7 tips for getting the most from your RFP

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.

1. Always share your why

What are you trying to achieve? What does success look like? Why do you need to appoint a law firm and what do you need them to help you do? It sounds simple, but this basic point is often lost.

If you’re finding it had to answer these questions, drafting the RFP will have already served its purpose by forcing you to do that pre-thinking. And if you’ve done this focused thinking, it’ll encourage your law firms to do the same, resulting in a much more considered response.

2. Think about who you need to involve (and who you might want to involve)

Think about who’ll be impacted by your decision. Who’ll need to be comfortable working with the people you appoint? Who would it be wise to involve because of their potential to cause delay or disruption if they don’t like your decision? Those are the people you need to involve in this process.

Be clear with those people what their role is — and what it isn’t. And be careful here — if you involve people, give them a say. The only thing worse than not involving them at all, is taking up their time and then appearing to not listen to their views.

Equally, think about who you might want involved, even if their input isn’t strictly necessary. If you’re nervous about the process, don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether from colleagues or peers outside your organisation. You’re not a professional buyer and you shouldn’t fear admitting that.

3. Only invite firms who stand a chance of winning

Responding to an RFP takes a lot of time and resource. Know that firms will agonise about whether to bid or not, even if they know they’re not the best choice for this work, because we don’t want you to think that we don’t want to work with you.

But if a firm bid, that’s a lot of work for both them and you — you need to spend time communicating with each bidder and reading their submission. So don’t ask firms because you think you should.

Be bold and only invite firms because you’re genuinely interested in how they can help you. What about incumbents? It’s best practice, of course, to review long-standing relationships. Provide the right direction and a strong incumbent firm will understand this and be happy to reaffirm what they stand for.

If, however, you’re not satisfied with your current law firm, don’t run an RFP process to address this. Take the issue up with the firm directly rather than waiting.

4. Don’t use formulaic templates – you’ll get formulaic responses

You’ll also give yourself a much better chance of appointing the right firm if you ask for information relating to this specific opportunity. The more specific the questions, the more specific the answers will be.

If you use a generic RFP, don’t be surprised if you end up with the same generic response you got last time around. (Of course, if your RFP is specific and well thought-out and you still receive a ‘cut-and-paste’ response, that in itself will help you make your decision.)

Remember that ‘specific’ doesn’t need to mean overly detailed. The sweet spot is probably around 3-4 pages of narrative. That’s long enough to capture the essence of what you’re looking for, while short enough not to deter firms from responding.

And from our side, bear in mind that the people responding to you really want this work and don’t want to risk leaving anything out. Unless you want reams of information — I’ve heard “include it just in case” a lot — give word limits. It’ll force tenderers to really think about what they want you to know — and means that you don’t have to wade through 70-page tenders.

5. Be open to questions

If your processes permit, be open to questions and state who interested parties can contact. Even better, go one step further and actively encourage scoping calls. Being able to pick up the phone and ask questions helps firms o establish whether they’re best placed to give that advice. It also might uncover something that’s really important to you, and that the law firm an do well — that they otherwise wouldn’t have thought to mention.

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 your needs sufficiently is one of the main reasons tender processes don’t deliver the best possible result.

6. Be clear and honest about the result

You might not be running a large or procurement-led RFP, but it’s still helpful to design some kind of score sheet. If you’re considering a few firm, it’ll help you remember why you liked the fist document you read or the fist presentation you saw. It should also help you remain objective if you have a tendency to make quick ‘gut feel’ decisions or need to justify your decision to colleagues or losing bidders.

Try not to put off making and communicating the decision. Firms might be resource planning for other potential work and will welcome knowing the result, even if it’s not the one they were hoping for. Which leads onto our final tip…

7. Maintain your relationship with all bidders

Even if you don’t choose a firm on this occasion, give them feedback. From the law firm’s perspective, they’ll have put their all into their response and will want to know what worked and what didn’t.

From your perspective, if you think a firm got the wrong end of the stick, let them know. They might do better next time and be a perfect choice for your next project.

 

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.