Request for Proposals Response Best Practices

The procurement department's growing role in the purchase of services including legal services has driven the use of request for proposals (RFPs) in the legal industry. This approach to sourcing goods and services is process driven and focuses on cost, transparency and accountability. The hurdle to win business becomes a number crunching exercise because the focus is on cost instead of value proposition. Additionally, it can be a challenge to determine if it is worth responding to an RFP. Focusing on RFPs where an existing relationship already exists should be a priority. Often the decision about who to hire has already been made and the RFP is a way to drive the price of the incumbents down.

The RFP process can be broken down into four phases: Phase One is creating best practices and processes for evaluating and responding to RFPs; Phase Two is evaluating RFPs; Phase Three is responding to RFPs; and Phase Four is post submission follow-up with the company issuing the proposal.

Phase One – Create and Maintain Standardized Content

  • Create a central repository organizational structure to store information
  • Store information including service descriptions and biographies as well as other firm initiatives such as community involvement, charity (pro bono) work and diversity
  • Identify who can answer technical and initiative questions
  • Create a process to continually update and refresh content

Phase Two – Be Selective

  • Evaluate if an opportunity is worth pursuing
  • Determine if the project scope is clearly explained
  • Determine if the RFP has reasonable deadlines
  • Determine if the RFP clearly explains the decision process and criteria
  • Research the issuing entity
  • Ask questions of the RFP issuing entity, tough questions asked early in the process can help you determine if you should submit a proposal

Phase Three – Prepare and Submit Your Proposal

  • Identify the point people
  • Review the proposal carefully to ensure you can answer all questions appropriately
  • Write concise and thorough responses
  • Customize your response to demonstrate understanding of the issuing entity, industry and market environment
  • Answer only the questions asked and do not promote your own agenda - your response is about the issuing entity, not you
  • Explain why you included particular examples
  • Proofread your document
  • Think outside the box - some questions cannot be answered in the space allotted; put an asterisk and include additional information in an addendum
  • Submit your RFP on time or early

Phase Four – Follow-up and Evaluation

  • Follow-up with the issuing entity after notification of the decision
  • Learn why and how the issuing entity made its decision
  • Ask what was well received in your proposal and what elements were not as compelling


By Helena Lawrence for the May/June 2015 issue of the Capital Ideas Newsletter.

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