RFPs

I have borrowed the Boy Scout motto because I am involved in a complex cross-border transaction. Yeah, I am not kidding. I am using today’s column to point up the importance of in-house counsel being involved in a difficult deal as close to inception as possible.

Usually, the field calls when there is an approval needed for some non-standard language, or a review of a legal concept is required. At this stage in a deal, the parties are well on their way to completion, and some legal issue has arisen. But, in a complex global agreement, there are numerous variables that one must remain on top of from the start. Foremost is an understanding of the deal itself. A very close second is an understanding of what exactly the Customer is expecting, having awarded an RFP to your company.

RFPs are quirky animals, rife with opportunity for miscommunication or differing interpretations of answers. The field has prepared its response in reaction to the knowledge that several competitors are bidding on the same deal. And we all know that field ops are known for their lack of puffery and straight arrow responses to questions like, “Can you deliver X in Dubai on a single day’s notice?” Not to denigrate field ops, but the answers are always, “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes,” setting the Customer’s expectation at such a high level, that when it comes time to actually negotiate Ts and Cs, you, in-house lawyer-person, are going out to some very hungry wolves….

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When we write briefs, we show — we don’t tell — the reader that we win. Thus, we do not tell the reader: “This case is barred by the statute of limitations,” which is mere assertion. Instead, we show the reader why we win: “The accident in which plaintiff was hurt occurred on June 1, 2008. The two-year statute of limitations therefore expired on June 1, 2010. Plaintiff did not file his complaint, however, until August 15, 2011. This lawsuit is time-barred.”

At trial, it’s the same routine: We do not simply assert in an opening statement or closing argument: “My client should win.” (Nor do we beg: “Please, please. My client should win.”) Instead, we present the facts, and we let the jury conclude from the facts that our client should win. Show; don’t tell. It’s more persuasive.

What’s the equivalent for demonstrating legal expertise? What should law firms write (and say) on résumés and in responses to RFPs to show, not tell, their competence? And, as in-house counsel, what questions should we ask to investigate whether a firm is blowing hot air (which is what “telling” permits) or may actually be competent (which is what “showing” may suggest)?

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Admit it: Your corporation has a lot of legal flotsam and jetsam.

This is probably true no matter what business you’re in. On the corporate side, you have routine business transactions, and you may well handle those in-house. On the litigation side, you have a bunch of routine cases that pose little risk to the company but represent a recurring, and predictable, expense.

I propose that you package up that flotsam and jetsam and sell it off.

What am I thinking?

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