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READER TIPS

Use long-term vendor contacts to win long-term savings

Regular meetings with the vendors have led to significant savings for a North Carolina firm.

Tracy Cook, administrator with Gailor, Wallis Hunt, an eight-attorney firm in Raleigh, NC, started the meetings when she came to the firm several years ago.

One of her first actions as administrator was to go through the vendor files to see which vendors had contracts or did regular business with the firm. There were many, from the copy machine vendor to the insurance provider, the accountant, on down to the courier, and she set up meetings with all of them.

Her opening with each was to explain that the attorneys had given her the job of reducing office expenses and “I need your help. What can we do differently?”

Office supplies, water and coffee

One of the largest savings was with office supplies.

The firm was at that time using three vendors – one for water, one for coffee and soda, and another for office supplies.

Cook found that the office supply company could supply all three services. So she consolidated and saw a savings in time as well as money.

As for time, she now handles just one invoice instead of three. And in a small firm where the administrator is responsible for all the operations, “any way I can save a little bit of time is helpful.”

As for money, the supply company offered lower prices on frequently purchased items such as binders, post-it notes, and note pads in exchange for the firm’s agreeing to limit those purchases to individual brands.

The vendor also agreed to identify new products the firm starts to order often and add them to the savings list.

Prior to that, she says, the receptionist had simply sent out an e-mail asking if anybody needed supplies, and things were ordered at random. Limiting the brands has made the ordering far easier and far less expensive.

A full-time, half-price courier

Another good savings was found in the courier service. There Cook was able to turn the part-time courier into a full-time employee – at what amounts to a part-time salary.

The courier, who is an employee of the courier company, originally came in only once in the morning and again in the afternoon. And at the same time, the paralegals were doing a lot of unbillable busy work such as covering the phones when the receptionist was out.

Cook met with the company and found that the owner wanted to expand into facility management but didn’t know where to start. So they set up an agreement whereby the courier became a full-time contract employee for the firm with the new title of operations supervisor.

She and the company also came up with a job description, a work schedule, and a price.

Now the courier does the regular courier jobs that can be billed to the clients plus a lot of the unbilled work the paralegals were doing. And because he is a contract employee, the firm is not responsible for benefits, overtime, or time off.

The result is that about half the monthly fee the firm pays for the courier gets billed back to the clients – and that puts him at a part-time pay level.

Along with that, the company itemizes its bills to show which clients get what services, so the firm captures all the charges. In the past, she says, the firm was billing for the services but wasn’t capturing all the charges.

More still, the paralegals are doing paralegal work and billing more.

And the clients are seeing a savings as well, because the company gave the firm a discounted rate in exchange for using the courier full-time.

Less money and better service

The meetings have led to a number of other savings as well, Cook says.

For example, the meeting with the phone company resulted in the elimination of six wireless air cards “that no one was using.”

There were savings too on insurance premiums. Previously, she says, the firm simply renewed the same policies year after year “without shopping around.” Now the terms are better, because the provider knows the firm constantly evaluates prices.

And savings aside, Cook points out that the vendors had never met the previous administrator “and had never even been inside the firm.” Now, however, she meets with each one every quarter, and that has given her “a more personal and professional relationship” with them.

As a result, they are now available for immediate response when the office needs a product or service. “They put us high up on the VIP status because they know I’m paying attention.”

If you have an idea you would like to share with readers of Law Office Administrator, please contact the editor at barb@plainlanguagemedia.com. We pay $100 for each idea we publish.

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