Those in law firms whose job includes responding to the increasing number of Requests for Proposal and Requests for Information know that RFP/RFI issuers liberally borrow questions from one another, with just enough differences to render the exercise a bit maddening. 

A recent RFI from a Fortune 50 systems integrator/government contractor, however, is a breath of fresh air, with an assemblage of thought-provoking questions obviously aimed at moving beyond the mind-numbing collection of data and into a new frontier of ferreting out the DNA and ethos of the law firms electing to respond.  The RFI reveals a company seeking “partners” that possess an advanced understanding of the new legal-services terrain and proof that they are implementing new technologies and business models to directly address the new terrain. 

Thus, a question about law firm profiles asks not just for a description of the “key values of your firm,” but also an explanation of how firms’ organizational structures are designed to drive those values.  Another question seeks not simply an explanation of firms’ business models, but also how “your firm’s business model is designed to enhance your client value proposition.”  The first halves of those two questions are routine, but the second halves of the questions require respondents to think much more deeply and to “get real.”

One question, in particular, represents, at least for me, a turning point in RFIs:  “What is your firm’s view of Richard Susskind’s predictions in his 2008 book, The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services, and what impact, if any, have those predictions had on your business model?”  The question presupposes an in-depth knowledge of the concepts in Susskind’s 2008 book, plus the ability to demonstrate with specifics how firms have responded to developments in the evolution of legal services.  Another pair of questions in the RFI asks for similar deep thought and the ability to ascertain relationships between external events and law firm models:  “How has your firm dealt with the effects of the 2008 economic crisis and the challenges of the current global economy?  What, if any, resulting changes in your business model will your firm carry forward as permanent changes?”  Both questions are dripping with nuance.

Those of us who respond to many RFPs/RFIs each year recognize the philosophical transformation that this RFI represents.  To me, it asks:  Do you truly believe that the legal-services firmament has shifted?  And, what actions and investments are you taking to demonstrate this belief?  Remarkable!

Obviously, my colleagues and I responded to this innovative RFI with the hope that there is a fit between what this buyer seeks and what we have to offer.  Only the buyer can determine whether or not the fit is good.  No matter the outcome, however, it was a pleasure confronting questions that test our understanding of the world as it is, and the new directions that we at Womble Carlyle have been navigating for several years now.