We solicited proposals from four facilities management vendors operating in Philadelphia and presented them with what we thought was a largely garden-variety list of requirements. To our surprise, two of these requests were met with objections and ultimately resulted in a potential vendor having to drop out of the competition. The first was the requirement that the vendor's staff be ready, willing and able to handle personal errands. The other was handling of our existing file room personnel; we certainly did not want them summarily discharged, but offered a transition plan into the new operation. We wanted one individual brought into the new operation and the other offered an off-site position in the vendor's organization.
The successful vendor was selected based on multiple factors: We were familiar with and used their off-site production center and were satisfied with its performance; we had an opportunity to identify and contact current facilities management customers from their entire customer list; those reference contacts gave uniformly glowing reviews; we were satisfied with the transition plan for our current employees; and unit cost per employee, particularly in the initial contract term, was competitive with other proposals.
Because one of our existing employees transferred to the facilities management vendor's payroll while remaining in-house, our institutional memory was available at all times during the transition process, easing the process for both the firm and the vendor.
Four years later, here's how some of those specific pain points were eased:
Our facilities management vendor committed to a fixed staffing level. If personnel are absent, the vendor ensures that our full complement is available. In our case, fill-in personnel often come from the vendor's off-site production center, have been rotated through our firm before and are familiar with the firm's operations. I've heard horror stories of facilities management vendors meeting contractual staffing levels with less-than-satisfactory personnel from temporary employment agencies, with predictable results.
While we are no longer directly responsible for identifying, recruiting and retaining our file room personnel, we continue to have input in the evaluation of the vendor's staff. On several occasions, our vendor provided personnel who were not successful in our environment. When brought to their attention, they have been very willing to take our viewpoint into account and make staff changes as needed.
The era of specialization is dead. Every person in the file room operation is equally versed in all aspects of the operation. As a result, job queues are rapidly emptied in the order the jobs appear, without diversion to a specialist. This also allows our facilities management vendor the flexibility to deploy resources as needed. If two people are required to "load in" a courtroom for trial, all work will continue to be completed back at the office.
As the overall level of performance improved, our legal secretaries, paralegals and attorneys have come to rely on ?the file room staff for both a greater quantity and higher quality of tasks. This frees our "knowledge workers" for substantive work. Nothing should more incense firm management than seeing a highly skilled (and compensated) paralegal feeding paper ?into a machine, particularly if better alternatives exist.
One of the more interesting questions posed to me about our firm's facilities management experience was, "Is there any confusion about who they work for?" In our case, the answer is no, and I believe that results from the continuity provided by the retained employee, a strong facilities management site supervisor, as well as the healthy and supportive organizational cultures in place at both our firms.
Gilbert J. Marquez is law firm administrator for Feldman, Shepherd, Wohlgelernter, Tanner, Weinstock & Dodig. Before joining the firm in 2006, he was a principal of a company that provided computer network services, hardware, software and support to mid-Atlantic region law firms for 20 years. Prior to that he held administrative positions in several Philadelphia law firms.