How GCs can use RFPs to get the right external expertise

A good RFP can prove extremely valuable to legal departments, ensuring GCs get the right legal support for the right work at the right price. Conversely a bad RFP can achieve precisely the opposite, costing considerable time, energy and money without securing the desired experience or expertise. With the stakes high, what steps can GCs take to get the most out of the RFP process? Deborah Fleming, Marketing & Business Development Director at Walker Morris gives us her top tips.

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Deborah Fleming, Marketing & Business Development Director, Walker Morris
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An image of several post it notes on a a white board. A visual metaphor for the topic of this article, How GCs can use RFPs.

Always share your why

What are you trying to achieve? What does success look like? In short, why do you need guidance, advice or support? It sounds simple, but these fundamental points are often lost in RFPs among legalese and business speak. If it’s problematic to express these key points, drafting the RFP will have already served a very important process as you are likely to face the same questions internally from colleagues.

Templates don’t have to be formulaic

Outsourcing represents a not insignificant investment both for your organisation and for the law firms that respond to RFPs. Try to put yourselves in the shoes of those responding, incorporating any information about which you anticipate they would want to know.

The more specific the wording of the questions you ask, the more specific the information you’ll likely receive. For this reason, don’t be surprised if the information you received for two entirely different projects is almost exactly the same if the RFP themselves were almost identical. If your RFP is project-specific, well thought out, asks all the right granular questions and you still receive responses that read as if they were cut and pasted, then that in itself will help you in making your decision.

Similarly, remember that ‘specific’ does not mean reams and reams of pages. Over the last two decades, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of RFPs and would say the sweet spot lies somewhere around 3-4 pages of narrative. Why? Well because this is long enough to capture the essence of the project, while short enough not to deter firms from responding.

Consider human nature

Or rather, take how lawyers think and work into consideration. Whether it be in-house or in practice, many lawyers are risk averse and are naturally inclined to add more and more information to be on the safe side. Clarity is king, so provide clear instructions wherever and whenever possible. In a similar vein, look out for any assumed or internal knowledge leaking into the RFP. What makes sense to all and sundry at the organisation you represent may make little sense externally – something particularly common in larger companies that frequently develop their own unique corporate speak.

Be open to questions

If the process permits – unlike for instance in many public sector tenders – be open to questions and state who interested parties can contact. Even better, go one step further and actively embrace having scoping calls. Crafting a carefully considered response to an RFP and preparing for pitches that may follow requires considerable thought on the part of the law firm. Being able to pick up the phone and ask questions helps them to establish whether they’re best placed to give that advice. After all, no good law firm wants to win a pitch only to find out that the project is neither what they envisaged nor relates to where their strengths lie.

Ultimately, the success of your relationship with your chosen law firm will be determined by the quality of advice and support received, not whether they provided a compelling answer last year to question 5 on page 19 of the RFP. Not discussing the project sufficiently with law firms is often the most overlooked means for GCs to ensure they get the right legal partner.

Don’t be afraid to ask

Newly appointed GCs are often expected by business colleagues to be able to produce or oversee RFPs despite not necessarily ever having had any direct exposure to them in the past. For the colleagues in question GC equals law, ergo law equals an innate ability to produce a high-quality proposal. If you haven’t worked on an RFP before, particularly if you are new to working in-house, don’t be afraid to consult with colleagues or look further afield outside the business and have a candid conversation with your peers.

Reviewing existing partnerships

It is, of course, best practice to review long-standing relationships over time, and RFPs are a valuable means to compare and contrast your options – indeed, in many instances, there are few better ways to learn about alternatives in the market and new innovations. Provide the right direction and a strong, confident incumbent firm will understand this business dynamic and will be happy to reaffirm what they stand for, how they can help you, and why they believe they’re the right business partner. If, however, you’re not satisfied with your current law firm for whatever reason, don’t conduct an RFP process to address this. Take the issue up with the firm directly rather than waiting.

Looking ahead to an AI world

ChatGPT is already capable of churning out seemingly original content at the touch of a button – from songs and short stories to answers to university exams. What then does this mean for the future of RFPs? While it may sound paradoxical, if technology leads to some firms producing identikit responses or if there is the suspicion of such, it’s quite possible that tendering processes could revert to a more people-orientated approach, combining written and in person pitching material. If this helps to get the best match between GCs and law firms, this type of scrutiny would be something the whole sector could and should support.


Want to know more about managing a tender process?

Our guide provides you with what you need to know to launch and manage a tender process with confidence.

The guide includes clear and actionable information about:

  • Setting your objectives.
  • Involving the right people.
  • Deciding who to invite to tender.
  • Managing communication.
  • Specifying the tender documents.
  • Planning presentation.
  • Evaluating and communicating the decision.

Access our guide below to find out more.

“Ultimately, the success of your relationship with your chosen law firm will be determined by the quality of advice and support received, not whether they provided a compelling answer last year to question 5 on page 19 of the RFP.”

Deborah Fleming, Director, Marketing & Business Development
An image of several post it notes on a a white board. A visual metaphor for the topic of this article, How GCs can use RFPs.