Institutional and business clients have come to demand more from their lawyers and law firms and that often begins with the initial engagement. Since the Enron scandal of 2001, accountability and transparency have become de jure practices and policies of many organizations. This means they are looking to manage their budgets and get the most value out of their outside counsel.
What is a request for proposal?
When it comes to legal services, many clients will issue a request for proposal to find the right lawyers—at the right price—to meet their needs. It is up to you, then, to craft a winning proposal that meets and exceeds those needs. The proposal process has become a very real part of business and law. In fact, in many of the larger firms, there are teams of specialists whose job it is to answer requests for proposals and come up with a solution.
I should know; I was once one of those people. But preparing a winning proposal need not be the exclusive domain of large law firms. Clients are looking for the right fit and to get the most value from their prospective law firms. That just may be your firm. There are, of course, a few best practices employed in preparing a standout proposal. So let’s explore them.
There are three very easy steps to help you get started on the path to that winning proposal. First, read the entire request for proposal. It may seem obvious, but you should first get a complete understanding of what they are asking for in the bid. You should also make yourself aware of the process, they will use to determine the end result. This will inform your decisions and process going forward.
Second, determine if you or your firm can meet the needs of the prospective client. If you can’t, it is a waste of your time. Equally important, consider if the work is worth pursuing. The budget and time constraints may not make it a profitable proposition for you. And third, if the answers to the second step are “yes,” craft your plan and assign your resources accordingly. That means researching and writing as well as identifying the legal dream team you want to present in your proposal.
Give them exactly what they are looking for
This is why it is vital to first read the entire request for proposal. If they had issued a well-written and detailed proposal, that means the prospective client has a very clear definition and expectation of what they need and what they are looking for from their legal services provider. If you want to win their business, you first need to know what they want. Also, RFPs can also be fraught with seemingly strange and odd little rules, especially if they come from government or institutional organizations.
Many responses are first vetted by procurement officers, and not necessarily the final decision maker. Be mindful of their stipulations, format requests, and of course, their deadline. It is an utterly disheartening experience to pour hours into preparing a proposal, only to have it rejected by a bad-tempered bureaucrat because it was received one minute past the deadline. Trust me on that one!
Add extra value
Once you’ve given them what they’ve asked for, offer them more than they expected! This is your opportunity to go the extra step, show your willingness to add more to the relationship, and stand out from your competitors. What are some extras? You can offer free training sessions on relevant legal issues, provide insight on how your firm communicates with clients, offer to work on site if needed, and highlight the practices and technologies you use to ensure efficiency, client communication, and clarity in billing.
And of course, do your research to explore some other opportunities to provide services outside of the formal request. For example, if the request for proposal is for insurance litigation services, you might also want to highlight your firm’s experience and expertise in other areas that may be pertinent to their overall objectives. You never know when they may need a lawyer for another legal issue on short notice.
Don’t be afraid to talk price
Since accountability and financial value are often the primary motivators for issuing a request for proposal, you should not shy away from talking about the cost of your services. Of course, you should provide your hourly rates, but also explore other billing and fee arrangements. Some prospective clients may find a flat fee or some other structure to be more appealing and more manageable for their budget.
Assign the right team to the proposal
Regardless of whether you are a small firm or a solo practitioner, make sure you are offering them the right team. That means providing the names and biographies of lawyers who have the experience, availability, and savviness needed to get the job done. You can also partner with another firm or lawyer to make sure you cover their needs and exceed their expectations. While price and extras are important, they are ultimately going to select the team that has the right stuff, meaning they will hire you because of what you can do for them.
That is the ultimate definition of value! The proposal process need not be daunting, but it should be both well thought out and executed. Essentially, it is a marketing activity and while it may not be common for your firm or practice, having an idea of how to respond (and whether or not to respond) and a plan in place can put you in more than a decent position to present the winning proposal.