A generic procurement exercise will typically go through the following stages:
- Requirements scoping.
- Match potential vendors to requirement.
- Assess vendor capability.
- Short list.
- Demonstration with real data.
- Establish call off contracts.
As little or as much as you want. The aim is to end up with a preferred supplier, whether for one case or for many. Some law firms have followed a full procurement route taking weeks, others have asked 3 vendors in for demonstrations on one day and made a selection after that. The absolute minimum you must do is look at the software with the people who will support it, if you can use your own data for the demo, even better.
The main considerations for each of these stages are shown in the following sub-sections.
Requirements scoping #
All “Stakeholders” in the procurement should be interviewed. This not only includes the lawyers/legal staff in the litigation department, but might also embrace the legal teams from other disciplines. It should definitely include the IT department and (if one exists) the print room function. You would be amazed (or perhaps not if you are undertaking a procurement) as to how much stuff is still printed and photocopied.
The firm’s accounting system might be examined to see which suppliers are already being paid for services, as well as a firm wide question on which suppliers people have heard about/used, and which they recommend/would never use again.
The aim of the exercise is to distil down the requirements of the various parties into a coherent whole, so that competing products can be assessed in an “apples” for “apples” manner.
One thing that will be needed is an estimate of the volumes of litigation that the firm undertakes. Firms should extract details from the their Practice Management System on the number of new litigation matters created each month, and couple these with estimates on the number of “live” matters, a rough idea of how much each is worth, and how long the cases run for. In this way they will have some idea of the overall scope of their requirement, and also vendors will understand the approximate value of the work they might obtain, and can price their offering accordingly.
Match potential vendors to requirement #
The aim here is to select a pool of potential vendors that match the requirement, with the trick being the elimination of those suppliers that do not “fit” the needs or ethos of the firm. This is a two way process, the vendors themselves are selective in their sales qualification process and will only focus on those prospects they have a real chance of winning. If your approach is too wide, you run the risk of alienating the marketplace, and only getting the desperate and the naïve bidding for your work.
Assess vendor capability #
Assessing vendor capability can be done in a number of ways. More formal procurements go through a cycle of Request for Information (RFI) to gather market knowledge, followed by a much more detailed Request for Procurement (RFP), which would contain the types of requirements shown the following Sections.
Some firms prefer to go direct to a short list and straight into the formal RFP, whilst others will skip this stage entirely (with some advice) and invite a selected group in for demonstrations.
All approaches are valid, it depends upon the budget for the procurement exercise, the level of formality the firm requires and the scope of the requirements.
Short list #
If a more formal RFP (and RFI) has been issued then the response will need to be evaluated, given some form of scoring (with or without weighting, depending upon the firm) and a short list selected. In cases where the circumstances warrant it, firms might move straight to this stage, relying upon their ability to identify which vendors might meet their requirements.
Demonstration with real data #
The next stage is key. Firms must evaluate the software they are considering using by means of a demonstration, preferably using the firm’s own data, ideally from a real life case, so that the issues with it are known. The panel looking at the products should be consistent across all demonstrations, and feedback should be collated in a managed format, so that personal bias is reduced as much as possible.
References might also be taken up at this stage. Ultimately, however, it is the interaction between end users, the software and (most importantly) the vendor’s staff, that is of greatest significance.
Establish call off contracts #
Once vendors have been selected, the call-off contracts with discounted rates should be negotiated. It is better to use the law firms contract as a starting point, though the vendor T&C’s should be examined. The trap to avoid here is the over eager in-house lawyer looking to make up their hours who sees this as an exercise to re-write everything from scratch.