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A Guide to Ediscovery RFPs

by Justin Smith

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Electronic discovery, or ediscovery as it’s known, is one of the most important parts of the case lifecycle. Sifting through thousands, or even millions, of documents and other electronically stored information (ESI) is crucial to uncovering useful pieces of information that can help win your case. An ediscovery software provider can assist your organization in creating a streamlined, efficient process for sorting and finding data.

By issuing a request for proposal (RFP) for ediscovery software, you can solicit a range of bids from qualified providers that will help take the burden of procurement off your shoulders. Whether you’re a member of a corporate legal department, law firm, or government agency, lawyers have the power to transform their organization from the inside out.

That said, not all RFPs are created equal, and just because you issue one, doesn’t mean you’ll get your pick of vendors. There are a few best practices to follow when it comes to issuing your ediscovery RFP to ensure you get the best services at the right price.

Establish the Stakes

One of the first things you need to do when starting the RFP process is to narrow down what your organization actually needs and what the ediscovery platform should be compatible with. Are you looking for ediscovery services for one particular case, or for a broader range of services? Will the ediscovery process involve standard documents, or do you need a platform that can handle audio and video? Will you be processing emails, or more complex data like text messages and Slack messages? 

This is also a great opportunity to clarify what you’re hoping to achieve with the RFP process, and what your goals are in the solicitation. Is it truly just a matter of using one vendor for one case, or are you looking to form an ongoing partnership? Why is now the right time to issue an RFP? The more intentional you are about setting the scope of services you need, the more likely you are to solicit bids from the most qualified software and service providers.

Request for Proposal vs. Request for Qualifications

Once you have the stakes outlined and the scope of services in place, deciding whether you plan to issue an RFP or a request for qualifications (RFQ) is the next step.

An RFP is generally considered best for organizations that aren’t entirely sure what they need and what kind of vendors they are searching for. Issuers want feedback on their proposed scope of work, and are typically more open to ideas. An RFP can be quite detailed, and ask for the companies proposing for the work to be detailed in their responses.

An RFQ is typically better for organizations that know what they need, and pretty much just want information on price. They also concern specific products, and not necessarily a broad scope of services, like with an RFP.

Depending on the end goal you’re seeking for your requested services, an RFP or RFQ might be the more suitable option. It’s important to have your detailed scope in mind when deciding which type of request to issue.

Evaluate the Criteria

You also need to think about how you’re going to evaluate respondents, and how much weight you want to assign certain criteria. For example, are cost savings the most important factor, or functionality? What about customer service? Does a prospective vendor have case studies with companies of similar size and needs that you can view?

When it comes to an ediscovery solution, things like cutting down on document review times, managing data collection, taking advantage of de-duplication, and syncing with platforms like Microsoft and Gmail are vital for law firms and in-house legal departments, and should come standard. When you know the functionalities you need in an ediscovery solution and how you plan to prioritize them, it can help you build a better RFP.

What to Include in Your Ediscovery RFP

There’s certain information and criteria that it’s typically useful to ask for in your RFP. These details can help provide background on prospective vendors, and offer a window into how they do business.

  • Company Information. Ask for insight into prospective providers, such as their size, number of offices, years in business, contact information of main contact, references, past history servicing organizations of similar size and scope, whether they plan to subcontract any portion of the work, and any other information they’d be comfortable sharing.

    Potential questions to ask include:

    • Has the company ever engaged in any stage of litigation, as a claimant or defendant, arising out of a dispute involving any of the services?

    • Has your organization had a major (longer than 4 working hours) planned or unplanned outage in the last five years?

  • Technical Requirements. Get details on the technical aspects of what a vendor is offering. You should ask if they can integrate with platforms like Gmail and Slack, the amount of data they can handle at once, the amount of active cases their platform currently has, the main features they offer, how many users they have capacity for, and any other information you’d want to know.

    Some possible questions are:

    • How often do you release product updates and features?

    • Is your organization in direct control of the platform development process?

  • Pricing Information. This section is good for asking whether they bill on a per-case or per-gigabyte basis, how much they charge for user licenses, whether they have case minimums, how much they charge for training, whether they have on-call support and charge for it, and similar information. Transparency is key to ensure you don’t get hit with surprises on your bill.

    Ask questions like:

    • Do you charge for anything other than data hosted in the platform? If so, please list each category of charges.

    • Is there one cost for the entire platform or do different portions, modules, or features in the platform incur separate charges? Please explain.

Investigate the Market

Prior to submitting the RFP and actually soliciting bids, it’s important to investigate the market in an effort to anticipate the response you’ll receive and see if there’s anything you can do to tailor your RFP so it reaches a range of potential vendors. For example, that might mean offering more clarifying information about a specific request, or giving more transparency on a pricing model, which is often a major sticking point in negotiations. You can even contact potential vendors directly to gauge their interest in responding to an RFP, and see what their capacity is for taking on more work.

You can sometimes look at past RFP submissions from similar companies to see where they were posted, what types of service providers responded, and even the proposed pricing. Certain sites send out notifications whenever a new RFP is posted, which helps prospective service providers discover new opportunities. If there are certain vendors you want to solicit a submission from, you can even send them the RFP directly. A lackluster response to a competitors’ RFP is worth evaluating to ensure you don’t repeat the same mistakes.

Paying attention to the structure of other RFPs, and the positive or negative responses they received, can help you organize a template that reads clearly and conveys important information in a logical way.

Monitor the Bids

Once you’ve completed your RFP and sent it out into the world, the process isn’t over. Monitoring the bids you receive and putting thought into the evaluation process is just as important as completing the RFP in the first place.

If you receive proposals from vendors you feel are qualified, don’t just decide based on the strength of their materials. Ask for demos, meetings with key contacts, and anything else you need to help make your decision. If they can actually deliver on what they promised in the RFP, they should be eager to show their work.

There are also times when the amount and quality of responses might not quite meet expectations. Maybe instead of five bids you only get two, or when the due date arrives you still don’t feel confident in all the proposed vendors. If that’s the case, there’s no shame in re-evaluating your RFP and pinpointing areas for improvement. You’re supposed to feel confident in the discovery services you choose.

Your Next Ediscovery Solution

Deciding on the right ediscovery solution for your needs can be a time-consuming, comprehensive operation that involves your whole team. It also makes the moment you zero in on the perfect vendor all the more rewarding. The RFP process is a tool to help solicit a range of bids from companies you might not have ever considered in the first place.

Additional Resources

An ediscovery platform like Everlaw can help match the needs of your corporate legal department, law firm, government agency, and more. Everlaw combines security with functionality to help transform the ediscovery process by commuting data to the cloud and creating products that allow for increased collaboration and standardization. It’s an all-in-one solution to meet the next generation of ediscovery.