CFO overhauls law firm’s IT infrastructure
Small business | Mark Baumgartner, CFO
Pender & Coward PC, Norfolk
It’s safe to say Mark Baumgartner knows the ins and outs of Virginia Beach-based law firm Pender & Coward PC, where he has served as chief financial officer since 2017.
Prior to becoming the firm’s CFO, Baumgartner had 20 years of experience working as a Pender & Coward attorney, including a decade as a shareholder at the firm, which last year reported more than $13 million in revenue. He still maintains a busy law practice in addition to carrying out his CFO duties, which he has expanded to include responsibility for the firm’s technology.
“There is a lot of overlap, I think, in today’s world between financial reporting and information technology,” he says.
A year and a half ago, Baumgartner embarked on overseeing a complete overhaul of the firm’s IT infrastructure, including cybersecurity, software platforms and devices such as computers, servers and phone systems. The technology upgrades came just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic, as the project was completed just weeks before the firm transferred to remote work in mid-March.
Baumgartner also spearheaded the automation of monthly reporting revenues through the company’s accounting system, which allows him to spot trends and provide shareholders with the latest performance indicators. He also streamlined reporting for case matter management, accounting and billable hours.
Pender & Coward CEO Dave Arnold says, “We had to have somebody on the inside of this firm who understood IT well enough to oversee it and make recommendations to our partners, and Mark — and it’s certainly not in his job description as CFO — undertook that role. This was in addition to having his busiest year as a practicing lawyer.” (Baumgartner specializes in corporate and transactional law, real estate, environmental law and litigation.)
Monthly revenue reporting, which was once a labor-intensive process, is now automated, which allows Baumgartner to report monthly practice-specific metrics to firm shareholders. He considers this his greatest accomplishment as CFO. It allows shareholders to react more quickly to the ebbs and flows of business — particularly amid the unpredictable COVID-19 landscape.
“The ability to see [practice profitability] quickly on a monthly basis … has been a big benefit, and I share that with the shareholders so they can see that information in real time as the year progresses,” Baumgartner says. “It allows us to react much more quickly.”
“He didn’t just take over as CFO. He overhauled the way the position was handled,” Arnold says. “There was no other attorney in this firm qualified to understand the process in order to make informed recommendations and decisions. He manages one of the largest and most profitable practices in the firm. And I don’t know when he sleeps.”
With greater transparency into the firm’s profitability, Baumgartner is able to study data such as billable hours and where and how the firm’s money is being spent to better inform his budgeting process during a time when revenue forecasting has become more challenging due to the pandemic.
Baumgartner advises other CFOs to take the time to identify and understand which data points are important to a business in order for it to thrive.
“Sometimes the most important metrics aren’t necessarily dollars and cents,” Baumgartner says. “They might inform the ultimate decision, but data is just one tool for the overall financial picture.”
With the technology project put to bed and COVID-19 adjustments becoming the new normal, it’s smooth sailing for Baumgartner — literally. He and his wife, Penny, plan to sail from the East Coast to Antigua on their 39-foot Jeanneau-brand boat, Southern Cross, in early November.
“It’s a very good socially distanced thing to be out on a sailboat, that’s for sure,” Baumgartner says.