Evaluate, then go "all in." RFPs are time-consuming. Preparing an effective response takes time, and effort. If you don't have the time, don't respond it may end up hurting you in the end. If you do, ask yourself whether investing your energy is going to be an efficient use of your resources. Are you likely to be price-competitive? Do you have a relationship that can help you close the deal? Once you decide to commit, go all the way those reviewing your submission can tell if you only gave 50 percent.
Run conflicts. It sounds simple, but always run conflicts first on the issuer and likely adverse parties. It would be a shame to invest the necessary time and effort only to be conflicted-out later not to mention the impact such a belated conflict would have on your relationship with in-house counsel.
Participate. By now, most large firms have parts of their marketing department dedicated to responding to RFPs. With due respect to those professionals, companies want to hear from you, not your marketing department. And, believe us, your marketing folks crave your active participation too. Get involved in preparing the response, and offer more than just boilerplate generalities and website clichés provide the issuer with your honest views and strategy; that's what they want to hear.
Be honest and open about pricing. Offer creative pricing solutions. Consider alternative fee arrangements. But design a system that you can live with and profit from. Your client will want to find an arrangement that works for both sides. An open and honest dialogue on pricing is at the heart of any successful RFP.
Strive for a holistic relationship. Yes, the RFP will be directed toward specific work, but think about what else you can offer the client. On-site CLEs? Periodic employee training? These things may seem obvious to outside counsel, but in-house attorneys appreciate them being offered.
Make it personal. One downside to the RFP process is that it can be a little impersonal. Try to swim against that current. Don't give up on the personal aspects of selling yourself or your firm. Offer to follow up your submission with an in-person presentation. Ask questions. Clarify ambiguities. Make sure you truly understand the problem you are being asked to solve. In-house counsel are still interested in finding the right "fit" with their outside counsel both in terms of trust and personalities. It is tough to demonstrate that "fit" if they never meet or speak with you.
Evaluate when it's over. Don't forget to follow up, even if you did not succeed. Review your process internally. Determine what worked and what did not. How much time did you invest? Would you invest the same amount of time again? If you got on "the list," did you get work? What did being on "the list" actually mean? Keep in touch with the issuing company, and maintain your professionalism even if you didn't win. Ask for feedback, win or lose.
Tips for in-house counsel
Think critically. Before issuing an RFP, decide whether the RFP is the right tool for the job. Is there a more efficient way to select counsel for the matter? Do you have a critical mass of assignments to warrant the investment of resources? Is it really an open competition, or do you already know what firm is going to win the work? Look before you leap.
Provide as many answers as questions. The more data that you provide, the better the responses will be. If you're requesting detailed fee proposals, provide historic data so that the firms have something to go by. If you're looking for case strategies, provide common fact patterns. Be open to questions, and list common parties for conflicts. Encourage conversation and dialogue.
Ask good questions. Streamline your questionnaire and ask only those questions that you really need and care about. The fewer questions, the better the answers will be. If you want lawyers to participate, remember that the good ones are busy. And if you abhor marketing boilerplate, don't ask questions that call for it.