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Legal E-Billing RFP Guide: 10 Tips for Writing One That Works

A well-executed legal e-billing RFP is the shortest path between interested buyers and qualified suppliers. This article reflects the principles shared by the most effective RFPs we’ve witnessed first-hand. We hope it brings clarity to a potentially confusing process and, most importantly, leads you closer to the legal e-billing software that’s right for you.

Tip #1: Be Specific

Do not spare the details. It may seem like a time-saver to you or a courtesy to us, but it’s more likely to delay necessary conversations that need to be had eventually.

For example, the next time you find yourself typing “etc.,” consider explicitly stating the items that phrase might represent. This level of specificity reduces the risk of vendors misinterpreting your intentions and responding with incomplete (or irrelevant) answers. Detail is also a powerful tool for identifying differentiation. Vague requirements tend to attract vague (and often identical) responses. So lead by example and challenge vendors to match your specificity.

Which question is more likely to push the process forward: “Do you support single sign-on?” or “How will you support user provisioning and authentication via our identity management provider, Okta? Do you have a verified Okta integration?

Tip #2: Let both sides ask and answer

Specificity will reduce confusion, but it won’t eliminate it entirely. This is particularly true when discussing a topic as complex as legal spend management. So aim to create an environment where both sides feel comfortable asking questions and feel confident about receiving thoughtful answers.

The primary reason buyers hesitate to accept questions from vendors is a concern for fairness. And it’s understandable that you would not want to give any vendor the benefit of exclusive information.

However, in most cases vendors simply want to make sure we understand your intentions well enough to provide helpful answers. There’s also an easy way to nullify any potential unfairness: Share all responses with all vendors participating in the legal e-billing RFP.

What you don’t want to do is deflect valid questions with evasive answers like “Make your own assumptions based on the information provided.” Once again, that only increases your risk of inviting potentially misleading responses. Finally, make sure the value of this open discourse isn’t spoiled by unrealistic deadlines. If there isn’t sufficient time allotted for incorporating newly revealed information, what was the point of providing it?

Tip #3: Put problems & solutions above features & specifications

Always start the conversation with a focus on the problems you want to solve, tasks you need to execute, and processes you prefer to follow. Product features and specifications are only relevant to the extent that they serve your desired outcome. Some vendors may “check all the boxes” technically yet struggle to serve your needs strategically. Likewise, others could call your attention to unlisted features that are actually central to your success. So leave the burden of proposing technical solutions to vendors — at least at first. Your time will be better spent providing absolute clarity on your business goals.

There are dozens of ways a vendor could technically satisfy a feature requirement such as “business rules are configurable.” A more useful exercise would be to outline the specific business rules a solution needs to support and request proposals for how that could be accomplished.

Tip #4: Separate the essential from the aspirational

A “must-have” requirement is one that is essential for meeting your objectives. Any vendor who cannot meet such a requirement should, by definition, be eliminated from consideration.

A “nice-to-have” feature is one that is more aspirational than essential. It is desired, but not required, and a functional solution could operate without it.

A successful legal e-billing RFP process depends on your ability to distinguish between the two. It’s okay to discuss aspirational elements, but there must be a clear line dividing them from (and prioritizing them below) truly essential requirements.

This separation is a safeguard for both sides. It protects vendors against preparing proposals in vain for a business case they cannot satisfy. And more importantly, it protects you against a painful realization that the vendor you selected cannot meet your requirements.

Let’s say Vendor A can address 19 of your 20 requirements and Vendor B can address 18 of your 20 requirements. All else being equal, which vendor would you select? What if the requirement missed by Vendor A was a must-have and the two missed by Vendor B were nice-to-haves? How might your original
answer change?

Tip #5: When writing a legal e-billing RFP, aim for quality, not quantity

Less really is more in RFPs — and we promise that isn’t a ploy to save vendors time. Most of us have developed habits to respond to large RFPs efficiently and ahead of deadline. The true beneficiary of brevity is your evaluation team. When an overly long legal e-billing RFP competes against their everyday business responsibilities, evaluators will inevitably start skimming vendor responses. There simply won’t be time to develop a meaningful impression of each vendor and explore their points of differentiation in depth.

The good news is you can build a framework free of such trade-offs. We suggest narrowing the scope to increase the quality of conversation. Omit questions that would only be included out of reflex or obligation and reserve more of everyone’s attention for topics of genuine interest.

Tip #6: Bring financial controls to the front

Your finance department will be a key stakeholder in any legal spend management system you choose. This may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how few legal e-billing RFPs we receive seem to reflect the full significance of this relationship. Meaningful financial controls requirements are accidentally withheld all too often.

So make sure finance has a seat at the table — and pull the chair out for them sooner rather than later. Leaving their considerations until the end could introduce surprises that spoil months of diligent work. Additionally, prepare your finance colleagues for the possibility that they may need to offer vendors what feels like extra education. This is not the time to rely on acronyms or gloss over nuances in complex processes. The precision will be greatly appreciated.

To give you a better sense of how specific to be, here are a few financial questions to consider:

• How does your organization budget for legal spend?
– Would you describe it as centralized or decentralized? – How do you review budgets throughout the year?
• Are purchase orders (POs) required for some or all of your invoices?
– If so, what does the requisition and approval process look like?
– What steps are included in your current invoice approval process?
• Does the process vary in certain scenarios?
– What changes do you wish you could make?.

Tip #7: Connect with accounts payable

Any effective legal spend management solution must align with the accounts payable (AP) systems and practices that govern your organization’s overall spending. The strongest way to forge that alignment is via software integration.

To facilitate this process, vendors will need to know the following characteristics of your AP system setup:

• Which AP system you’re using
– Vendor name, product line, and product version
• Where it’s hosted
– On-premises vs. in the cloud
• How many instances exist
– One global instance vs. separate instances based on region or entity
• What are its known limitations
– For example, lacks support for multiple currencies
• What changes are planned
– For example, upgrading versions or migrating to another product

All of these details ultimately influence our suggested solutions and proposed integration methods.

Tip #8: Separate infused requirements from the legal e-billing RFP

Legal spend management systems will have access to highly sensitive data, so it’s important to identify vendors with flawless security and compliance credentials. Before starting that search, though, be sure to align with your IT team and confirm your organization’s exact data protection requirements.

The best way to ensure vendor responses include sufficient detail is to include your organization’s complete information security questionnaire as an attachment, rather than embedding a subset of questions in the RFP itself.

Vendors know it may be a long document, but we would still prefer to provide security evaluators with the information they need in a single sprint. Combining business strategy and technical security conversations in the name of efficiency tends to have the opposite effect.

Tip #9: Don’t forget your data

Data migration is a major consideration for buyers switching over from an existing system. You’ll want to ensure open matters, active vendors, and historical spend data makes its way into your new operating environment. The good news is top vendors will have proactive plans and proven methods for facilitating a smooth transition. The bad news is this is the part of the switch that’s most likely to go wrong if expectations aren’t set clearly.

Consider, for example, these three ways of phrasing a requirement:

  • “Vendor can migrate our data to their system.”
  • “Vendor must be able to migrate 1,000 matters and 20 vendors from our current system.”
  • “Please review our data dictionary and describe how you will map it to your own.”

The third option is the most comprehensive and instructive — which also makes it the most likely to separate the expert data stewards from the ordinary software suppliers.

Of course, sometimes it won’t be possible to provide a data dictionary. (And that will be yet another reason to gladly part with your legacy system.) But the closer you can get to that standard in your legal e-billing RFP, the more context you’ll have when working toward a final decision.

Tip #10: Review all implications of a switch

You’ve built the business case for change, you’ve narrowed the field to a few vendors, and now you’re just days away from starting a new chapter. At this point, a sense of excitement (and relief) can easily distract you from focusing on the finer points of your future.

But if you’re already using dedicated software to manage legal spend, you need to acknowledge all the differences inherent to a new solution before making the switch.

The most foundational change to consider would be a transition from on-premises to cloud-based hosting. Software availability, update frequency, and data residency are all topics that could hold surprises for those new to operating in the cloud. So be sure to voice your expectations clearly to vendors.

In terms of user experience, though, any new legal spend management system is likely to require at least some level of behavior change. The best vendors will incorporate plans for training and onboarding into their proposed solution.

After all, you’re not only looking for a business partner who delivers reliable technology, but one who provides ongoing strategic support as well.

Bonus Tip: Include an executive summary

Even the most intelligently formatted RFP questionnaires will struggle to provide vendors with the full context of your everyday operations. In order to graduate from software provider to the role of strategic partner, we’ll need your help.

Vendors always appreciate it when, as a preface to the formal RFP, buyers provide us
with a few paragraphs of commentary describing their organization’s long-term goals and immediate obstacles. Even better, let us know what has and has not worked well for you in the past when collaborating with vendors.

We may or may not respond to these notes directly, but they certainly will inform our thinking as we tailor individual RFP responses for maximum relevance and value.

Not sure where to start? Worried about how to keep it concise? Try this framework:

  • Our team’s top goals for the next 12 months include…
  • The challenges we face in achieving these goals are…
  • After 12 months, we’ll consider the new vendor successful if…

Get our sample legal e-billing RFP

Following the principles set out in this article, Brightflag has developed a sample legal e-billing RFP for you to use and modify to fit your specific needs. The sample RFP is in Word format and fully editable. Download it now to eliminate weeks from your RFP timeline and confidently identify the partner who will help you take control of your legal spend once and for all.

Jake Mendelson

Vice President, Sales at Brightflag

A customer-focused executive, Jake leads Brightflag’s team of sales professionals in partnering with legal operations visionaries to help them adopt legal tech successfully. Prior to joining Brightflag, Jake held various sales leadership positions at Rocketrip, the business travel platform.