We all know that when procurement professionals purchase anything they need to get three bids. So why should we think that request for proposals (RFPs) for legal services are any different? I have admonished lawyers not to take the time writing a proposal when I see tell-tale signs that it is a pre-determined bid. I can recall several instances where I thought we might be the stalking horse — and I was right.
In one instance, the RFP was so poorly written I knew something was up. However, we went to the briefing meeting anyway and I noticed that the presenter seemed to favor a certain lawyer in the audience. At the kick-off meeting I told the partners that I thought the bid was very likely pre-determined. Nevertheless, they wanted to proceed because it would be a prestigious client. I acknowledged that you never know what will happen but that if we wanted to craft a proposal, we needed to pull out all the stops and present a great one.
At the debrief, I was told that the law firm that won the bid had experience that only one firm could possibly have: It had three previous chairs of an influential committee that the organization needed advice from in order to help them steer them through the politics and accomplish their goals. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we did present a great proposal and the organization said that we would be contacted to do additional work.
I am not suggesting that you should never bid on an RFP where you are not known — but just be aware that the chances for success are much lower.
Another instance was when a client was asked to propose for a new enterprise where we did not have a previous relationship with the founders. We had great expertise, but as it was a high-risk situation we were not selected. The firm that won was known to the organization and they felt comfortable that the lawyers could do the work. I am not suggesting that you should never bid on an RFP where you are not known — but just be aware that the chances for success are much lower. However, once again we submitted a great proposal and were informed that we would be asked to do additional work.
I recently recommended that a law firm not respond to an RFP as too much information was requested, the timeline was very short and the request for an extension was denied. The lead partner charged his time at $800+/hr and it would have taken him days to respond. The client wanted three scenarios for how they would respond to various situations; and the chance of winning or getting a good portion of the work was very limited. A tip-off is often a long, detailed RFP with an unreasonable deadline.
The use of jargon, names of proprietary software or the way practice areas are described likely demonstrate that a prospective client may have had another law firm assist with crafting the RFP. We would all love to be in that position, so we shouldn’t complain when we identify the tactic — just don’t get drawn into bidding.
Watch for RFPs that ask for a lot of information about your past performance — particularly if you have not worked with the company before. This should raise a red flag for you. The converse is also true: Look out for RFPs that are vague and don’t tell the bidder what they actually want.
Once, I worked with a team on a response to an RFP, and there were more than 135 clarifying questions. Yes, just imagine the rewrites. The responses were given on an excel spread sheet in no particular order. In addition, the responses were very vague. What’s your first clue that the company already knew which firm they were going to select?
There is only one time that I would recommend that you consider bidding on a pre-wired RFP, and that is if you want an opportunity to meet with the company or government entity for a debrief. However, you must come in a solid second and conduct a proper debrief. (So before making the decision to bid, make sure that they do not state in the RFP that they will not be conducting debriefs.)
In the end, you want the client or potential new client to like you and recognize that you have great expertise. And as you can see from the above examples, you may end up getting work in the future.