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You Too Can Respond to RFPs

Unless you work at a very large law firm, odds are that you don’t have a dedicated employee(s) for writing proposals or responding to RFPs. And that’s okay – you should still go for it; there are just a few points you may wish to consider:

  1. Don’t respond to everything. You can waste a lot of time and money if you respond to proposals if you don’t meet the requirements. Read the RFP document carefully and consider if you truly are a good fit. 
  2. Ask for clarity. Sometimes there are mistakes or vague statements in RFP documents; you might disqualify yourself if you make assumptions. 
  3. Read the RFP documents with your lawyer hat on – in some instances, simply ordering the RFP documents or a bid submission alone can act as a contract.
  4. Don’t assume you aren’t able to provide a competitive proposal just because you are a sole practitioner, a small firm, located outside of a major commercial centre, etc. Many RFPs clearly state that they are looking to build a varied roster of legal support, while some RFPs will allow for you partner with other lawyers or firms to help meet the requirements. It won’t hurt to ask if it isn’t expressly prohibited in the document.
  5. Customize your proposal! One of the recurring comments from corporate counsel is that they don’t like to see the “canned” presentation. Using a pre-fab response does not allow you to reply within the style frame that is sometimes, but not always, explicitly laid out.
  6. While you should customize your responses, don’t start from scratch every time. There are some standard questions that manage to find their way into most RFPs, so you may wish to come up with some wording that can be easily adjusted for each proposal.
  7. Research, research, research. Know your audience and the challenges they are facing or that are common to their type of organization or industry and address them in your proposal. 
  8. Be honest. This goes without saying, but exaggerating counts as lying. 
  9. Know when you need help. Proposals often require a slightly different style of writing than most lawyers are accustomed to. Some RFPs are incredibly complicated and require very dedicated attention. In these cases, it may be wise to consider a consultant or freelance writer that specializes in this area.
  10. Don’t assume it’s a slam dunk. When your existing client comes to you and asks you to participate in their new proposal process, take it seriously. You could lose their business if you don’t.
  11. Answer every question in a direct and clear fashion. Avoid flowery language or buzz words (unless you know the organization to be big on flowery language and buzz words, in which case you could use this as an opportunity to demonstrate fit).
  12. Deliver ahead of the deadline. Given that most RFPs have relatively short timelines, this means that you may wish to create a work back schedule. 
  13. Consider conflicts of interest that might arise in the future and how that might affect your current client base.
  14. Don’t offer discounted or long term rates you can’t afford – you might get more (or less) than you bargained for. 
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Comments

  1. Good article.

    The first point is solid advice. Many times individuals and firms will agonize over whether to respond or not, eating up a great deal of their own billable time.

    One solution is to work out in advance the framework on assessing an RFP so that you know whether you are a good fit, or are willing to partner to get the work.

    Thanks again.

    Best,

    Jaak
    http://www.javalinc.com

  2. Thanks for reading! I fully agree that a formalized process with defined “go/no-go” parameters is key to keeping the assessment phase from eating up too much time!