Four Watch-Outs for Proposal Prep

Law firms often ask us what clients look for in RFP responses. Beyond competitive pricing and sound expertise and service, the specifics vary significantly from client-to-client. After pouring through proposal after proposal, it has come clear to us that there are some potholes to avoid. Here are four key watch-outs for law firms when preparing RFP responses.

There Are Rules of the Road. If you do not follow the clients’ directions (even if you disagree with their approach), you are giving the client important information about how it may be to work with you…

It’s a Proposal, Not a Novel. We’ve said it before and it bears repeating. It’s never a good idea to pen War and Peace when responding to questions or information requests in an RFP. It’s an especially bad idea when a client is processing an RFP with a quick turnaround – say for a litigated matter – where you know they will value answers they can digest quickly and easily. You don’t have to spend 15 pages (yes, we’ve seen this) patting yourself on the back. Avoid your inner Tolstoy and keep it brief.

You Are Building a Budget for the Client, Not Your Finance Team. You are engaged in a competitive process. The budget you are building must make sense to the potential client. And, you should be smart enough to know, it will be compared proposals from other firms. You should not:

  • Submit a budget that has an insane number of hours built into it to make your average hourly rate match a pre-negotiated blended rate you have established with the client. This both obvious and also signals inefficient staff.
  • Build a budget with a blended rate that will result in higher fees than if you’d just charged your standard hourly rates. Although this is sometimes an inadvertent outcome, it leaves the client thinking you are short changing the hours that your most experienced staff members will work so you can protect your profits.
  • Artificially increase the hours your least experienced staff will work to impact the total expected cost of the engagement.
  • Offer discounts to hourly rates on those phases of an engagement which are least likely to actually take place (trial) and offer no discounts for those phases almost certain to happen (discovery, settlement negotiations).
  • Place a disproportionate number of estimated hours with attorneys who are overqualified to do the work (e.g. partners doing basic due diligence).

Answer What is Asked. When the client asks a specific question, answer it. Do not answer a different question. Be it levels of diversity, experience, expertise, outcomes on similar engagements, whatever – be direct.

About the author – Dave Sampsell is a 20-year lawyer with extensive experience managing large, complex legal engagements around the world and overall corporate legal budgets. He presently serves as General Counsel of a NASDAQ listed company and is a Founder and Principal of BanyanRFP. BanyanRFP saves companies time and money through an easy-to-use, private and secure online application for the creation and processing of legal services RFPs. For more information, visit

Back to top