Updated November 23, 2020:

Government Contracts Law

A government contracts attorney specializes in the area of law that covers the awarding of government contracts and litigation of related disputes that arise. While both small and large businesses are eligible for government contracts, in some cases the scale of these contracts requires a larger company. However, the U.S. Small Business Administration helps small businesses qualify for government contract work through the resources they offer. 

When private companies bid for contracts with local, state, or federal governments, they have to meet specific requirements that include full compliance with federal labor laws. A government contracts attorney can guide a company through each stage of the bidding process for these contracts. Because this body of law is complicated and often changing, it's important to choose someone with expertise in this specific area. 

Terms to Know

Terms associated with government contracts law include the following:

  • Appropriation: in which a government expenditure is allowed for a specific purpose, time, and amount.
  • Bid protests: a forum for contractors who think a federal contract has been illegally awarded, managed by the General Accounting Office (GAO).
  • Comptroller general: the federal employee responsible for investigating financial claims both on behalf of and against the government.
  • Federal acquisitions regulations (FAR): establish protocols that executive agencies must use to procure services and supplies. 

The GAO is responsible for settling claims, auditing, and managing accounting and legal functions for government operations and programs.

Aspects of Government Contracts

Businesses that want to bid on government contracts must understand the rules and regulations that apply to these types of contracts. First, all contractors, including small business subcontractors, must be provided with a "fair opportunity" to respond to government requests for proposals. If you feel that you were not given this opportunity, consult with a government contracts attorney. He or she can help you contest the contract award decision.

Networking with Government Contractors

Attorneys attend government contracting events to network with business owners and to stay current on legal requirements for government contracts. It's important to think creatively about business development so you can spot fertile contracting opportunities.

The Role of a Government Contracts Attorney

An attorney who is well-versed in government contracts will be able to assist you with all facets of negotiating and securing these types of contracts and alleviating disputes that arise. Their advisement starts with the proposal submission, or bid, and continues throughout the entire negotiation and award process. If your business is awarded the contract, your attorney can also help defend against claims that it was awarded inappropriately or unfairly.

Some of the services that a government contracts attorney provides include the following:

  • Helping you prepare a competitive bid proposal
  • Advising you on mandatory disclosure and other specific regulations that apply to government contracts
  • Representing you in court when required

A government contracts attorney may also work with a state or federal agency during the contract negotiation and award process. This can include counseling the agency, drafting and negotiating the contract, and providing litigation services when necessary.

Do I Need a Government Contracts Attorney?

If you're preparing a government bid for the first time, a government contracts attorney is necessary to advise you on regulations and best practices. You may also want to retain this type of attorney if you've already been awarded a contract but have been treated unfairly in regard to benefits, overtime pay, working conditions, or discriminatory practices.

Misunderstanding the federal regulations for government contracts can result in serious costs for small business owners, so in most cases hiring a specialized attorney makes good financial sense.

How Much Does it Cost to Hire a Government Contracts Attorney?

Most contract attorneys either bill at an hourly rate or charge a contingency fee. For an hourly rate, you'll be charged for the hours that your lawyer, associates, and paralegals devote to your case. With a contingency fee, your lawyer will receive a percentage if you win your case. No upfront fee is charged. This fee structure is common only when you have a good chance of winning a large settlement.

The specific rates charged with both fee structures vary depending on your geographic location and the complexity of your case.

If you need help with government contracts, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.