No matter the size or type of practice of a law firm, almost every firm has had its fair share of preparing responses to Request for Proposals (RFPs).
They can be challenging, time-consuming and an exercise in frustration. But many clients find them helpful as part of managing their relationships with outside counsel. RFPs help clients narrow the number of outside counsel used, control costs and outline key considerations of a relationship between the client and its law firm.
Ideally, you can manage all of those things without having to respond to a formal RFP. But in many companies, the procurement department or the legal operations team require their outside counsel to participate in the RFP process. So, should you find yourself with an RFP on your desk, these steps can lessen the challenges of preparing your response:
Should You Respond?
Just because you receive an RFP doesn’t mean you should automatically respond. RFPs take considerable time and resources to complete. If you invest the time, you should be sure that you are responding to one that aligns with the work of your firm and that the work would be profitable.
Consider the following as you assess the RFP opportunity:
- Does your firm have the appropriate legal experience?
- Can you price the work within the scope of the RFP and be profitable?
- Can you staff the project?
- Is this the type of work your firm wants?
- Perform a “win analysis,” i.e. what is your chance of getting this work? Who else might be bidding?
- If your firm has a business plan, does this type of client and type of work align with your business plan?
- Is there a business or legal conflict?
- Do you already have a relationship with the client? How strong is that relationship?
- Can you invest the time to prepare a proper response?
In some firms, before any work is done on an RFP response, there is a process wherein the RFP is reviewed against firm criteria and assigned a score. The RFP is assessed based on the firm’s expertise and capabilities, the value of the matter, the strength of the relationship between the firm and the client, the competitive advantage, and whether the work aligns with the firm’s business plan. This assessment allows the firm to objectively determine whether it should proceed with a response.
What Does A Request for Proposal Include?
In general, the RFP will request information about several aspects of a firm’s capabilities. In some RFPs, there are more requests for statistical information and fewer requests for narrative. They may want to know how many types of deals a firm has handled or how many types of cases the firm has tried in a certain court. And, recently, there are more questions included about cyber security, technology, data privacy, and diversity and inclusion. In some instances, RFPs require that copies of firm policies and guidelines be included with the response.
The key components of an RFP are as follows:
The Executive Summary sets the stage for the RFP response. It should focus on the client’s needs and how the firm can assist the client in achieving their goals and objectives. Make it compelling, no more than 1-2 pages. If this were the only section the client read, what would you say to make the client want to know more about your capabilities?
The index is a roadmap to the information contained within the response. Many RFPs now have specific instructions as to how the response should be prepared and formatted. If not, create an index to make it easy for the client. Think about ways to use graphics to assist in your response. This can help set you apart from the myriad of other responses the client receives.
This is your initial assessment of the legal matter or issues outlined in the RFP. In this section you will be asked to provide the firm’s relevant experience and results. You may also be asked to provide information and experience regarding any special legal issues or concerns, industry knowledge, and outcomes of related experience.
Who will provide the services for the client? You’ll need to identify the team and include the bios of attorneys, staff and anyone else you may need to help with the scope of services outlined in the RFP. As you consider who should be on the team, remember a few things:
- Members of the team should have the relevant experience on their bios. Consider the mix of lawyers and staff including experience, rates, and diversity.
- Identify who the team lead will be and include a paragraph about the role of the leader for the project.
- Be sure that if your firm is selected, this is the team that will do the work.
Budgets and Fees
Give careful thought to your response for budgets and fees. Many clients are looking for options outside of the billable hour. If you have experience with alternative fees, think about how they apply to the work identified in the RFP. Perhaps the client would be willing to consider hourly rates but with discounts. You can also think about pricing based on the phases of the project. Litigation is often priced based on initial case assessment, discovery, etc.
Think about expenses for the project. Will you need any special consultants or others to be involved? Who will manage them? What about travel?
Include information about how you will manage the budget and provide scheduled updates to the client. The goal is to make it easy for them to manage their budgets and report up the chain about the status of the matter.
Many clients now require information about law firm policies and guidelines related to security, data privacy, regulatory compliance, etc. In some cases, clients will ask for copies of those policies. Other administrative information that may be requested includes firm financials, diversity policies, and technology protocols and policies.
Before you begin any work on the RFP response, be certain you have no legal conflicts. Many clients include very specific conflict language in the RFP. In addition, be mindful of any potential business conflicts. Do your research about the opportunity and talk to the client before responding.
Client Service Plan
What can the client expect in working with your firm? Think about what the client needs and how you can meet those needs. For example:
- When can the client expect phone calls and emails to be answered? What about responding over holidays and weekends? We’re all connected 24/7, so these considerations are important.
- How will you notify the client of any changes on the team?
- Do your invoices meet the guidelines as requested by the client?
- Will you provide status reports and updates on a regular basis?
What can you do to help the client outside the scope of the services outlined in the RFP? What are you willing to do for the client at no charge but as part of the relationship with a client? Perhaps you can provide training or CLEs. What about seconding someone from your team? Perhaps you can offer to review contracts or other documents at no cost. Whatever is appropriate for your firm and client, be sure to offer those services in your RFP response.
Putting It All Together
Most RFPs provide directions as to how to organize the information in the response, provide attachments, and how to submit the response. Due dates are also included and, as a word of caution, they generally are not flexible. So be sure to provide your response by the date outlined in the RFP.
As you finalize the response, have someone in the firm review the final draft. Having someone read the document who has not worked on it (who has “fresh eyes”) is critical. Your response is reflective of how the client will perceive your legal work, so make sure it’s proofed, organized, and responsive to the questions asked in the RFP.
What Happens Next?
Most RFPs will outline the next steps once the response is received by the client. But there are some things that you can do:
- Stay in touch with the client. Make sure they have everything they need from you and offer to come in and meet with them.
- If the client requests additional information, be sure to respond quickly.
- You may be asked to come in to meet with the client and provide a formal presentation. Make sure that you are prepared for that meeting. Gather the team, organize your thoughts and materials, and rehearse.
- This is also a good time to debrief with your team on the process. What worked well for everyone? What could you do differently the next time?
- Use the opportunity to learn from the experience regardless of the outcome.
RFPs provide law firms with two important opportunities: first, to grow their business, and second, to assess their services from the vantage point of a prospective client and create systems and procedures that streamline the business development process.
The best time to review and fine-tune your RFP process (or create one if you don’t currently have one) is well before the RFP lands on your desk.
Deborah Roth Grabein is a seasoned strategic marketing, communications and business development executive. Throughout her 28+ year career, she has earned a reputation as a go-to leader in the legal field for her industry knowledge, aptitude for strategic thinking, and successful employee development. At Andrews Kurth Kenyon since 2005, Deborah works with firm management and lawyers at every level to steer, implement and promote the strategic goals of the firm, its offices, practices and attorneys. She specializes in applying critical oversight to the collection and analysis of competitive intelligence and market research, and translating that data into practical, applicable and unique firm initiatives. Deborah serves on the Marketing Steering Committee, the Women’s Initiative Committee, the Strategic Planning Committee and the Diversity Committee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed here are those of the author individually and not of her employer.