Request for Proposals (RFPs) are necessary in the legal industry to help corporate clients decide which law firms to select for a panel or for certain matters. The current COVID-19 pandemic crisis has only made this reality more crucial.
In my experience, many RFPs are poorly written, do not provide the information law firms need to customize their responses, and do not ask the right questions — especially in the fee section — to get corporate law department leaders or legal procurement specialists the answers they need to make a well-informed decision. Legal departments need to improve not only how they craft the RFP but also how they determine exactly what they are trying to get out of the process.
I recently worked with a client on a proposal for a global panel and was shocked to see that it was sent from a top Fortune 500 company. The format was poor, the questions were ambiguous, and the fee section did not permit transparency. I have no idea how the corporation would have been able to fairly appraise the submissions they would receive and then come up with the best selection of law firms.
Now, however, some procurement and legal operations professionals are becoming more sophisticated and are striving to create smartly worded, well-thought-out RFPs. However, I think that all in-house legal departments would be wise to periodically review their proposal processes to ensure that they implement best practices in order to achieve a win-win outcome.
Top 5 reasons why law firms hate RFPs
The way the RFPs are worded and how they solicit answers from law firms can be a challenge for those firms. Some of the top reasons why RFPs can frustrate law firms include when corporate clients do things such as:
1. Ask for AFAs but they really don’t mean it — Corporate law departments that say they want alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) but revert to hourly rates even when provided with detailed AFA proposals top the list of frustrations for many law firms. These AFA requests are often simply fishing expeditions. And I have seen this tactic more often than you may think. Law firms take a lot of time to involve partners, legal project managers, and pricing specialists to provide AFAs that they believe would be beneficial to the client. Of all the pet peeves of law firms, this is a big one.
2. Impose unrealistic deadlines — Crazy deadlines that don’t allow for thoughtful responses, or are imposed with the expectation that law firms will drop everything to reply on time. Previously I mentioned that one reason a law firm may decide not to respond to an RFP is if the deadline is unreasonable. This tactic may indicate to some law firms that a specific firm has been pre-selected, and that the RFP is being proffered simply because it is corporate policy to seek three bids.
3. Fail to test software or spreadsheets — Often the RFP software or Excel documents included in the offering have glitches that are not discovered until the proposal is almost due. This can be a disaster because pricing information is often the last information to be added to the bid submission.
4. Exclude selection criteria, such as weighting information — Corporate clients that don’t communicate the scoring process and proposal assessment criteria are putting themselves at a disadvantage. Law firms need to know what the rating is for fees versus other technical factors. The responses to the selection criteria will give in-house departments the best indication of how the strengths of the competing law firms align with the company’s goals.
5. Neglect to notify law firms that were not selected — It is common business etiquette (or should be) to notify those law firms that were unsuccessful in their bid. It is amazing that very often firms are not notified as to the results of the selection process. Even if debriefs are not permitted (and that information should appear in the RFP) a phone call or at least an email is appreciated as a common courtesy by the bidders that were not selected.
I am pleased to say that when I consult with in-house lawyers, and legal ops and procurement professionals, they are keen to learn how they can improve their RFPs and client relationships with law firms during the process.
Hopefully, remembering these top 5 law firm frustrations will give in-house legal teams some insight into how treating law firms better during the RFP process can end up resulting in a more beneficial outcome for everyone involved.