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Pros and cons of specifying the format in a Request for Proposal

When they seek competitive bids, many law departments tell firms very precisely how the firms should present their proposal (See my post of March 30, 2008: RFP with 22 references.). Most specify the content they want and don’t want as well as the desired order of the material. A few go so far as to include a spreadsheet formatted to force the proposer’s data into specified fields. Format specifications help in several ways.

  1. It is easier to score the proposals because the information comes neatly packaged.

  2. Law firms can’t as easily plump up the proposal with marketing fluff.

  3. You can direct the firms to give thought to what matters to you, not to them.

  4. You can more easily break proposals apart for the team members to review segments.

As with all choices, however, defined formats, especially the more rigid variety, create some problems.

  1. Law firms cannot as easily demonstrate creativity and flair.

  2. Law firms may flood you with many questions about the required format, rather than about content.

  3. It takes longer to format the response form as you must anticipate issues.

  4. You might omit some question or a formatting option that is useful to both law firms and you.