Composing an RFP? 3 Things to Avoid

Posted on 11-30-2015 by
Tags: Upgrading Your Skills , client experience , productivity , business development , writing , legal marketing

The article below has been republished in full courtesy of Law360, written by Kelly Knaub


Competition between law firms vying for new work can be intense, and attorneys responding to requests for proposals may be tempted to do everything in their power to dazzle the corporations seeking outside legal services. But lawyers should proceed with caution and avoid an information overload, experts say.

Here are three things to leave out of your next response to an RFP:

Marketing Fluff
Attorneys should avoid using phrases like "we are client-oriented" or "we put our clients first" when responding to RFPs, a competitive bidding mechanism used by corporations and state agencies to solicit legal services, according to Tom Kane, the principal of Kane Consulting and a former practicing attorney.

"That’s all fluff. That’s BS," Kane said.

Instead, lawyers should show that they care about clients — not say it in a proposal, he added.

“You want to someway demonstrate your capability by telling them the kinds of problems you encountered and the kinds of ways you've fixed them,” Kane said.

Ann Lee Gibson, who has helped clients win nearly $1 billion in new business as a consultant, agreed, saying attorneys should “avoid all that marketing crap.”

Over the past 25 years, Gibson said she has developed a lexicon of words that could be yellow-highlighted to show where all of the fluff is. Words like “efficient” and “effective” won’t win any points, she said.

Attorneys should always avoid using the words “expert” or “expertise” in their bios, Gibson added, explaining that when a lawyer claims to be an expert in something, it’s a violation of ABA model rules and in most states, bar ethics rules. Referring to the “expertise” of the team in the body of the proposal, however, is OK, she said.

The Ego
Another thing that’s important to leave out of a proposal is “the ego stuff,” Kane said, noting that accolades such as “Best Lawyer” and “Super Lawyer” are “worthless.”

"When you’re doing RFPs, you’re dealing with people who are more sophisticated," according to Kane, who has more than 30 years of experience with RFPs. "If it's just ‘Joe Public,’ I suppose that if you're a ‘Super Lawyer,’ they don't even know what that means, and I suppose it can carry some weight, but RFPs are generally for corporate business.”

The bottom line, Kane said, is to leave the ego stuff out because it’s meaningless.

“Clients never hire lawyers for that reason,” he said. “Your proposal will be stronger if, in fact, you leave that crap out. That’s one of the things I would definitely leave out."

A really good proposal, according to Gibson, will offer some meaningful help and value.

“You do not win a competition these days based on your qualifications,” she said. “You win them based on your demonstration — your ability to demonstrate how you could seriously help the client. And the only way to do that is to literally deliver some value through the process."

What really wins a close competition is when a law firm is willing to actually engage with the client about their issues, both business and legal, and obtain enough information in appropriate ways through secondary and primary sources — specifically the client — to be able to talk intelligently about the situation and to offer some solution, she added.

The Clutter
Attorneys should avoid submitting multipage resumes that include all of the papers and presentations they have made over the last 10 to 15 years, according to Gibson.

"I've seen proposals and RFP responses that literally had 10-page resumes for some of the lawyers, and it's appalling," Gibson said. "It's cringe-worthy."

The resumes in a proposal should be one page, she said, adding that they should be refined and tailored to match and emphasize their expertise vis-a-vis the client’s need, issues and industry. 

"This is not something that is part of anybody's job description among the in-house legal team, bless their hearts,” Gibson said. “They've got an actual job. So everything about the way you design this document, what you put in it and what you do not put in it can elevate your firm’s mission in consideration by the review team.”

On the other hand, if it takes a longer response to fully address the RFP, then that is what one must do, Kane said. But, he cautioned that lawyers too often think more is better, so they add “fluff” and a lot of “brochure-type stuff” that is neither responsive nor welcome. 

“Less is more and better. No potential client wants to read a bunch of ‘buffery’ and general self-aggrandizement,” Kane said. “Most, if not all, see it for what it is.”

A good response to an RFP should be concise and to the point, according to strategist and management consultant Peter Zeughauser, who issued the first-ever corporate law department RFP in 1985 and a couple of years later published the first article on how law firms should respond to them in a book the American Bar Association published on alternative pricing.

“Keep it simple. Clients are busy,” Zeughauser said. “They don't want to wade through prose.”

Zeughauser said attorneys should strike the clutter and marginally valuable infomercials about themselves, their team, or the firm.

“Demonstrate that you're listening and responsive and that you know how to throw a strike or snip the jugular,” he said.


The above article has been republished in full and is courtesy of Law360. For the latest breaking news and analysis, visit Law360 today.


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