A few years ago, when I was the Senior Manager of Digital Marketing at Ballard Spahr, I was tasked with drafting an RFP for a new firm website. I had many legal technology projects under my belt at that time, from CRM roll-outs, new email marketing systems, social media marketing training, and even blog and website launches. But I had not seen many RFPs or created any for these projects, and I didn’t know where to begin. Well, I did know where to begin, but Google did not give me the answers I needed at the time.
While working with many talented folks at LISI, we have been on the receiving side of the RFPs, which has enlightened me. It appears that many folks could use some support in creating an RFP for their firm to begin a new website project.
Why Is Creating a Strong RFP Important?
Your website is not something you can “set-and-forget.” From the day it launches, you should be improving it, updating content, and fine tuning the path along which prospective clients will journey to get to know your firm.
The RFP process is like a professional courtship where you learn not only about the website development company’s capabilities, but also its culture and personality. If it’s a good match and you work together on a website design and build, the service partner can continue to support your firm through hosting, maintenance, and future website enhancements and projects. Most importantly, this partner should guide you through the process and make you look like super stars to firm leadership.
Food for Thought to Fuel the Process
Start at the End
How will your firm determine if the new site is a success? If it’s a lead-generation site, the number of new leads that come from the website is pretty obvious, but what if it’s to build brand awareness? Create some benchmarks, so you have data to compare. You may need to create an assessment or add some branding-related questions to your client satisfaction survey.
Who Are the Players?
Sure, every partner in the firm is a stakeholder, but who should be involved in the process and the decisions? The Managing Partner may not be able to give timely feedback because she’s so busy, which could slow down the project. If there are 25 people on the website committee, you may have trouble reaching consensus.
If your firm’s culture craves buy-in from everyone, select decision-makers who can represent everyone. Designate someone in IT to support the technical aspects up front and during implementation. Give a voice to the key constituencies in your firm, including associates. Engaging them in the process is a good way to support your retention efforts. And make sure your committee is diverse. Including a diverse range of perspectives is critical to ending up with a site that hits all the high marks.
Timing is Everything
If the site must absolutely launch by a particular date to coincide with a firm event, like an office move or firm anniversary, communicate the timing and the rationale in the RFP, but ensure there will be a buffer because it’s inevitable that something could come up to slow down the project.
Look at Other Sites for Inspiration and Ideas
What does your competition do? How does the leader in your market present itself online? Look for inspiration from non-law firm websites that are not bound by the same creative limits. Are there ways your firm can stand out in terms of design and functionality? This can include animated infographics, predictive search, striking photography of something other than a gavel, pillars, a scale, or a hand shake.
Define Website Requirements
Don’t assume anything, and say exactly what you want, what you need, and what you don’t in the project and from your website design/development. Here are a few requirements to consider:
Use the existing logo, branding, colors, and tagline versus new. A new website may be the perfect vehicle to launch a brand redesign but be clear with the designer on whether this calls for a full redesign or a simple evolution of the logo and brand elements.
If your head shots are more than five years old, please consider getting new ones—especially if they are boring yearbook style shots. I’m not saying every firm should have full-on glamour shots, but the bios are the most visited pages of a law firm’s website, and the photos should represent what your lawyers look like in this decade. Plus, it’s another opportunity to show some personality, with clothing or accessories, like a fun necklace or pocket square. Do you have a photographer that you know and love or is photography part of the project in the RFP?
Do you have in-house writers to help freshen up website content or is writing and/or editing part of the project? Evaluate whether the current organization of practices still represents the way your firm operates, and more importantly, does it communicate the firm’s capabilities to the world in the way it should? Consider adding industry pages to help in-house counsel and purchasers of legal service find your services in their world faster.
Does the website content need to integrate with an intranet or firm proposal solution? Identify these requirements upfront, so they are part of the project scope and not extra side-projects later on.
Responsive web design
Even though it should go without saying that the site design should be dynamic—meaning it looks great and functions well on smaller screens, add it to the RFP as a requirement. You don’t want to find yourself in a position down the road, where the mobile design was an afterthought. Check your site’s analytics to see how many visitors are using the site via phone and tablets and which pages are being opened the most on mobile. Offices for directions and bios for phone numbers probably rank high on mobile, but what else?
ADA, CCPA, GDPR, etc. Discuss this and other compliance requirements with firm leadership but consider future-proofing your website by addressing these in your next website project—even if you think your firm falls outside the boundaries of the requirements.
Are there any other special features or functionalities that ae required, like videos, content feeds, predictive search, complex filters, etc.?
Review the sitemap for the current site and consider if the site structure should be changed in any way. Should any new page types be added, combined, or eliminated completely? Just think of it as an outline or checklist of the pages of the site. Your website development and design team should make recommendations for improving your sitemap, but you should have a clear vision regarding the starting point.
Determine who will make the routine edits to bios and practice areas or post new events and news. If your team has bandwidth, it’s often efficient to do this in-house, but if your marketing department is small that may not be an option. The RFP should communicate that either you’re looking for a user-friendly content management system (CMS) with training on said CMS or a website partner who will maintain the site for you.
Define the role of your website developer after the site launches: ideally, they will make routine system upgrades and updates to the website platform and plugins and be available for post-website-launch development changes.
Host with the Most
Your firm should not host the site on its own servers. By hosting with a third party, you will get support, security, speed, and the peace of mind that you don’t have to maintain servers, make updates, and ensure redundant high-speed internet connections. Trust me, there is no cost or time savings in hosting your own site. Your new site needs to be hypertext transfer protocol secure (https:) which is the secure version of http: in the URL. Even if your site does not transmit sensitive data, like a bank or health insurance provider, internet browsers now flag sites as “not secure” if they are not encrypted properly. Your website should support your firm’s credibility—not put it question with website vulnerabilities.
Break Down Your Website RFP Into These Components
- Project Summary
- Firm Background
- State of the Current Website
- New Website Objectives and Requirements
- Project Budget
- Proposal Requirements
- RFP and Project Timeline
- Criteria for Selection
The RFP Process
After going through this guided reflection on your firm, the current website, and your firm’s website needs/hopes/dreams, you can put some pen to paper (metaphorically speaking) and lay out the sections of the RFP. Following the request framework above and provide specifics to all potential responders about what it’s going to take to win your business.
One last tip: be clear about the timeline. It will save you the headache, and will manage expectations if you lay out a specific timeline which indicates the following:
- The response period
- Until when you will accept questions
- When you will provide answers for questions to all responders
- When a preliminary decision will be made
- When in-person interviews will take place
- When a final decision should be made
- When you intend to start your project.
It will take some effort to get the ball rolling, but once the RFP is out and you get responses from great agencies, it will be worth it! Make your decision and bask in the glory of your new partnership as your law firm website takes shape.