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Calibrate Legal’s Jennifer Johnson identifies client communication and innovation as potential issues in law firm RFP processes. She  offers suggestions to help law firms move their pitches and proposals to the next level.

When we surveyed 90 law firms in the US and UK about their RFP processes, two important issues stood out:

  • Client communication is a critical area of opportunity. Not enough time is spent listening to the client and perhaps an excessive amount of time is spent on the document itself.
  • Lack of Innovation: Law firm marketing departments have access to the basic tools they need to develop their proposals, but not much more. Consequently, innovation really does not play a role in proposal development

Our survey showed that many firms are hungry for a new way of responding to clients, but don’t know what that looks like.  Here’s a list of five suggestions that will help you start to think differently about your RFP process.


Refine your external communication

Encourage lead and relationship partners to begin a conversation with the client before/during/after the RFP process. It shows we’ve read the RFP in its entirety, take the process seriously and want to provide as much relevant and tailored information as we can. It says: “we listen before we speak.” Once the process is over, provide the partner some casual language to pose to the potential client on why we got the business or lost out.

Refine your internal communication

After tailoring the content, the second largest usage of time is communication between marketing/BD, the involved partner(s) and other parties. BD needs to take the lead on keeping the project well-managed, so come armed with a plan, some structure, a scope and a calendar of what needs to be completed and when in order to stay on track. Make sure you have the right person managing the details and deadlines. Once the RFP is off and a decision is made, schedule a debrief to close the loop and select some best practices. Then document those practices.

Infuse something into your proposal that makes it worth reading.

Innovate. Answer a question in an interesting way, consider using mixed media, drop off the RFP in person, but try something that will help you stand out for the right reasons. Average tools, templates and boilerplate language is exactly that - average. If your work and/of your firm is above average, that must be evident in your response. You can’t ask the client to do the work of knowing what makes you the right choice, you have to articulate that for them.

Quantify your RFP process.

See how much actual time it takes and compare it to your win rate. Take a long hard look at what is “worth it” for your firm and figure out: 1) if there are any alternatives to a full response, 2) if/when it’s right to say “no” and 3) how to convey that decision to the attorney and the client.

Really, truly respond to the client.

Tailor your content so they can see how it relates specifically to them, not just anyone. Use the research you have, lean on your network to gain more competitive insight into the client. Think about their industry, their history, think about what keeps them up at night, ask questions and use your RFP response to position your firm/team as a solution.

Jennifer Johnson

Author Jennifer Johnson is CEO of Calibrate Legal. Jennifer calls upon two decades of law firm experience to deliver steadfast client care, strategic placement of senior talent and provide operational and performance-improvement consulting services.

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