Welcome to the Fall 2013 edition of Mattern Matters.
In our lead article, “On the Importance of Benchmarks and the Right Deal for Your Firm”, Jodi Carroll, our Director of Client Services, reviews some key features of benchmarking and the many benefits your company can derive from them. We also hear from one of our trusted colleagues, Lisa Carpenter, Office Services Manager at Shook Hardy & Bacon, regarding how she obtains benchmarks and the many ways she leverages them for her firm.
In our case study article, “Mattern & Associates Phase III Program Achieves Maximum Value for Best Best & Krieger’s Office Supplies Contracts”, learn about Mattern’s Phase III Program and the exciting results of the BBK case study. We hear from Maria Casas, BBK’s Operations Manager, on the ways Mattern’s Phase III Monitoring and Maintenance Oversight of BBK’s office supplies contracts resulted in big savings for the company.
Finally, hear from Rob Mattern in “12 Expense Reduction Strategies Your Firm Can Implement Now”. You will learn 12 true and tested concrete strategies your firm can implement now to start saving money. We hope you enjoy!
On the Importance of Benchmarks and the Right Deal for Your Firm
How many times do you put off making a purchasing decision because you are not sure whether you are making the right decision or whether something better, cheaper, faster will present itself in the next month or two? Your mobile phone contract, for a simple example, expires and you are faced with the choice to upgrade your phone at no cost or at a significantly reduced cost with your current service provider – or you can switch service providers and obtain a comparable rate but with a more desirable network or technologically advanced device selection. Even within this simple framework, it is typical to delay making the actual decision because you know that no matter which direction you choose, something new or better will be released.
Maybe you should do nothing. Your phone works, you know the customer service line at Verizon by heart and that adds a certain amount of convenience to your life. The problem escalates exponentially, of course, for law firms making large, firm wide purchasing decisions with multi-year contracts. In the business of running your firm, you know doing nothing is not in your firm’s best interest-but how do you make that purchasing decision and know you achieved the right deal for your firm? Well, you can start by asking yourself some of the typical questions:
- Who is providing these services today?
- Who is providing them well?
- What guarantees do I have that they will perform as promised?
- How much do they cost?
- What kind of flexibility do I have to make changes?
- What kind of contractual terms do I need in my contract to protect my firm?
- What kind of terms/pricing are my peer firms getting from these same providers?
If you have the time and the expertise, you can create and distribute your own Request for Proposal, clarify responses and coordinate meetings or presentations to better understand the various vendors or service providers. You can even negotiate your own contract and oversee required implementations. But, how do you know that you are getting a good deal – or even better, the right deal for your firm? Are you able to guarantee the success?
The key is benchmarking. Benchmarking is simply a process for identifying and comparing best or better practices. Benchmarks are a standard of excellence against which similar things can be measured or judged. And if you don’t know what the standard of excellence is – you cannot compare something to it. So where do you get the benchmarks needed for your comparison to ensure that you are getting the right deal?
- You can talk/network with other colleagues and learn more from their experiences. But are these really benchmarks?
- You can search for related benchmarks through on-line databases/web sites. But are you able to compare similar services/levels?
- Or, you can consult with experts or business consultants that have significant experience with your particular area of interest (i.e., performance levels, costs, process best practices, and contractual terms) – and have identified, collected, analyzed, and established valid benchmarks for comparison and decision-making.
We spoke to Lisa Carpenter, Office Services Manager for Shook, Hardy & Bacon, regarding benchmarks, including from what channels she obtains them and in what areas she leverages them for the Firm. When Carpenter first started at Shook, Hardy & Bacon 13 years ago, she began incorporating benchmark information into the decision-making process for her area of responsibility she notes, “The world has changed over the past 13 years, both information-wise and business-wise. The use of benchmarks has become more popular. They are more widely available and there are better systems to track the industry related information.”
Carpenter gives a few examples of the multiple areas in which she leverages benchmarks to obtain the best agreement available for her firm including relocation, travel, and support services. While there’s not an industry that hasn’t changed in the past 13 years, she notes, relocation, travel and support services are areas which have changed dramatically.
“When I first started managing relocation,” she says, “it wasn’t hard to buy and sell a house. Clearly, that has changed; previously the housing market was very strong, but now the collapse of the housing market greatly affects the way we do business. Law firms and businesses are now conducting relocation in different ways in order to minimize associated losses.”
Similarly with travel, Carpenter says, “The state of the economy 15 years ago wasn’t as fragile; there was a lot more leeway. But travel costs have increased dramatically. It’s now a highly scrutinized area because it’s so costly to travel and budgets are limited. Everything has changed.”
In the support services area, Carpenter notes that the obsolescence of the fax and the simultaneous introduction of scan technology have greatly altered equipment and workflow decisions. She says, “When I first started, the firm had limited scanners – that has completely changed. We now have 2 per floor while fax equipment has been dramatically reduced to 1 fax machine per floor and it is rarely used. The faxes now come in on one machine and are simply distributed electronically via the fax server.”
She continues: “The fact is that if you have the firm’s best interest in mind, it never ceases to be important to find out what changes have taken place and to respond appropriately to the most recent changes in the marketplace.”
Carpenter obtains benchmark information from both professional associations and consultancies which have a demonstrated deep expertise in the area of question. For travel, for instance, she utilizes benchmarks from the Global Business Traveler’s Association; in other areas, she may reach out to peers in ALA or obtain survey results for her firm through the ALA database available to members.
For digital document services, reprographics, mail, and supplies, Carpenter leverages Mattern & Associates benchmarking information. Shook, Hardy & Bacon participates in the Mattern & Associates Cost Recovery Survey, and as a result, receives custom benchmark reports that, Carpenter says, “We keep at our fingertips.”
In the end, Carpenter says, that without benchmark information, a firm would be missing the opportunity to get a comprehensive view of industry practices advances and successful methodologies. “Essentially, you would be operating in a vacuum, and the impact is making a bad business decision-which law firms cannot afford, not before, not now, and certainly not moving forward.”