Paralegals’ roles have evolved significantly as the industry has changed. Vicki Kunz joins host Carl Morrison to discuss the developments they have seen in the profession over the past several decades. They cover NALA’s past and future as an organization and encourage young paralegals to explore the many opportunities becoming available in the field.
Vicki Kunz recently retired from her role as insurance risk manager of MDU Resources Group, Inc.
Special thanks to our sponsors, NALA, ServeNow, CourtFiling.net and Legalinc.
The Paralegal Voice
NALA Annual 2019: A Changing Industry—New Opportunities for Paralegals
Carl Morrison: Hello. Welcome to The Paralegal Voice. I am recording live on location from the 2019 NALA Conference & Expo in Scottsdale, Arizona. This is Carl Morrison, I am the host of The Paralegal Voice.
Of course, today’s show is being sponsored by NALA. NALA has been a sponsor for The Paralegal Voice since our very first show. CourtFiling.net, Legalinc and ServeNow are also our sponsors, and we truly, truly, truly thank them so much for their generous support.
So today, right now I have before me the lovely Vicki Kunz, ACP. She is past President of NALA and I’m very honored to be interviewing her today, and I want to say Vicki thank you so much for being a guest.
Vicki Kunz: Thanks Carl for inviting me. So great opportunity to still talk a little bit about NALA and the past and the future of the organization.
Carl Morrison: And we’re going to get started in with what we’re going to talk about but before I jump headfirst into our topic, why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, a little bit of your background, your experience, so on and so forth.
Vicki Kunz: Okay. I have been a paralegal since the early 80s. Found out about NALA about 1986, and we had decided in the State of North Dakota that we wanted to set up our own paralegal organization and I am a founding member of Western Dakota Association of Legal Assistants.
During that time of setting up, heard a lot about the CLA. We had a NALA officer come and talk to us about the organization and I of course volunteered right away to be President, so I could get to that NALA Conference. That was in 1987 in Philadelphia, so I’m really excited. We’re going to be going to Atlantic City next year and we can fly into Philadelphia, it would be like full circle for me, from kind of the beginning of my NALA career and it’s kind of with me kind of as I’m starting to fade out into the sunset.
Carl Morrison: It’s the sunset, it’s not completely, you’re not going too far away.
Vicki Kunz: And so when I first started going to the NALA Conferences it was really more for the idea of getting the education and learning about NALA and it was during that time when I was like wow, I really wanted to be one of those leaders but I’m from North Dakota, how could that ever happen.
Carl Morrison: Right, right, well of course it can happen because look at you today. I mean it can happen to any one of us.
So you said you got active in 1987, was when you first joined NALA?
Vicki Kunz: Yes.
Carl Morrison: And what was the main motivator for you joining then?
Vicki Kunz: Education and getting my CLA.
Carl Morrison: So it really was having that certification exam that was like that’s what I want.
Vicki Kunz: Yes.
Carl Morrison: What’s your background in education in the way of certificate, degree?
Vicki Kunz: Yup. I have about two-and-a-half years of college, but no degree. I consider my kind of experience in the legal field was kind of just fell into it, I am lucky but just kind of by the school of hard knocks, and had worked for a couple attorneys who were really good teachers.
Carl Morrison: Right.
Vicki Kunz: Back in the 70s and 80s, that’s really what we only had for education was for the attorneys to teach us until the programs all started.
Carl Morrison: Exactly.
Vicki Kunz: That’s why the CLA, the certification was so important for me to get.
Carl Morrison: Right, because it demonstrated to employers, to others, your peers that you went above and beyond.
Vicki Kunz: Yes, had some credibility.
Carl Morrison: Right exactly, and it still does have credibility today, absolutely, having the certification. My late mother was also a — she was a legal secretary, and then became a paralegal when I was in high school, and set for the CLA exam and passed it and then got her specialty and so on and so forth, but I remember her talking about NALA and the importance of the certification exam, and how vitally important was to her and her career. At the time I was like I am not going into law, are you kidding me.
Vicki Kunz: Yeah.
Carl Morrison: Forget that, 27 years later I’ve been doing paralegal, sort of very similar to you.
Vicki Kunz: Yes.
Carl Morrison: My undergrad is in pre-med and actually hard, started out, I needed a job at the time I was in college and started working as a runner and attorney saw the benefit of me and took me under the wings and the rest is history. So yeah, which is great. And education is great in addition, but having that certification is really I think vitally important.
Vicki Kunz: Right, I think so too.
Carl Morrison: And that’s my personal opinion, like it is what it is, but so you said you were founding member of Western Dakota Association on Legal Assistants, which is a NALA affiliate?
Vicki Kunz: Yes.
Carl Morrison: So what was it like helping start a local affiliate association from the ground up that grassroots level?
Vicki Kunz: It was a hard sell, for there was a legal secretaries association that was with NALS, and some of us were in NALS because that was the only association and was like okay, we are doing more and we need to be able to find each other and provide each other some support.
So it was in North Dakota, you’ve got to remember there’s not — I think there’s – was about 500 attorneys back in the day. There’s quite a few more now but we had a sell to the attorneys that one, are you going to support us if we start this new organization and then two, can we get enough of us and when we started, we made some phone calls and there was six of us sitting in the room and said we can do this and within a year, I think we were up to about 20.
And I know that maybe they’ve had as many as 75 to about 85 over the years, and we are really only just the western half of the state of North Dakota, there is one on the eastern half. And they started the eastern half probably a couple years after we did.
Carl Morrison: Okay.
Vicki Kunz: We had a lot of support from the Bar Association, because of the attorney says some of us work for and so we had their support and the Bar Association then they really backed us and helped us get the educational opportunities that we needed as well, because we couldn’t get all of those within our own small little organization.
Carl Morrison: Right, right exactly. You know like many of us volunteer leaders out here typically many times, we don’t have the intentions of taking that leadership role on. You probably did not have in your intention of when you started this, there are founding member of this association that oh my gosh, my intention is to be a leader, that’s what I want to do and you just have that servant’s heart basically, but somehow we find or they find us the leadership roles find us in an organization.
So what was your why that you got active at even the local level but even in the national level on the National Board of NALA? What was the why? What was that?
Vicki Kunz: It was the personal growth. When I first started with WDALA, I had been a PTO mom and I ended up being president because no one wanted to be at back in those days. I worked my way for president there, so it was like when we got involved with WDALA, it’s like okay I can do this. But I knew when I got to NALA there’s some pretty powerful leaders out there and I wanted to be one of those.
So I watched them. I got to meetings. I saw what they did, kept moving up the chairs and it was attending one of the NALA meetings about 1989 or 90 when I was asked to serve on a committee and that President who’s now no longer with us, but when she asked me to be on that committee, she said, you keep asking the right questions, you keep volunteering to be a timekeeper, just trying to get involved and says we know that you’d be good on a committee.
And once I got in the committee was like okay, now I want to be one of them. It was just the opportunities that NALA gave me to want to learn how to speak in front of other people, how to provide some leadership, be a mentee or a mentor, just the opportunities back in those days. I took advantage of them. I think some people don’t recognize, really dig deep and see what’s there to offer that might be free in front of them.
Carl Morrison: Right exactly, I agree with you 100%. Who was the president if you don’t mind me asking?
Vicki Kunz: When I came on the president that was outgoing was Kay Kasic and incoming was Karen Sanders-West.
Carl Morrison: So having that leader mentors basically call her — I would call her a mentor.
Vicki Kunz: Yes.
Carl Morrison: That said you know I’m going to encourage you. So having that and as leaders when you take on that leadership role even at the local level, even if you don’t aspire to be at the national level, even at a local level of a leadership role, you need to encourage those.
Vicki Kunz: Absolutely. Those local leadership roles can help them even in there, I will take it for them so that they can develop their own skills at work. It’s like you can’t be the boss necessarily in a lot of those paralegal roles, but if you can be the leader or the boss of an organization, you gain those skills and they can just roll over and help you in your work skills, that’s how I advanced in the law firm.
I worked for 20 years in law firms and it was my NALA experience and my WDALA experience that I felt gave me the leadership experience and the courage to become a paralegal manager in a law firm that I had worked in and I know that, that’s what the attorney saw too was that leadership development that I had from NALA and WDALA.
Carl Morrison: And it’s just so funny when you stop and look backwards over your career and how much that at the time you didn’t have the intention to do, and fill in the blank, you just do because it was the drive. And I will tell you most of the paralegals that you and I know across the country people just do and give and were overachievers.
Vicki Kunz: Absolutely. Want to do a great job, I think we all like to pat in the back but we also just feel good with by doing a good job in completing something.
Carl Morrison: Right, right it’s yeah, we’re all nuts I guess you could say.
Vicki Kunz: Yeah kind of crazy about that.
Carl Morrison: We are kind of crazy about that. So minute ago, you were talking about the local NALS chapter and having a secretarial position before you transitioned and there’s been a lot of discussion of recent of traditional and non-traditional paralegals. So let’s talk about a little bit about the difference. What is the difference and we’ll start with traditional paralegal, how would you define a traditional paralegal?
Vicki Kunz: When I was what I considered a traditional paralegal back in the 80s and 90s we did, we work for attorneys most of the time in a law firm, occasionally in some corporate settings, and some government settings. But we did legal pleadings, we did maybe some interviewing, I dictated, I had a legal secretary that would transcribe all of my work. We had typewriters, we did progress to computers but they still did our dictation and we did a lot of research.
But as the years, even in the 21 years that I worked as a paralegal, by the time I was even still in the law firm, I’ve started to draft my own documents because I could pull up the pleadings on the computer and then just fill in the blanks. And we would have our legal secretaries which were then starting to think they were more legal assistants than they would do a little bit more than the usual transcribing dictation, they were sometimes filling in the blanks a little bit more.
So there got to be this gray area between legal assistant and paralegal and it was when I was president that we adopted started to use paralegal within NALA because it was getting so gray and people were really nervous of what it would do to their career.
What I found was happening was our jobs were changing, our responsibilities were changing, but not still necessarily what the educational requirements were, whether you’re a paralegal or a legal assistant. So I listened to some of these young paralegals now and they get up in the air about they call themselves the legal assistant but they don’t have the paralegal education.
The non-traditional paralegal has now transformed into an even more non non-traditional paralegal if you say because they you will need the paralegal background, I mean the paralegal education and/or credentials.
Carl Morrison: Right.
Vicki Kunz: But jobs years ago, you had doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses. Now we’ve got job descriptions, now we have risk managers, we have fraud analysts, there’s so many different jobs that paralegal education or credentials is a requirement but they’re not called a paralegal. So these non-traditional jobs they’re all over out there.
And we as paralegals, especially these young ones, they need to be reinventing themselves, looking at those jobs out there, seeing what a paralegal education will get them and not worry so much whether they’re a paralegal or if somebody else is calling them a legal assistant. Set themselves apart by with their education and that credential.
Carl Morrison: I’m sitting here and I’m just like yes Hallelujah because it is, it me personally and how I have evolved and progressed as a paralegal; now, the company that I work for, gaming hospitality industry, I’m now the manager of legal services and because in the corporate arena that the role of a paralegal is evolving and there is a whole new industry called legal operations out there. I attended its organization called CLOC that’s the Consortium of Legal Operations oh gosh I’m totally blanking out.
Anyway it’s legal operations, its CLOC, look it up cloc.org and is this exactly what you’re talking about that there are roles out there and I met at in this particular conference just recently. That were paralegals, are paralegals they have the paralegal background, they’ve transitioned into these legal operation positions, and it’s because they’re doing whether it be managing and overseeing a legal department’s particular project, eDiscovery, case management software, managing outside counsel, there’s this whole industry and a lot of paralegals that is a path, a career path to go to.
It’s no longer just going to be called a paralegal like you I evolved I recognize that I still have a lot of years left of work life ahead of me. And if I want to stay ahead of the game if I want to stay on the forefront of what’s going on I got to make sure that I evolve with my industry and not just sit back and just go okay I’m a certified paralegal that’s all I need to be.
Vicki Kunz: I bet you, seeing your industry to your contract administrators that’s a really good example that we have contract administrators and many of our companies with over 60 companies in the corporation that they belong to. And they would hire contract administrators and one of their requirements would be either they need to be a lawyer or they need to go to paralegal.
And they didn’t have the paralegal title. Now, they maybe if they had an attorney background, they maybe have gotten paid a little bit more but it would have been only because they had more education, more experience, they still would fall within that salary range. Paralegals could get paid as much as somebody who came in with a law degree.
Carl Morrison: Right. Exactly right. And it’s about recognizing that there are traditional, non-traditional roles and don’t pigeonhole yourself as a paralegal.
Vicki Kunz: Absolutely there’s a lot of opportunity I think in today’s world that you can get into the insurance industry, I work for again a publicly traded company so as a risk manager and really invented. We knew we needed a risk management department but what did we need and they pulled me in because of my litigation background to help on the insurance defense work.
But I also knew bad faith and so I was able to use that and ended up eventually creating the risk manager position for myself.
Carl Morrison: Vicki you and I could sit here and I think talk for like the next two hours I definitely I think, I need to have you on and we elaborate more on some of these roles that are out there because I think it would be very informative for the listeners to understand that especially students that listen to the show and have a core solid paralegal education background and think I can only work in a law firm and I can only do this.
There is many different opportunities out there for a paralegal to evolve and change and not just stay in one area, you’ve got to keep growing and evolving I think that’s my personal opinions.
Vicki Kunz: No. I totally agree with you I mean they’ve got to explore, they’ve got to invent, they have to kind of seek, and they’ll find the reward.
Carl Morrison: And to me we’re in exciting times for our industry because there’s so much on the horizon. And law is changing the law itself does not change but the industry and how law is provided and serviced is evolving.
Vicki Kunz: Absolutely.
Carl Morrison: So I always like to have a fun question. So here’s my fun question if you could be food or a meal, like a whole meal or even just a simple one piece of fruit or vegetable or whatever but a food item, what would you be and why?
Vicki Kunz: I would probably be asparagus.
Carl Morrison: I love asparagus.
Vicki Kunz: Do you? Chew.
Carl Morrison: Okay Vicki I love you then.
Vicki Kunz: You know while they are lean and mean most of the time but they’ve got an unusual taste.
Carl Morrison: They do.
Vicki Kunz: This kind of has to be acquired and you can fix it in kind of some different ways and really still enjoy it.
Carl Morrison: Right.
Vicki Kunz: Yeah and that’s kind of my personality so it’s funny you should ask that. I just, I don’t know why I thought of asparagus.
Carl Morrison: I loved it I think that’s the best definition of you.
Vicki Kunz: Yeah thanks.
Carl Morrison: Vicki, thank you so much for being on my show today, I really do truly appreciate it. It’s an honor to sit here and talk with the past president of NALA. So I’m humbled and honored that you agreed to be —
Vicki Kunz: Oh thanks Carl, and I love what you’re doing here, this is a great service to the profession. So keep doing it.
Carl Morrison: Thank you most definitely absolutely I will so if the listeners wanted to follow up with you, if they had a question or anything, is there a way to get in contact with you email or social media?
Vicki Kunz: Sure I use the email [email protected].
Carl Morrison: Easy-peasy.
Vicki Kunz: Yes.
Carl Morrison: Thank you. That’s all the time we have for this episode of the Paralegal Voice brought to you by the generous support of NALA, CourtFiling.net, Legalinc and ServeNow. Thank you again once again to our sponsors and thank you to the listeners for tuning in.
If you like what you’ve heard, of course you like what you’ve heard, you know, please rate and review us in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.
I’m Carl Morrison, host of the Paralegal Voice and if you have any questions, please send them to me at [email protected], that’s [email protected].
Until next time, thank you for listening.
Outro: The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network, its officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders, or subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.