How lawyers can say no to an RFP without endangering their client relationships

How lawyers can say no to an RFP without endangering their client relationships

by Amy
26th February 2021

Most law firms and practices will have a robust go/no go process in place to filter RFPs received. After all, we all know deep down that not all opportunities are created equally.

As most law firms bill by the hour, they should also be aware of the costs that go into unsuccessfully bidding for a matter. Therefore, it is important that partners, lawyers and law firms don’t respond to every single RFP they happen upon.

Before I explain how you can effectively say no to an RFP, without endangering the client relationship you’ve worked so hard on, if you don’t currently have a go/no go process, it is essential that you put one in place. If you don’t have one, you can download this free Bid/No Bid tool to help you get started.

After you’ve completed your analysis of the RFP you’ve received, you now may well need to decline the opportunity to respond. This is where the hard work and serious thinking really starts. You now have to tell the issuer that you are declining the opportunity to respond.

This isn’t as simple as just saying “no” to the client or prospective client. Particularly if that client or potential client has specifically sent you the RFP. Even if you feel they have sent you the RFP just to ‘make up the numbers’, choosing not to participate and not make up the numbers could potentially upset their process.

So how do lawyers and law firms say no to an RFP without endangering their client relationships? Below are 3 simple ways to do so.

1. Explain why in writing, as early as possible.

I would urge you to do this early in the piece. The earlier the better. It shows a clarity of thought and swiftness of response. It also provides the maximum respect and care for the RFP issuer’s process.

If you send an email or letter confirming you will not be responding a day before the deadline, it is not a good look. In fact, it is a terrible look. The issuer will think, no matter what you have written, that you have pulled out of the race because you failed to time manage your bid response effectively. They’ll think you are poor at completing tasks to a deadline, which is not good for your or your firm’s reputation.

Therefore, make sure you inform them early, and when you do inform them, make sure that you thank and acknowledge them for giving you the opportunity in the first place. Then provide clear and concise reasons as to why you have decided not to respond on this occasion. It may be obvious but do not state that you are not responding because you can’t win. This is not an acceptable business reason.

Instead, if you hadn’t been expecting the RFP and you and your lawyers aren’t available to deliver the work or provide a thorough enough response in the time given, make that clear. Increasingly, clients are respectful of this, gone are the days when they want lawyers working beyond their capacity. Your clients want to work with firms that value their people and their mental health.

If it is for a service that isn’t a core part of your firm’s offering, then again make that clear. It is perfectly acceptable to say that the service you require is not one that we have much track record in delivering. Rather than trying to ‘fudge’ a response, you have opted to not respond, so let them know that and for future reference where your strengths lie. You may even offer to suggest some non-competing law firms that specialise in this area that they could invite to respond. Your client will really appreciate this.

2. Say no and offer them something else.

If you are aware that your client or prospective client requires a certain number of responses, as I mentioned above, can you assist them by suggesting an alternative legal provider for them to invite? While you may be concerned over adding another potential competitor in the mix, have a think how the issuer will feel. They will view you as someone who will try to help them even if it isn’t necessarily advantageous to you. That is an action that will help you build a greater and more trusted relationship with your client.

Alongside that, could you offer to run a free workshop or seminar on the areas of service that you do cover? Say that you can’t cover all the areas they’ve requested, so rather than investing X hours on your bid response, offer to spend those X hours on a workshop with them.

The aim of this would be to give the issuer some ideas and an overview of how to help make the matter they invited you to tender for, successful. If they take this offer up, you’ll get to help them, and also demonstrate the areas you are good at. If they don’t accept, they’ll most likely appreciate the offer.

3. Call them and explain the reasons.

If you’ve thought about your reasons for not responding and put them in a letter, couldn’t you just phone them instead? The personal touch is always appreciated. It gives your client their chance to respond. They may even insist that they want you to respond, then perhaps that will change your decision. If they are happy with you not responding, that reinforces that you made the correct decision to not respond.

However, it is a good idea to have that written response ready to go. There are three clear advantages to this. Firstly, you’ll have your messages clearly laid out before the call for your own reference. Secondly, you can send the email as soon as you hang up the call. Finally, you’ll be able to send it, if your client is difficult to get hold of.


Deciding not to respond to a bid is certainly not a passive activity. It requires a great deal of thought to convey your reasons effectively and clearly. You’ll need to think about what reasons will resonate the best with your client or prospective client. The real advantage to putting this thought in is that if you get it right, you can actually enhance your relationship with your client, rather than your response having a negative effect.

About the Author 

Ben Paul is the Director & Founder of The BD Ladder, a BD consultancy focused on growing law and professional services firms. He has held senior BD and marketing roles in leading legal and professional services firms. If you need help with this year’s BD plan, then download The BD Ladder’s BD Client Action Plan for free.


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