Larry Bodine Law Marketing Blog

Why Go to RFP Hell?

Hell Recently a member of the LawMarketing Listserv asked how her firm could get more RFPs for legal work from corporations.  My reaction was, "why would you want to go to Hell?"

RFPs are onerous chores leading to hideous events where clients get the chance to dictate terms, chisel down your fees and turn you into a fungible commodity.  Nobody wants to be fungible.

Yet the allure of getting an RFP sparkles.  Professional firms imagine the exhilaration of making it to the "short list."  Visions of sugarplums dance in their heads.  They envision a river of work coming from the major corporation and the impressiveness of representing it.  It's like residents of New Orleans looking forward to Hurricane Katrina.  The firms eagerly compete to get invited to the beauty contest where the winners are picked.  It's more like competing to be the first to be hanged.

There's a frightening example of Pfizer's beauty contest on (registration required).

  • Law firms had to complete a 50-page RFP divided into 12 sections to get into this Hell.  Firms had to spell out their history handling product litigation, minority hiring statistics, alternative fee arrangements, references and industry knowledge.  Pfizer wanted budget forecasts, annual revenue breakdowns, the percentage of revenue the firm derived from its top client, and the lowest rate the firm offered, which would be frozen.  Some firms hired outside consultants or teams of associates to spend hundreds of hours to complete the RFP.
  • Finalists had to go to Pfizer's headquarters and suffer through a painful fee review with a "procurement executive known for wrangling discounts on copy paper and paper clips."
  • The company summoned lawyers from 103 law firms to a New York hotel ballroom on an icy day.
  • Many attendees would lose Pfizer work, including Alston & Bird, Arnold & Porter, Gibson Dunn, Jones Day, and Mayer Brown.  Everyone was so nervous that they didn't touch anything on the food table.
  • Only 24 (out of 103) firms would get any work.  What a wretched lot they would be.

So you see, an RFP is an invitation to put your head into a noose and go through the client's procurement system.  Firms enter a "partnering" system, where they will become the junior partner and lose all control. 

The good news is that only a minority of corporations issue RFPs, because so few law firms respond to them.  Meanwhile the trend of "Pinpointing" is starting to catch on, where corporations reach over the mega-firms and hire regional and small firms to carry out specialized work.  Perhaps one day the odious practice of issuing RFPs will go to Hell, where it deserves eternal damnation.

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What About Clients? - January 2, 2006 12:23 AM
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