I’m seeing a lot of fuss in the legal press about the firms that did not submit proposals from the Treasury Department here and here.

Of the six firms invited to the dance, only two responded, and there now appears to be some “shock” over the decision by the other four who chose not to respond. I mean, really, how can you say no when the captain of the football team invites you to the homecoming dance?

For anyone who has ever participated in an RFP/beauty contest, they get it. An attorney’s first impulse is to respond when an RFP hits their in-box, when it really should be to start asking questions.

Do your due diligence

A firm has to do the due diligence of whether or not they should respond. A major RFP can suck resources out of numerous departments, grinding some, like marketing, to a stop while everyone is focused on getting this thing out the door. In addition to the ENTIRE marketing department, active participation on the RFP will be required by the lawyers and their assistants, paralegals, word-processing, finance, IT, and the good folks down in document production, not to mention any consultants brought in to assist in writing and editing.

Do we want the work?

My first instinct is to grab a cup of coffee, start reading the RFP, and make a list of questions, beginning with: Is this work that we really want.

  • Do we have a shot at winning the work?
  • Do we handle this type of work already? Can we tell a story?
  • Who else has been invited to the dance? How do we stack up against them?
  • Who are the decision makers?
  • What is the decision making process?
  • Is there a “fix” in for the winner and is this all just for show?
  • Are we conflicted out of the work? What are the current client conflicts?
  • Will it lead to potential new conflicts for better work down the road?
  • Are there any issue conflicts?
  • If we get the work, do we have the resources to do it?
  • Will the partners back the RFP process? Will they take the time to actually respond to the questions posed by the client?

For this RFP I would also ask: do we want the attention and focus that this will bring to our firm?

And, for any public agency, I have to remind the partners that this RFP will be susceptible to the Freedom of Information Act. I know “confidential” areas can be redacted, but what about everything else? Do I want my billing rates, client lists, firm finances and malpractice information disclosed to the American public?

Obviously, for four firms their due diligence lead them to decline the invitation.

And while being asked to the dance can be really flattering, sometimes staying home, eating popcorn and reading a good book is the best decision.