Lawyers misread RFPs all the time. They rarely improve the grant writing process

Occasionally clients want their lawyers to read RFPs or our draft proposals or both. This is almost always a waste of time of time and money, because a) most lawyers have no special expertise or experience in grant writing/reading RFPs, b) lawyers are not magical, and c) there is usually no good reason for lawyers to be involved in the process:

* Most lawyers have no special expertise or experience: There are no law school classes on grant writing or reading RFPs. The field is still blessedly unregulated, and the scourge of occupational licensing has not arrived. Someone who is a lawyer may also be a grant writer, but the fields are not linked in any way and a generic lawyer is going to have to learn a lot about RFPs, grant-maker machinations, and the like if they’re going to be a productive grant writer (or reader). Most aspects of practicing law and/or going to law school don’t provide such training.

* Lawyers are not magical. I went to law school for a year and met lots of lawyers and proto-lawyers. Lawyers are just people who’ve spent at least three years in law school. By now, many of the people who start law school are adversely selected for intelligence, because smart people realize that most law schools are scams and most law school grads don’t even get jobs that require J.D.s (Paul Campos is a law professor and wrote Don’t Go to Law School (Unless), a book that details why and how in greater detail than I can). Even those who aren’t adversely selected for intelligence do not necessarily learn more than people who’re studying reading, writing, and related topics via methods other than law school.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with lawyers, and if you’re arrested or sued, you should hire one. But many lawyers are not geniuses and are not better readers or writers than anyone else. In ye olden days, lawyers could simply apprentice to another lawyer and/or “read the law” in order to take the bar and start work. That system is much saner than the occupational licensing system that we have for lawyers now, and that system is mostly designed to benefit law school professors who get cush jobs teaching the next generation of lawyers. Today, lawyers are people with the time, money, inclination, and/or delusion necessary to spend three years and too many dollars in law school.

* There is no good reason for lawyers to be involved. We’ve written at least $275 million in funded proposals that we know about and probably that much in proposals that we don’t know about because clients often don’t tell us when they’ve been funded. Few lawyers have been involved in the preparation of the applications we’ve worked on. They add nothing to the process and can frequently make it more onerous, without adding value.

In most instances, hiring a lawyer or telling a lawyer to read an RFP or proposal is a way of lining a lawyer’s pockets. Most lawyers will (unsurprisingly) favor such an outcome, and they’re more than happy to hold your hand for as long as you want your hand held.

But you don’t need them to do grant writing. If you’re engaging in a complex real estate transaction, or you’ve been arrested, or you’re getting divorced, hire a lawyer. Those are circumstances in which a lawyer might add value to the process. Grant writing is not such a circumstance.

2 thoughts on “Lawyers misread RFPs all the time. They rarely improve the grant writing process”

  1. Linda Gray

    Thank you for being bold to share this comment. Most of my clients do engage lawyers in the process of nonprofit grant writing and it causes delays in relationship building with the funding agency!

    1. Jake Seliger Post Author

      Most of my clients do engage lawyers in the process of nonprofit grant writing

      Really? For us it’s pretty rare, but it obviously happens frequently enough to justify the post.

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