Innovation And The Law: Technology To Assist With The Dreaded RFP Process

Aug 8th, 2017

It’s no secret that the process of drafting, receiving and responding to an RFP for ediscovery services is met with angst from both sides.Tell me if this sounds familiar: a client puts out a complex, often very thick RFP document that the client thinks asks all the pertinent questions, and the responding party looks at the document and has dozens of questions to truly understand the scope of what the client is looking for and needs. The client may hold an hour-long Q&A on the phone in which none of the responding parties want to ask questions for fear of giving information to the other responding parties. Or, even better, the client allows the responding parties to submit written questions and then provides the answers only to the party who submitted them. Then the responding parties spend hundreds of hours responding to the full request knowing they have a less than 20% chance of success. Oy.

Often the client doesn’t want to give too much away, and views the early-stage negotiations as their best opportunity to get the best pricing, so they play it close to the vest. The client doesn’t give any details that would truly allow the responding parties to come up with creative solutions that take key facts into account, so they provide what they view as their best pricing and other information based on assumptions. Nobody really wins. (Because you know what assumptions do to me and you.)

From the client side, RFP’s are just part of the normal process to have multiple parties respond to an inquiry about services and start the process. Deanna Blomquist, Senior Manager in IT for eDiscovery & IT Contracts at Dish Network, says an RFP can help by breaking the ice with new vendors you are not familiar with, in establishing a uniform baseline for the who, what, when, how and why of services, and by allowing for an easier comparison across responders.

Deanna also acknowledges the frustrations with the process and says the answers to the RFP are only so good. Canned answers from marketing or communications are “not a final determinant of what an organization will be like to work with on a project.” Deanna says face-to-face dialogue before hiring is key — even if it’s online.

 

From the other side, a former account executive turned law firm practice consultant with 15 years of experience in the field had a few added frustrations. He told me that RFPs often seek quotes on projects that are not fully scoped out (YIKES) and that the intangible areas of a project — project management and the provider’s track record, to name a couple — aren’t given enough weight. Price becomes the primary component, and an apples-to-apples comparison is next to impossible.That’s not good, folks. As I’ve noted here and here, good project management is the key to success for any project. So, what’s the solution?

Enter ClariLegal. Some of you might remember it from last December, when it was a winner in Above the Law’s Startup Alley Competition. I learned more about this new software a couple of months ago, when I started working with its CEO, Cash Butler, on the Masters Conference. After decades of experience on the provider side of the services business, Cash set out to develop software that would solve the problems he saw on every RFP: the inability to compare pricing, the inefficiencies of responding to questions that did not impact the RFP, and the inability to do a true side-by-side comparison of responding parties to include the intangibles.

ClariLegal has a unique thought process and business model. Clients who want to submit an RFP set up an account on their end and are walked through a process to complete an RFP with assistance from the system — thereby eliminating the issue of miscommunication about requirements. Providers then respond to the RFP requirements, and the client receives a Bid Comparison report for them to drill down into the various parts of each provider’s bid.

The detail in the software for laying out the parameters of a project comes from Cash’s experience handling thousands of projects, and it shows. Here are a couple of snapshots of part of the breakdown of a project summary for data collections:

Cash says ClariLegal is designed to solve the three things that drove him crazy as a vendor: procurement, project tracking, and communication issues, in the RFP and project management areas for ediscovery services. He wants to help the industry standardize pricing and service offerings so customers know what they are buying and vendors know what they need to deliver.

The tool allows for communications between the parties to be tracked in the system and is designed to eliminate instances like attorneys delivering instructions orally or via email with no real tracking of what those are or how they should be interpreted. While it’s too many words for one column, Cash has dozens of stories where the lack of communication meant copious overspending on projects. He’s designed ClariLegal to solve that.

 

So what is to stop every Tom, Dick and Harry provider from joining in the platform and just creating a price war? Providers have to be vetted extensively before they are selected for inclusion in ClariLegal. The ClariLegal team requires an extensive background, recommendations and a project history as a start.

If you’re a corporate legal department or law firm that wants to run “lean and mean” and that needs help with vendor selection and ediscovery services in general, you’ll want to check out ClariLegal. As I see it, ClariLegal isn’t just a fit for large law departments, but also for the firms with small projects or the one-off case that they need help with and would not scale up their own department. It’s hard to know what to look for and what to ask, and this product may help with that.

And the best part? It’s free for clients to use. Vendors pay a percentage of their costs to ClariLegal on finished projects. You can learn more about ClariLegal here.

We definitely need more technology helping us navigate the landscape of dealing with ESI, and we need thoughtful people with knowledge to build it. With luck, this new innovation will help more clients get better access to services.

 

POSTED ON ABOVE THE LAW