is the data located, and how easy will it be to acquire it?

Such questions can help you determine which skills and capabilities your RFP should include. For example, if you anticipate that data from cellphones or social media will be relevant, you’ll need to evaluate vendors’ ability to collect from these more challenging data sources. Similarly, if you expect to be involved in numerous cases with very short timelines, you’ll want to find a provider that can process data quickly and has a solid reputation for responsiveness.

Pro tip: You may be tempted to reuse RFP documents, and this can give you a solid head start. Still, be sure to revisit your expectations and evaluate whether the nature of anticipated litigation might affect the focus of your questionnaire.

Focus Your RFP on Efficiency

Be sure you’re formulating the questions in your RFP to pinpoint what matters in the most efficient way possible. For example, team member CVs are a good way to evaluate competence, but a list of employees’ certifications, plus their average tenure, can give you the same level of insight — and take a fraction of the time to read.

Other indicators of competence in litigation support services include:

  • Number of cases where clawbacks were required because of production errors
  • Number production deadlines that weren’t met
  • Number of support issues unresolved after 24, 48 and 72 hours

Pro tip: Data-driven responses are easier for respondents to provide, and easier for you to read, evaluate and compare. Perhaps most importantly, these types of responses are more objective. Ideally, your RFP should require both data points and anecdotes or descriptions.

Be Concise and Precise to Avoid the Weeds

RFPs are intended to support thorough, detailed evaluation, but if you focus too closely on thoroughness, you can wind up in the weeds. Asking for too much information can be just as ineffective as asking for too little, or for the wrong things. If the sheer effort to read and assess responses is unreasonably burdensome, everyone involved will quickly begin to feel overwhelmed. Then it will be far less likely that decisions will be based on objective evidence.

Instead, ask yourself whether each question truly captures critical information about factors that might impact your success.

Example: Asking the respondents to list all their physical locations. It might be nice to know whether your partner has a national or global presence, but these days, information can usually be collected virtually. Unless you have a true need for service or support in a specific geographic region or city, knowing where offices are located doesn’t offer that much value.

Consider More Than the Bottom Line

Very often, pricing represents a significant portion of the RFP questionnaire and evaluation process. However, in e-discovery and litigation support — as in most professional services scenarios — quality is every bit as important, if not more so. Ask for references and take the time to engage in detailed discussions. Investigate the potential partner’s bench strength, experience, and approach to problem-solving and collaboration. And don’t neglect your own network: Your peers and colleagues represent a wealth of real-world knowledge, and you might be surprised by how much you can learn about a company simply by sending out a few emails or LinkedIn messages.

The First Step Down a Long Road

Choosing the right service provider can be tricky, but you greatly improve your chances when you approach the project like an investigator, focus on the essentials, and look for partners that can provide big-picture insights and long-term value. Keep in mind that RFPs are only the first step. The ultimate goal should be building an enduring relationship with a service provider you can trust. For that, there’s no substitute for time, collaboration and shared perspective.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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Susan Ethridge Susan Ethridge

Susan Ethridge is a writer, editor and marketer with more than 15 years’ experience in the legal technology industry. A co-founder of OnCall Discovery, she writes blog posts and articles that explore the nuances of data and discovery management, legal marketing, and relationship nurturing.

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