March 2020| Matthew Prinn, Principal, RFP Advisory Group
Some small tweaks to your RFP process can make a big difference in your results. Ideally, you want a process that both the buy and sell side find productive and efficient. That’s not always the case in many RFPs we are seeing today. Here are five questions to consider before you hit send that will help you have a better experience.
- Did we provide the law firm enough time?
If you are managing a large preferred panel RFP for 10+ practice groups, you should be providing the law firms a minimum of 3 weeks, and 5+ will get you the best responses. Giving a law firm only two weeks to complete a large panel RFP means you will get lower quality, rushed responses thrown together with no cohesion. If you want to ask questions that require partner time to respond to, you need to provide them time to manage their current client workload. If you are issuing a RFP for a specific matter, that’s a different timetable altogether. We typically see anything from 24 hrs to a week or more for matter specific RFPs. A good rule of thumb for the large preferred panel RFPs would be, whatever time you think it will take to add at least another week of cushion to your project schedule.
- Did we provide ourselves enough time to manage the Q&A process? (Panel RFPs only)
Some legal departments underestimate the volume of questions they will get back from law firms during the Q&A process when managing an RFP with dozens of firms. Some will be complex questions that will need input from the general counsel or others in the business team and you may have only provided yourself 48 hours in the RFP schedule. Once you commit to answering one, you have to answer all of them. What then happens is law firms often can’t start the response until you have provided answers ultimately leading to an extension needing to be granted.
- Did we provide enough information?
If you want a law firm to be able to provide a thoughtful response on a fee proposal, outside counsel guidelines or their recommended legal strategy, you need to provide them with enough background information. The biggest complaint you will hear from law firms is how can we answer question X, if they didn’t tell us Y. That goes for not only pricing but also for practice coverage and overall scope of work. For example, If you are asking for a firm to bid on your IP work, and they have never done work for you in that area before you will need to open the curtain a bit if you want responses of any merit. Otherwise you will get marketing fluff that all will sound very similar.
- Did we create a path of communication with the marketing contact?
At some point of your RFP process you should be collecting the name of the marketing or responder contact. Having another contact beyond the lawyer will eliminate potential bottlenecks and allow for a much better flow of information between the issuer and responders during and after the RFP process. This connection beyond the relationship lawyer allows for that process to happen more effectively. The marketing team will be the most effective way for you to collect relevant information from the law firm – they know who to contact and what the firm does and doesn’t have available. Sometimes a 30 second phone call with the marketing contact clarifies a question that otherwise would have led to 12 pages of unnecessary information.
- Did we ensure the responses won’t be overwhelming?
A well-crafted RFP needs to find the balance of how to collect the right level of data to help you make a decision, but not so much that the RFP review and scoring process becomes overwhelming. It’s a great idea to use word counts and page limits – but you also need to be realistic. If you are asking a law firm to describe why they may be a better choice then their peer firms – it’s next to impossible to do that in fewer than 250 characters. If you have dozens of practice groups being included in the RFP, consider the fact there are many firms who will respond in all areas. You want to consider different strategies to find that middle ground of collecting content that helps you set the table for the decision making process while not being overwhelmed with 100 page responses.
Both law firms and legal operations departments will have better experiences and get better results when the RFP provides ample time, asks smart questions and allows law firms a platform to highlight their competitive advantages.
Matthew Prinn is a Principal with RFP Advisory Group, a consulting company that specializes in RFPs for the legal industry. For more tips on the RFP process, check out RFP Advisory Group’s recent webinar we hosted with the Association for Corporate Counsel: How to use an RFP as a tool to manage outside counsel.
About the author
Principal, RFP Advisory Group