The RFP for Outside Counsel

Basic Elements in the RFP for Outside Counsel

Every RFP for outside counsel contains some basic elements, as follows:

  1. Description of services (what your company needs).
  2. Desired pricing format (fixed, time & expense, contingent, hybrid, etc. and whether you want a variety of options or a single fee)
  3. Team biographies and expertise specific to your key needs
  4. Representative experience base (client lists, case studies, litigation history, etc.)
  5. Conflict check procedures and timeline.
  6. Describe their access to your in-house team in order to address questions requesting clarification of your needs specific to their RFP response (as opposed to specific rules for orals presentations, those would be premature).
  7. Timeline of the legal selection process. The timeline should include Q&A, accessibility to in-house counsel, response times for each stage of the proposal, etc.

Forward-Thinking Elements in a RFP For Outside Counsel

Some of the more forward-thinking in-house legal departments may include the following sections in their RFP for outside counsel:

  1. Description of their desired client service, client satisfaction and formal feedback processes.
  2. Questions surrounding how a new law firm will learn your company, industry, competitors and markets and who pays for the time involved in that process.
  3. Preventative measures that the firm commonly employs with clients; e.g.: What training does the firm offer clients?
    • How do they handle planning sessions?
    • What training does the firm offer clients?
    • What is their approach to reviews of your internal processes?
    • Who do they handle risk assessments?
  4. How do they communicate with you about fees, in terms of fee raises, billings above the proposed fee, collections and so forth?
  5. Description of their quality assurance processes.
  6. Description of their team management process; e.g.,
    • What will be the level of attorneys assigned to your work?
    • What is their criteria for selecting the attorneys?
    • What degree of control do you have over attorney selection?
  7. Describe their specific experience in your industry, including an understanding of your business drivers.
  8. Some clients map out the decision process for law firms. They may give the firm a formal list titled “Here’s what it will take to win our work.”
  9. Separate from bios, a client may require Subject Matter Experts with specific qualifications.

RFP For Outside Counsel – Far-Ranging Elements

And finally, some firms include more far-ranging sections on their RFPs, including:

  1. A more tightly defined description of services (what you need, more refined)
  2. A formal service expectations agreement. If the client drafts their service expectations, they will have greater controls over their actual service levels.
  3. Along those same lines, some clients request bilateral client feedback. In other words, they request not just client feedback forms for themselves, but they request external counsel to rate themselves, then compare the two responses. Makes for very fruitful discussions.
  4. “Describe how (name of firm) would approach…” (describe three situations; one past that didn’t work out, one present, one likely to occur in future). In other words, treat the RFP as a learning experience. Get some insights as to how the new firm is likely to approach your legal issues.
  5. What is your proposed team composition, how was it determined and who determines it in the future?
  6. Give examples of business acumen; e.g., business advice you have rendered with respect to legal issues. The best service providers are additive to the business, they will have a broader understanding of the business problems surrounding your legal issues.
  7. Ask the question: “What will we lose if we don’t select your firm?

Other Articles Relevant to the RFP For Outside Counsel

Read Mr. Stapleton’s earlier posts titled “How law firms exert control over the legal vendor selection process” and “How law firms want you to select a new firm and how you should do it“.

James J. Stapleton is the Managing Principal of LEAP Legal.  Mr. Stapleton spent several decades building large law firms (Fenwick & West and Littler Mendelson) and large accounting firms (PwC, Arthur Andersen, Grant Thornton) before founding LEAP Legal.  LEAP (Legal Effectiveness and Pricing) Legal works with clients to reduce legal fees, optimize relationships with their law firms and streamline their internal legal processes.  He can be reached at or by telephone at 408.204.6656.

Check out our Inhouse Counsel Guides page for other articles and resources of interest.

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