Building ProposalsBy Burkey Belser and Richard Westle
May 28, 2013
Responding to RFPs in the 21st Century
Today, proposals are a way of life for law firms. But it wasn’t always that way. Thirty years ago, it was not uncommon for law firms to send a bill—a single bill—at the end of the year for millions of dollars with the terse description “for services rendered.” From the attorney’s point of view, that act may have been perceived as an affirmation of trust between partner and client. But from a client’s stance, such an un-itemized, annual bill for millions would certainly have been interpreted as unbridled arrogance.
The Way It Was
Fast forward to circa 2000. Corporations began to get tough on billing, recognizing that it was they, not the law firm, who held the reins. Auditors were called in to study every aspect of legal bills, forcing a change of habit in law firm billing. In a complete turnaround from established practice, bills were expected to be timely—monthly, sometimes bi-monthly, rarely quarterly—to satisfy corporate budgeting requirements. And bills had to be thorough, detailing exactly what work was done and by whom for every phase of the assignment.
During the last ten years, corporations began to issue RFPs routinely. The most diligent corporations have hired purchasing agents to collect and evaluate the proposals they receive (forget that an RFP is a lousy way to evaluate talent; it clearly reflects commoditization in the legal industry). Now, after a decade of detailed legal billing, TyMetrix, for example, has a record of $50 billion in billings that, when subjected to analysis, allows clients to know exactly how much time “should be” spent on an activity and the level of experience (read, billable hour rate) it requires. That reality has yet to take hold in most law firms. But it is here.
Law Firms’ Response: First Generation Proposal Generators
Law firms responded to billing scrutiny by automating proposal generation. The first wave of legal proposal generation tools were created by Hubbard and were revolutionary for their day. They allow firms to leverage their public website content, grabbing frequently used information for proposals. They have problems, however: The source content is stored as HTML. The business challenge of building proposal documents is significantly different from managing websites. Authoring a proposal in HTML is difficult for lawyers and the system requires the lawyer interact with the proposal technology. Scary.
Second Gen Workflow
Now, there is a second generation of proposal tools, designed to solve the frustrations first gen tools created. Proposal content, assembly and generation are now integrated into a single platform that delivers high quality customized documents. Collaboration becomes a reality as users throughout the organization can leverage tools they already know how to use. When proposals are assembled, much of the relevant content can be housed in external content systems—bios, practice area descriptions, case studies, etc. Some firms who have customer relationship management (CRM) software are looking to extend this system and manage the opportunity lifecycle beyond contact management and campaigns. Firms are making significant investments in expanding experience systems and integrating matter databases that capture and organize billing data with the firm’s CRM relationship data to answer non-client business development knowledge questions. Content pulled from these different servers needs to be integrated into a single view that can be leveraged by users in developing proposals.
Ideally, a marketer wants to isolate the billing professional from the proposal generator system. Lawyers prefer to work in familiar, native language applications such as Word. However, first-gen systems, based on the web CMS (using a web browser interface) delivered working content in HTML, until final conversion. A definite hurdle. A second-generation product removes this hiccup by creating a Word-based toolset. The cherry on top would be if all this could be delivered in templates reflecting the firm’s brand.
Now: the Best of Both Worlds
Greenfield/Belser chose not to create a proposal generation system. We do have two really useful utilities: eBriefcase (for creating bundled PDF documents) and Track Record (matter experience). Many firms indicate that’s all they need or want or can support. Other providers do offer good proposal generators (HubbardOne, Content Pilot, FirmWise and others). We chose not to build, but to team up with ANSOR, a subsidiary of Kraft Kennedy, Inc., the most well-respected law firm IT consultancy. We were impressed with their second-generation proposal generator that appears to leapfrog the other systems. Not only was ANSOR PROPOSAL designed specifically to meet the demands of large firms, it was designed to blow away the competition. The ANSOR Legal Marketing Suite gives clients the first proposal generator platform built on Microsoft’s SharePoint and Word platform, which integrates seamlessly with LexisNexis InterAction CRM, Thomson Elite, Aderant Time & Billing, Court Alert and other third-party industry data sources. ANSOR’s software also plugs into Greenfield/Belser’s Point & Clique V6. We believe ANSOR’s suite trumps all others, allowing attorneys to revise and edit documents in Word sectionally as well as track the status of specific content. It also provides important metrics and detailed analytics necessary to improve performance in winning bids.
We think this is the best of both worlds: world-class design and technology from Greenfield/Belser married to a more sophisticated proposal generator than its predecessors claim to be, plus rich integration with matter experience. The two together are an ideal answer for large firms requiring an all-in-one solution.