Should you undertake a properly organized legal business development process aimed at identifying, contacting and meeting with new prospective clients – you will have in hand the information necessary to produce superior written proposals (when requested) which will underscore your ability to serve a prospective clients needs in a manner specific to that prospective client.

An often intimidating component of the legal business development process – written proposals to prospective clients can and should be seen both as something you’ve already prepared for – and as an excellent opportunity for you to provide new prospective clients with another reason to retain your services, thereby increasing the chances you will be retained over any potential competitors, for the legal work envisioned to be undertaken by you on behalf of a prospective client.

Not always a requirement to be retained by a client, a written proposal is however often requested by a potential client as a part of the process of determining whether to retain legal representation. I herein refer to custom-tailored proposals drafted specifically for a particular potential client, originally drafted and edited for the potential client you are seeking to secure. I am not writing about requests for proposals (RFP’s) – which are frequently requested by clients from a group of law firms competing for business – and whose contents are required to be submitted in standardized format by the prospective client.

Custom tailored proposals are not as difficult to produce as one may think – if you prepare for them

Should your law firm or you as an independent legal practitioner establish a system for identifying, contacting and meeting with new potential clients, the basis of information necessary to serve as not only the outline but most of the content of your proposal – will be readily available to you as you have already compiled it from your research performed as a part of the legal business development process, including:

  • Identifying your saleable services from within often complex legal practice areas,
  • identification of new prospective clients based on an opportunity or danger you are well placed to assist the prospective client with,
  • contacting and articulating your unique ability to assist a prospective client and securing meetings with those prospective clients.

Each step in this process will provide you with unique information which will serve as the essential research necessary to draft and edit a superior written proposal.

As a natural byproduct of a properly conducted legal business development effort, a written proposal drafted with a new prospective client in mind should be brief, to the point, with enough detailed information about your practice and how specifically you propose to assist the prospective client – sufficient to improve your chances of being hired. It is your opportunity to show the client the quality of the work they can expect to receive should they in fact hire you.

Whether your audience is the prime minister of an EU member state, the chief executive officer of a Fortune 500 corporation or FTSE 1000 corporation, the director of a global non-governmental organization, or the owner of a middle market company, public or privately held – the proposal process and form will all (perhaps surprisingly?) be about the same: 

Be brief and succinct

Brief, to the point, devoid of legal acronyms or jargon, detailed enough to impart the sophisticated nature of the legal services you propose to provide, without being too parochial to not be fully understood by someone who is not a practitioner in you particular practice area. It will be devoid of spelling and grammatical errors – it will state clearly and simply who you or your firm is, why you are qualified to assist the client secure the goals your representation proposes to assist the prospective client achieve, and provide generic examples of previous successes (where appropriate and available for use) of past successful assistance to other similarly situated clients. Ideally, a proposal for any scope of work should, as a rule, not exceed three standard sheets of paper. It is an advocacy document, but should not sound aggressive.

Always write a thoughtful, new, and unique proposal for each prospective client

Additionally, the document should contain nothing which sounds like “canned” language. Rather, each prospective client should rightfully read the document as having been drafted for him or her alone. Of course you will cite material references you have often quoted – but even those most basic references to your practice should be reworked with the new prospective client in mind. Make sure the document is tailored to be read by all audiences/constituencies within the organization to which you present the proposal to. Ensure the document is addressed to the appropriate recipient. Check meticulously for appropriate form of reference for the recipient(s) and ensure you use this form. Once you have sent the proposal by an agreed upon method (e.g ask the prospective client by which method he or she would wish to receive the document – FedEx, Fax, messenger, mail) – deliver it by that method and call to confirm receipt.

Be specific

In a nutshell – provide the prospective client with an overview of the proposed work to be undertaken, an overview of your unique practice and why you are well qualified to undertake this work, citing previous generic successful examples of similar work (where available), and an outline of how the process of representation may work (time frame for agreed upon goals to be achieved).

Include an engagement letter and request exclusivity in your market

The proposal should also outline the proposed fees or a monthly retainer, a single set fee or other remuneration proposed for services. Importantly, should you be proposing to represent a new market entrant (i.e. a company new to your nation’s marketplace), I would suggest including a clause providing for an exclusive right to all legal work to be undertaken in that jurisdiction, should your law firm have sufficient resources to provide this work. For example, should your client be retaining your services to incorporate in your jurisdiction (e.g. a British company establishing operations in the United States), as you have spent considerable time working to research, identify and possibly secure the client (including serving as a guide for entry into the new market where you practice) – requesting an exclusive right to local human resources, litigation, mergers and acquisitions advisory and other legal representation et al – is a reasonable request by a law firm which has helped a prospective client enter a new lucrative marketplace. 


The written proposal is understandably seen as a challenging and time-consuming component of a legal business development process. It doesn’t need to be. Indeed, the written proposal process, when part of an organized legal business development process, can serve as a helpful, additional, unique opportunity for you to make a personal and unique case why you or your law firm should be retained to undertake proposed legal work for a prospective client. Properly researched and well written, a proposal to a new prospective legal client should increase your chances of being retained, and hopefully lead to a long attorney-client relationship, one which serves as another long-term client for your law practice. 

Posted by John Grimley

John Grimley edits and publishes Asia Law Portal. An independent writer & editor, he's the author of: A Comprehensive Guide to the Asia-Pacific Legal Markets (Ark Group 2014).

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