[This post is the first in our series of expert guests' posts for InsideLegal. Thanks to Laura Calloway for taking the time to let us in on how vendors can work more effectively with bar associations!]
What in the world is a PMA? In this age of acronyms, PMA is an especially useful one to know if you market to the legal community.
PMA stands for Practice Management Advisor. It’s not always an official job title (although it can be), but has come to be used within our community as a generic term to describe someone who works for a national, state, county, local or specialty bar association; a provincial law society or a mandatory professional liability insurance fund and provides information on law practice management to the association's members.
As such, PMAs come in many flavors. They may be directors of law offices or practice management assistance programs created by their bar associations while some are directors of ethics and professionalism programs. Some are member benefit directors while others provide risk-management information. Some have been practicing attorneys, some are trained and have worked as legal administrators and others have backgrounds as diverse as accountants or school teachers, but the common denominator is that all are committed to educating their members about best practices in the modern law office. They believe that they best way to increase the quality of legal services provided by their members is to help those lawyers better manage their firms.
With the recent addition of programs at the North Carolina and Vermont state bars, there are now 27 organizations which now provide some sort of vehicle for making sure their members are able to obtain this type of information.
So how can knowing the PMAs help you and your company?
While each PMA has his or her own special interests, skills and channels for delivery of information, they are all committed to being aware of and knowledgeable about products and services in the four major practice-management areas (finance, management, marketing and technology) that can improve their members’ practices – both the delivery of services and the bottom line. They do one-on-one consulting with their members, organize solo & small firm conferences, manage legal expos and organize and speak at continuing legal education programs for their own associations and others. Thus, they are a great way for you to both determine the needs of the legal community and to make the members of that community aware of what you have to offer. PMAs keep their ears to the ground, and they are always interested in knowing what’s new that will help law firms get their work done better, more easily, more cheaply, or all three at once.
Partnering with PMAs
The best way to work with a PMA is the best way to work with any customer or client - get to know them, build a relationship with them and understand the job they do. Like most legal professionals, they’ve usually got more work than they have hours in the day in which to accomplish it. They are always on the go, but are more than willing to stand still long enough to pick up information that will help them do their jobs better.
A good opportunity to get to know them is at ABA TECHSHOW. Since most of them attend every year, they generally gather the day before to renew friendships and swap information about their programs and what they’ve been doing to advance their shared cause since we last met. They also use TECHSHOW as an opportunity to meet as many legal vendors as possible and learn what’s new.
Be prepared when you call them to come to the point quickly. They’re accustomed to gathering information about products and services for lawyers, so if they haven’t heard of your company they are still probably aware of the type of products or services you provide. If they’re not, they’ll tell you so.
Tell them what you’d like for them to do to help you. Sometimes they can help and sometimes they can’t, but either way it helps if they understand what you hope to accomplish through a strategic relationship with their organization. And understand that some PMAs are the ultimate decision maker – and some aren’t. Whenever possible, they’ll do what we can to get you to the right person if they think your offering would benefit their members.
Be willing to provide them with samples and product literature. They can speak much more authoritatively about your product or service if they’ve actually experienced it. Many PMAs operate computer labs where their members can get a “hands on” look at your products. Some PMAs are trainers and some of them don’t do anything more than pass out information to their members. So understand that their programs are very different and what may work in one state or with one association may not work with another.
Most importantly, be available to answer their questions. Nothing enhances their credibility with their members like being able to respond to their questions about your products and services. And this pays off for all of us.
About Laura Calloway … Laura Calloway is the Director of the Practice Management Assistance Program at the Alabama State Bar. In addition to being a member of the ABA Law Practice Management Section's Practice Management Advisors Committee, she is Chair of ABA TECHSHOW 2009.