“Be Concise, Accurate When Responding to RFPs”
By Kristen D’Andrea, Long Island Business News
More than ever, private clients and businesses are shopping for bargains in legal services. And as more legal teams respond to requests for proposals, the importance of drafting a concise and accurate response is paramount to a firm’s business.
“From a firm perspective, we’re in favor of them,” said Patrick McCormick, partner at Campolo, Middleton & McCormick in Bohemia. “If we think we can provide value at a competitive price, we’ll get involved.”
It is not uncommon for law firms to bid on RFPs for government or municipal work. “Generally, they’re well drafted by the municipality and we know exactly what they’re looking for,” McCormick said.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for some responses.
Amy Stein, professor of legal writing at Hofstra University’s Maurice A. Deane School of Law, likened submitting an RFP to being in the honeymoon stage. If the entity that put out the request struggles to understand a response, they’ll likely be concerned about a firm’s ability to follow direction in litigation. “How you put together your proposal is foreshadowing to a company of how you’ll act as a business partner to them,” Stein said.
In drafting a response, Stein stressed the importance of simple steps, such as following instructions and doing homework. If an RFP has 10 questions, each with three sub-parts, she advises responders to go through each item step-by-step. The order in which the RFP is organized can likely offer a glimpse into the company’s priorities and needs.
Still, she doesn’t recommend relying solely on the contents of an RFP to learn about the company. “Do your research and you might pick up information about their business that’s not in the proposal,” she said. “Maybe a partner at the company went to school where someone from your firm did.” Including any additional information about a company, obtained outside of the RFP, will show that the responder is hungry, she said.
Writing clearly and effectively, and proofreading, are all critical to submitting a winning RFP, Stein said. “Handing in a proposal with a typo is like going on a job interview without brushing your hair,” she said.
McCormick recommends being short and sweet. “You want to respond completely but there’s no need to say more than needs to be said,” he added. In fact, submitting the longest, most verbose response may work against you, Stein said.
Should a firm’s marketing staff help draft a response to an RFP? It’s fine to ask them for help with editing, McCormick said, but it’s important the people who are going to be involved in doing the work respond. The people who will know how long a project will take to complete and the types of consultants needed should run the show.
An RFP is not the place to market yourself, McCormick cautioned. “You should already be past that stage,” he said. Those putting out the requests want to know a firm is qualified to do the necessary work at the price stated.
When it comes to bids, “Don’t say you’ll do an entire case for $250 if your hourly rate is $250,” said Stein. Rather, when drafting a response, attorneys should be careful not to promise anything unethical or they can’t deliver. “Be honest and realistic,” she said. “Don’t guarantee you
will always collect all of their debts, for example.”
Likewise, if the business reading the RFP responses finds a law firm that bid an extremely low price, it should raise a red flag the firm might not understand the work that needs to be done, is not well staffed, or does not have a lot of business, McCormick said.
Ultimately, responses should be customized and tailored to the individual needs of the entity putting out the request. While it’s fine to work off a response from another RFP, Stein recommends ensuring at least 15 percent is personalized.
McCormick agreed. “No one wants to see a form or cookie cutter response,” he said.