Perhaps unfortunately for law firms, a request for proposal (RFP) is becoming a standard element of many companies’ efforts to obtain legal services. For the corporate, legal services RFPs can bring many advantages, not least in providing the tools to make an accurate comparison between providers and, additionally, to drive down cost.
However, while there may be very good reasons for corporates to want their potential legal counsel to complete an RFP for legal services, whether for general work of for intellectual property-related matters in particular, for the law firm itself, the request can be extremely burdensome.
So if you receive a request for proposal related to legal services, what should you do? The first thing is to assess the terms of the request. Key questions to ask yourself include:
- When is it due?
- How much work is it going to take to complete?
- Is the project, subject of the proposal, something we can do?
- Do we want to do it?
There may be lot of good reasons why you would decline to fill in an RFP – you might feel there are conflicts with your existing work, or that the work doesn’t fit with the strategic aims of the company.
However, assuming that you do want to bid for the work, there are a few things you need to do in order to give yourself the best chance of success.
Scope of work
First, analyse exactly what is required in order to complete the work for which a proposal has been requested. For a law firm, that is normally going to be a time and personnel calculation. How long is the work expected to take (or if the work is open ended, how much work might it reasonably be expected to require over a given time frame?) and how many people will need to work on it? How senior do those people need to be?
In some cases, the answers will be straightforward, such as if the request for proposal is for intellectual property legal services alone, but for more complex matters, such as difficult litigations for example, completing the job may require multiple people from different departments with particular expertise.
It’s important to identify all departments that are potentially affected by the RFP and seek feedback from them on the resource ramifications of winning the work. Once you have that information you will be able to provide a more accurate assessment of costing, which is a key part of any RFP and often the driving factor behind the request. Assigning different people in the firm to supply information on their own department, for example, will help reduce the individual workload associated with the RFP, and indeed, some law firms have begun employing people specifically to coordinate and assist with RFP completion.
It’s important to understand what is motivating the request for proposal. Is this new work for the client? Or is the client disillusioned with its current supplier? Or is it just part of a management approach that looks to refresh external relationships from time to time and keep costs down? Often it will be all three, but understanding a bit about the history of the corporate legal department will help you tailor your response effectively.
What will help you win the work?
The reality is that in many cases an RFP has been put out in order to control costs and improve client service.
Cost is not necessarily about who is the cheapest supplier; it may be that predictability is key, or that tying costs to outcomes is important. In any event, it will likely make sense to include in your RFP something that shows you understand the cost pressures the corporate is under, perhaps by suggesting an alternative billing solution to the norm.
When it comes to client service, being explicit about how you will treat the client is almost certainly going to be useful, whether that be spelling out communication channels and management hierarchy, or by providing case studies that show how you do it well.
Finally, think about why you deserve to win the work. What is it you can do that your competitors can’t? Why would you be the best partner for this client on this work?
If you can answer those questions, an RFP becomes less of a burden and more of an opportunity for growth.