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When to Run With a Request For Proposal

Due Dilligence Before Investing Time In An RFP

Busy lawyers tell us they get frustrated spending time and money to respond – usually unsuccessfully - to Requests for Proposal.  However, they feel obligated to do so.  Would it be better, they ask, to simply decline – and should they decline in all cases?

There are no blanket answers here, but some clues can easily be found.  Think about why you are receiving an RFP.  Typically, they are used by clients who want to ensure they are receiving the best service at a competitive price. Organizations do not often resort to an RFP process if they are currently satisfied with existing counsel, though public entities often must.  More likely, companies use the RFP device when the legal services they need are in the nature of a commodity, such as general litigation, which could be handled by many capable firms, or when they are unhappy with existing counsel and want to send a message.

With this information, you can focus on the company's needs and concerns, and showcase the strengths and experience you will bring to solving its problems. Without this information your response will likely be generic. Don't allow firms more acquainted with the company to have an advantage.

Lawyers may be reticent to call the prospective client directly for this information but there are number of compelling reasons why they should.  The company is typically aware how time-consuming the process is and they usually fully expect there will be questions.  Remember, clients choose lawyers, not firms. They choose people based on chemistry and trust. Trust is built through personal interaction, not through a bid process. Making contact with a potential client and establishing some rapport improves your ability to respond successfully and be more carefully considered.

Nowadays companies often create an on-line repository for questions from all responders where answers can be shared.  This is efficient and establishes a fair playing field for the sharing of information, but it doesn’t create a personal connection.  If a prospect allows for no personal interaction, or attempts to avoid it, it could be a sign that they have already selected their top one or two candidates and that the additional RFP responses are for supporting data purposes only.  Asking them why your firm was included, who referred your firm and what their initial view of your firm’s strengths are, should give some indication as to whether they have a solid interest in your firm.

Finally, follow up. If you do not get the work, ask why. Where were you weak - experience, lawyer power, cost, location? Find out where you need to improve. Set the stage by asking an in-house counsel beforehand whether, in the event you are not chosen, he or she will be willing to talk with you briefly about what you could have done differently, If you are given this opportunity, do not use it to argue about the company's choice. Instead, find out how you can do better next time.

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