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Customer Spotlight: Ceridian helps Alston & Bird raise the bar with self-service solutions

Featuring an interview with Michael Nutter, HRIS manager, Alston & Bird LLP

In an industry often known for stressful working conditions and notorious long hours, national law firm Alston & Bird LLP long ago become known instead for its great benefits, pro bono work and commitment to work-life balance, helping it become the only law firm to be on Fortune's "100 Best Companies to Work for" list for nine consecutive years.

"Everyone here -- from those in the mailroom to the senior partners -- feels valued. That's very important to our culture," said Michael Nutter, HRIS manager at the firm's headquarters in Atlanta. The firm's unique culture and core values have been developed and maintained for more than a century. Today, the firm has more than 800 attorneys providing a full range of services to domestic and international corporate clients that conduct business all over the world. Another 1,000 employees support these attorneys in 46 different practice groups. "We're a one-stop legal shop for our customers," Nutter said.

Growing needs
As Alston & Bird grew over the years, so did its need to access improved human resources-related products and services that could address multi-state employment laws, unique attorney wage and tax structures, and system conversions due to mergers with other firms. To handle these and other complex issues, Alston & Bird turned to Ceridian in 1985 for payroll processing needs and continues to explore and expand on its robust menu of products and services.

The firm had just moved to Source 500 integrated (now known as Ceridian HR/Payroll) when Nutter came on board at Alston & Bird in 2001. Having worked at Ceridian for five years prior to joining the firm, he was well aware of other products and services that could help bring his new employer into the 21st century.

"Externally, we were well ahead of the times in offering the latest and greatest online services to our clients," Nutter said. "But internally, we were behind the times. When I started here in 2001, the payroll department was manually processing 600 paper timesheets, not only wasting a lot of trees, but costing the firm more than 30 hours of overtime every two weeks."

Nutter knew that Ceridian's Self-Service Solutions and Time Solutions for payroll could help the firm improve efficiencies in this area as well as other data entry processes. He worked to improve best practices, create better spreadsheets and put new controls in place for managers to review and approve timesheets online. Today, it takes less than an hour to process timecards, saving more than $30,000 a year in overtime and freeing up resources to focus on other key tasks.

Nutter also likes the fact that Ceridian's Self-Service Solutions can be configured according to the firm's needs. Alston & Bird renamed it "Personal Solutions" and hosts Self-Service internally, creating seamless online services to employees based on their needs and positions. Here they can enroll in benefits, manage their retirement accounts, view earning and tax statements, update their personal information and much more.

"Self-Service Solutions enables us to give our employees real-time access to the information they need to make informed decisions about work and life issues," Nutter said. "Plus, with one central source of data that is automatically updated when changes are made, data integrity improves and redundancies are eliminated."

For example, the centralized portal houses emergency contact information for all 1,800 employees who can then review and update their information as needed. And when employees receive pay increases, they can use the online check calculator to help determine if they should make changes to their retirement account. "These things may sound simple, but they can really empower employees and lead to improved job satisfaction," Nutter added.

Ceridian's Self-Service, Time, Payroll and Tax Management systems also work together to help the firm more efficiently code hours and adhere to complicated tax filings for its attorneys. Since partners receive K-1 forms instead of W-2 forms, Ceridian customized a year-end reporting system for the firm assisting in the processing of partners' K-1 forms. "It's very important to have these run correctly and on time, and Ceridian has really helped us get this done right," Nutter said.

Recruiting the best; bar none
In addition to payroll, tax filing and total compensation statements, Alston & Bird uses Ceridian's online recruiting product, which saves thousands of dollars on recruitment vendor fees. Potential candidates can view and apply for jobs online, where they can also learn about the firm's goal of not only being the best place to practice law in America, but also the best place to work in America, no matter what position you hold.

"It's rare for law firms to be on Fortune's '100 Best Companies to Work for' list, but it's even more unique for a firm to be on the list for nine consecutive years," Nutter said. He believes the firm's commitment to work-life balance is key to its high ranking on Fortune's list and its great reputation among clients.

Cathy Brandes, Ceridian account executive for Alston & Bird, believes that Ceridian's automated, Web-based products and services contribute to employee satisfaction at the firm. "We help the firm engage employees from day one by giving them the ability to view and manage their personal information without having to call HR. This is critical to employee satisfaction and lets them focus on what they do best," she said.

Nutter said that Brandes' expertise and fantastic customer service make the partnership successful. "She always gets us the right resources for our unique needs," he said. "We've talked with other law firms about their benefits outsourcing vendors, and we know that we're well taken care of by Cathy and Ceridian. They handle the details so we can be free to take care of our business and important clients."