Managing Effective Relationships with Vendors and the RFP Process

Recently, I had the opportunity to be a guest lecturer as part of the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP) Paralegal Management Certification Program. As a former paralegal, I always welcome opportunities  to speak with today’s paralegals about how they can enhance their management skills. While the topic of the session was law office management, my presentation focused on Managing Effective Relationships with Vendors and Preparing RFPs. After all, we depend on diverse services and products to do our jobs successfully. And we must have different options available to us.

In my view, the ability to effectively manage vendor relationships and the RFP process are skills that are much needed in any industry including legal. And there are several reasons for this. So as a follow up to my OLP presentation, I have decided to write a series of blogs on the importance of strategic partnering. I prefer to call it strategic partnering and not vendor management. While paralegals are in a good position to add-value to the overall vendor management program, strategic partnering skills are also needed by attorneys, managers and litigation support professionals. As I pointed out in my presentation, a successful vendor management program helps organizations to be more competitive and strategic in managing their legal operations.

As I kick-off this series of blog posts on strategic partnering, let me state at the beginning that the legal industry must eliminate the word vendor from its vocabulary and replace it with the word partner. This was the topic of a previous blog post I wrote (see Do You Have the Right Business Partners?). The word vendor is a thing of the past.  Yes, I recognize that this will require a change in the legal industry culture but one that is long overdue.    

When it comes to strategic partnering, an important exercise that must be undertaken is what I like to call synergy analysis. That is, you should conduct an evaluation of current partners by looking at:

  • The strengths and weaknesses of current partners
  • The benefits that current partners provide to your organization
  • The impact on your organization if you lose any current business partners

This same synergy analysis should be conducted whenever you evaluate new business partners. The key is to understand how any partner fits into the organization. 

You should also break out your business partners into the following three key categories: 

  1. People partners refer to service providers, forensic and eDiscovery companies, consultants, advisors, subject matter experts and staffing firms.
  2. Process partners refer to those companies who can support the key processes defined by the Electronic Discovery Reference Model (EDRM).
  3. Technology partners refer to companies providing software and service providers with the ability to work with several leading applications.

And yes, some partners may fit into more than one category.

In my upcoming blog posts on strategic partnering, I will address such topics as: 

  • Why are business partners needed
  • How do you find business partners
  • What makes a good business partner
  • What can partners do for you
  • How do you best manage partner relationships
  • Are RFPs really necessary
  • Types of services and products you will need
  • Why use RFPs
  • The three phases of RFPs
  • Conducting due diligence on business partners
  • Partner pricing considerations

My key conclusion is that partners can help you manage the business side of law involving people, process and technology. However, strong strategic partnering or vendor management skills are a must to achieve success in today’s legal environment.

Posted by Joe Kanka, Vice President of Corporate Development, eTERA Consulting. Joe can be reached at jkanka@eteraconsulting.com.