As a writer and a sales professional, I adore great questions.  From the sales side, asking great questions can unlock doors and, in the asking of the questions themselves, reveal depth, knowledge and expertise.

In my previous post, I discussed the onslaught of Requests for Proposal and how, unlike many of my peers, I actually love receiving and responding to them.  Particularly when the RFP or RFI asks great questions that challenge and which require “bespoke,” or custom-tailored, answers, in the phraseology of Richard Susskind.

While it’s true that the number of RFPs and RFIs is increasing, it’s also true, it seems to me, that the quality of the questions is improving, which belies an ever-increasing sophistication on the part of already sophisticated buyers of legal services.

In a recent RFP, respondents were asked to provide a description of core legal competencies in several arenas (for instance Labor, Tax and Commercial Law).  That’s pretty standard for RFPs we have seen over the years.  But here’s where it got interesting: Within each of these arenas, the RFP asked, “In what areas are you particularly strong, and why?”  Hmmm.  Anyone who works at a law firm know just how tough this question is to answer, at least politically.  Law firms like to think of every lawyer and every practice group as outstanding.  Singling out one or a few practice areas as “particularly strong” implies, at least to some extent, that other practice areas are not as strong.   Do we really want to answer that?  How can we not? For if we fail to declare our major, we will come off as shallow and/or unrealistic. 

The same RFP went on to ask, “How are you a good fit for our company?” Hmmm again.  This isn’t the standard dish.  Answering this question requires having an in-depth understanding both of the RFP-responding law firm and, especially, the RFP-issuing company…..and the specific intersection between the two.  This is not intellectually easy, nor is it susceptible to off-the-web responses.

Here are two more outstanding questions from the same RFP:    “Describe the type of management systems presently employed, both internally and with other clients, to ensure the optimal utilization of your firm’s personnel and to avoid cost overruns.”  “What productivity measures should be utilized to evaluate your firm’s performance?”  Toto, this doesn’t look like Kansas anymore!  We are, in effect, being asked to manage ourselves.

I know that many lawyers and support staff dread RFPs, but how can one be in this business and not be stimulated by these challenging questions?  Inside lawyers, it would appear, are crafting provocative questions that get to the heart of “that Value thing!”  And, in our answers, we are discovering who we really are.