The beautiful ones (law firm responses to tenders)

13 12 2010

Aware that often the third part of a trilogy can be a disappointment (think Return of the Jedi….) I want to finish my musings on how law firms respond to tenders on a high. In the previous two posts (here and here) I’ve looked at some of the mistakes I’ve seen when evaluating law firm responses to RFPs (requests for proposals), now it’s time to celebrate some of the goodness!

Inspiration for the tender design was taken seriously at Scratchit & Co

When I think back to those responses that have really impressed evaluation panels (and not just me), I think the key word is “relevance”. The more effort the law firm puts into the document or presentation, in terms of tailoring it for the prospect’s specific needs, the stronger the submission.

The challenge for me is to give examples without giving away any trade secrets. So here goes.

One project that I put out to tender five years ago spanned around 15 European countries. The firm who won the project submitted a tremendous document that had a huge amount of material that really created value for our organisation. It had points for us to think about both for the project as a whole and for each country in the project scope.

This did two things. Firstly it showed that the law firm had experience of the areas of law we needed help with, in these particular countries. Secondly it give us a “heads up” of things we should be aware of, even if we didn’t select the law firm in question.

The other thing that the winning law firm did on that pitch, was make sure that all examples of experience were relevant (even down to tailoring CVs). The amount of responses I’ve seen where standard blocks of text and vanilla CVs have been appended on the back is huge, so when a firm goes to the trouble of really thinking about what the prospect organisation wants, it stands out a mile.

I’ve seen a similar approach taken at presentation stage. At a pitch I ran for financial services legal support, the winning firm gave a virtuoso presentation. The lead partner had asked some great questions early in the process, and had clearly spent significant time thinking about the issues we would face, and how best to deal with them. Rather that the presentation being a verbal version of the paper RFP response (which often happens, with firms taking the opportunity to spend an hour using extensive powerpoint to tell the prospect how good they are) the partner and his team took the evaluation panel through a mini-workshop, illustrating  points with war stories and other relevant examples.

We came out of the presentation with a much better understanding of the project, a good rapport with the law firm, and a clear action plan if we chose to work with that firm (we did).

Another area where firms can distinguish themselves is in the presentation of the document. I’ve seen a wide variety of creative approaches, from mocking-up a trade publication, through using corporate colours and imagery, to just some really nice, clear presentation (I respectfully refer people once again to Impact by Jon Moon and Presentation Zen Design by Gary Reynolds). Of course presentation is superficial, but it does make a difference, particularly if it makes the content easy to digest. It’s also another area where law firms can demonstrate they have thought about the particular client, rather than just plugged the information into the tender-team sausage factory.

So, it’s relevant, it adds value and it looks great?

Go forth and win!





The joy of simplicity

1 03 2010

Looking back over my last few posts, I’ve noticed a worrying theme. They are getting longer. To me, that’s not a good sign. From my early days as a lawyer, I was always a fan of eliminating complexity. Wherever possible, I liked to draft documents in “plain English”, and read a number of books alongside the practical learning I was doing in my day to day work. That said, I always thought there was more scope for the profession as a whole to make our output more accessible (which doesn’t mean dumbing down).

Simplicity; does your drafting look like this?

Moving in-house, the need for simplicity became  more apparent. Seeing the legal process first hand as a relatively small (but important!) cog in the overall commercial picture (whether client contracts, M&A or employment law), the various professionals working with lawyers want their support fast. If clients, whether internal or external, have to go back to their advisor and clarify the advice, this adds a delay into the process as well as reducing client satisfaction.

Simplicity is not limited to the content of the advice either. The presentation of the content can also be over-engineered. Documents with definitions scattered all over the place, random attachments, horrendous fonts and formatting; these all make the advice more complex than it needs to be.

The challenge of course, is that sometimes, complexity is easier for the lawyer. For example, starting drafting with a favourite document that has a style favoured by another client, and then focusing on the changes to the content rather than the overall output and client experience. Another common time-saver (that often happens unconsciously) is using a particular style of drafting because it is easier for the lawyer (who may have been using it for years)  and requires less thought than drafting in language that will delight (yes delight) the client.

The challenge is compounded, because lawyers are often very precious about their drafting (hands up, I fall into this category) and making suggestions for improvement to anyone other than a very junior lawyer are about as welcome as suggestions to improve dress sense or love-making technique.

So, taking my own advice I’ll stop there and keep it simple.  For those of you interested in the presentation side of this topic, the book Impact by Jon Moon is well worth a read.