Ann Atkinson, senior public finance paralegal at Kutak Rock, took over this summer as president of NALA.
– Photo by Michael Tran
As President, Omaha Legal Assistant
Reaches Pinnacle of Her Profession
By Elizabeth Elliott
The Daily Record
Step by step.
That’s how Ann Atkinson became the newest president of the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA).
Atkinson has been on the board of directors for 10 years, working her way up from director, to treasurer, to secretary, second vice president, first vice president adn now president. She took office this summer at the NALA Annual Convention in Omaha.
“My installation this summer was definitely a high point for me. Our convention was here in Omaha, so I was able to have my family there, as well as my co-workers and friends. It was very exciting and thrilling,” she said. “To be the president of such a successful organization and to be able to work with paralegals from all over the country, as well as having the responsibility for leading the profession is an incredible experience and one that I will never forget.”
“Serving on the board requires dedication of your personal time and energy and a commitment to teamwork,” said Atkinson. “Each of these experiences taught me how to accept responsibility, how to be a leader, how a non-profit association is run and how to work successfully with others.”
That dedication has included speaking to other organizations, writing articles and serving in various capacities on many committees.
Atkinson, an Advanced Certified Paralegal (ACP), is a senior public finance paralegal in the Omaha office of Kutak Rock where sher has worked for 35 years. During her time there, Atkinson has mentored other paralegals in all 16 Kutak Rock offices, as well as serving as a supervisor.
Atkinson has set goals for her tenure as president of NALA. She said she wants to ensure that the organization remains on a steady course of growth and improvement. She also wants each of the board members to develop their own leadership abilities.
“Fostering a clear vision for the association membership based on the NALA mission statement is paramount if we are to meet our long-term goals of leading the paralegal profession and providing programs for certification, continuing education and professional development for all paralegals,” she said. “I am especially committed to maintaining the strong leadership tradition and high ethical standards set for us by former NALA leaders, and ensuring that we continue increasing membership and improving individual member retention.”
NALA is a nonprofit organization that provides continuing education and professional development programs for paralegals. Atkinson said that NALA’s Certified Paralegal program has been meeting the needs of employers and paralegals for over 30 years. The number of voting and nonvoting members is approximately 6,000 according to Atkinson, but NALA represents over 18,000 paralegals when including members in each of the affiliates, she added.
NALA’s mission is to provide voluntary certification programs, continuing legal education and professional development for all paralegals.
Atkinson said she has seen growth and change in NALA since she has been with the organization. She said these include
• Technology providing access to educational opportunities online and through social media;
• The overall acceptance of paralegals into the market;
• The acceptance by the legal profession of the Certified Paralegal certification as a means to enhance professional status; and
• Opportunities available for paralegals to develop careers in law firms, as well as corporations, private businesses, the medical field and others.
Atkinson has advice for other paralegals who are considering certification or membership in NALA.
“If you want to see your career grow and have more employment opportunities, I highly recommend not only membership in NALA, but going for certification. In total, there are currently over 17,000 paralegals who have earned their certifications,” she said. “Having these certifications is a real plus on your resume. Becoming an active NALA member offers you leadership development, educational opportunities and many valuable networking opportunities.”
In addition to her role as president, Atkinson teaches the Nebraska Paralegal Association’s Certified Paralegal Review Course.
“When Virginia Koerselman Newman moved from Omaha, the Nebraska Paralegal Association (NePA) took over the responsibility of the Certified Paralegal Review Course. Several attorneys and certified paralegals volunteered to take on that role,” she said. “We love the interaction with the student/paralegals.
“We encourage paralegals to take the Certified Paralegal (CP) exam immediately upon graduation from a paralegal school, when most of the information is fresh in their minds.”
Atkinson graduated from high school in Nehawka, Neb., and received her bachelor of science in education, with a minor in music, from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She said she had an interest in the law but didn’t fully realize it until she began work as a part-time secretary at a law office.
“When the opportunity arose for me to work full time, the paralegal career field was just getting started, and I had this gut feeling that I wanted to be a paralegal,” she said. “I like the responsibilities, the challenges and the opportunities this career field has offered me. I did consider law school at one point, but at that time, we were raising our family and I felt it was more important to spend time with them.”
Over the years, Atkinson has had experience in other associations including the Nebraska Paralegal Association and the paralegal committee of the National Association of Bond Lawyers.
“I served the Nebraska Paralegal Association as a committee member and also served on their board of directors for a number of years.
Several years later, I was appointed to the paralegal committee of the National Association of Bond Lawyers,” said Atkinson. “Our goal was to help other paralegals working in public finance to learn the “nuts and bolts” of this area of law and the best way to assist attorneys in the process of completing bond financings.
“I chaired the committee for several years and spoke at the national Fundamentals seminar each year, both to paralegal classes and to the attorneys about the benefits of utilization of paralegals,” she added.
Atkinson spends time with family in her spare time. She married her high school sweetheart, recently celebrating their 45th anniversary.
“Our oldest son, John, was diagnosed with lung cancer several years ago and passed away in 2009, leaving his wife, Lori, and three children, Machaela, Andrea and Christopher. They live in Gretna. Our second son, Kevin, is married to Jennifer and they have two children, Katelyn and Jade. They live in Denver, Colorado.
“You will find us at baseball, softball, volleyball, basketball, soccer and football games almost all year round, as well as spending time in Denver,” she added. “We so enjoy watching the grandkids grow up.
“I love to garden outside in the spring, summer and fall, growing perennials, annuals and a small vegetable garden, too,” she said. “You can find me out in our yard after work and on weekends during the spring and summer. I love to listen to all kinds of music and have been in our church choir for many years. I also love animals, especially our two dogs, Toby (a shih tzu) and Charlie (a Brussels griffon).”