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Unsung Legal Heroes 2019: Paralegal

RACHEL AHMANN

RACHEL AHMANN

Managing Paralegal, Langdon & Emison

As managing paralegal, Rachel Ahmann oversees a team of more than 15 people in Langdon & Emison’s tort division, which has processed 1,531 claims against General Motors for ignition switch defects, since Oct. 1, 2017.

rachel-ahmannIn addition, Ahmann has presented at Attorneys Information Exchange Group paralegal seminars, the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys’ paralegal seminar, CLEs and MDLs.

“Rachel’s contributions to the paralegal profession have a profound impact on our paralegal team and law firm,” her nominator wrote.

What is the best part of your job?

In my role managing others at the firm, I love seeing people grow into the roles that we’ve trained them for. It’s very rewarding to watch employees develop as people and as leaders, and there’s nothing better than watching them solve a complex problem using the skills I’ve helped them develop. As a paralegal, I’d have to say the phone call to the client with news of our success is the part I love the most. It’s great being able to work on behalf of real people and share the emotional bond that naturally occurs as you work on their case.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Train and develop people to do your job better than you can do it yourself. Surrounding yourself with high performers not only elevates the entire organization, but requires you to keep growing and always be at the top of your game.

What is your favorite thing to do when you’re outside of work?

We are a farm family, and I also help volunteer with several nonprofit organizations in Lafayette County. When I’m not busy with those things, I enjoy spending time with my family.

What is something that would surprise people about you?

I was a seven-time champion in piano performance at the Missouri State Fair.

KAREN KARNES

KAREN KARNES

Paralegal, Legal Aid of Western Missouri

Years ago, Karen Karnes took in a documentary about homelessness and poverty in America. She knew then that her future would include helping to fight the injustices poor people face.

Karen Karnes

Karnes

When she started working at Legal Aid of Western Missouri, she was new to the field of law. But she quickly caught on and has “soared ever since,” demonstrating uncommon leadership and dedication that has helped thousands of clients obtain or keep necessary medical services, prescriptions and other benefits, her nominator wrote.

Her work has led to life-sustaining results in many cases, including that of a man with ALS who won a decision that enabled him to be approved for Medicaid coverage of treatment needed to prolong his life, according to her nominator.

“Karen is a driven and passionate advocate, and a godsend to anyone fortunate enough to secure her services,” her nominator added.

What led you to choose a career in the legal field?

In 1979 or 1980, I saw a documentary about homelessness and poverty in America. At that moment, I knew my future career would somehow involve working to fight the injustices poor people face every day. It wasn’t until 1987 that I found my way to Legal Aid of Western Missouri. During my interview, I was asked what I saw myself doing in five years. My response in 1987 was the same as it would be today: THIS!

What is the best part of your job?

Working with a diverse group of clients and knowing that my work makes a difference in their lives. Knowing that a child has food to eat or a mom has money with which to pay rent . . . There simply is nothing better than that.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Be still and listen. Also, if you’ve never lost a case, you’ve never had a hard one.

What is your favorite thing to do away from work?

Spend time with family and friends, read, write, watch motocross, kayak and binge-watch a Netflix original.

What is something that would surprise people about you?

I enjoy writing and fully intend to write a novel someday.

– Scott Andera

NICHOLE KRUGER

NICHOLE KRUGER

Paralegal, Graves Garrett

Nichole Kruger has worked for Graves Garrettt for a decade, and her nominator says she’s been a dependable and consistent asset since day one.

Nichole Kruger

Kruger

Kruger has been involved with the Heartland Paralegal Association for more than three years, and she previously worked for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas City.

“Through sheer hard work and determination, she carved out a successful career, and we are blessed to have an individual with her talent and work ethic at Graves Garrett,” her nominator wrote. People who know Kruger say she proactively seeks out work to help others and fulfills a vital role at Graves Garrett.

What is the best part of your job?

I enjoy the variety of work that I get to do on a daily basis. The partners at Graves

Garrett have allowed me to be a part of some really interesting cases, and I enjoy the opportunity to learn every day with the help of a very talented group of attorneys.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Never answer a question by saying, “I don’t know.” Instead, go out and find the answer, or find someone who can help with the situation.

What is your favorite thing to do away from work?

I take every opportunity to explore with my family. We like to find new experiences locally and often take short road trips on the weekend to explore places around Kansas City.

What is something that would surprise people about you?

I would love to be on a cooking show for home chefs. I may not be restaurant-ready, but I love to try new recipes and techniques. My husband is a great sport about trying new things.

Anything else you want people to know?

I have to say thanks to the partners and attorneys at the firm. Graves Garrett has truly become my home away from home, and I’m continually grateful for the opportunity to develop as a professional while doing work I enjoy.

DANIELLE LAPRISE

DANIELLE LAPRISE

Paralegal, Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal

Family law often involves high stress, especially for clients who tend to be going through a painful time.

Danielle Laprise

Laprise

That’s where Danielle Laprise shines.

After initially working her way up from a law-office receptionist, she has worked for three employers during her 15-year span as a paralegal, deriving satisfaction in knowing that her job helps divided families find peace. Her nominator at Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal notes that Laprise is a “tremendous asset” to her and the firm’s clients, citing her knowledge and ability to react quickly during trial.

“I am constantly told by clients how much they appreciate Danielle keeping them updated in a timely manner and lending an ear to listen to them and comfort them through a very stressful process,” her nominator wrote.

What led you to choose a career in the legal field? 

A close friend who was a paralegal suggested that I apply for jobs at law offices. I was quickly hired as a receptionist and then promoted within a few months to work as a paralegal, and my employer provided tuition for my paralegal training.

What is the best part of your job?

Because I work in family law, I find great satisfaction in knowing what I do every day helps make people’s lives better and helps families achieve peace. Also, family law is never boring.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Communicate with clients thoroughly and efficiently so as to anticipate and minimize any follow-up questions they may have. By following this advice, I’m able to provide clients with detailed information so they’re not left in the dark, and clients are able to trust they have a competent person working on their case.

What is your favorite thing to do away from work?

I love to eat and to travel, and sometimes I’ll combine the two and travel to specific destinations just to eat.

What is something that would surprise people about you?

You should see how great I am at parallel parking.

– Scott Andera

BRIDGET LAYTON

BRIDGET LAYTON

Paralegal, Mickes O’Toole

Credit her professors at William Woods University in Fulton for pushing Bridget Layton to the path that led to her current role.

Bridget Layton

Layton

Layton wanted to attend law school after college, but the way her instructors approached the class material sparked a love with the paralegal field that hasn’t waned during her 25-year career. She started at Peper Martin as an intern in 1994 and has been in the employment/education field since then.

The path Layton took has landed her in a field that she says allows her to make a difference in the lives of others on a daily basis.

And the joy she finds in her job hasn’t escaped notice. One of her nominators wrote that Layton always goes above and beyond what’s needed and supports the community in numerous ways. Another noted she genuinely cares about a positive outcome and that people “look up to her for answers that only she can provide.”

What led you to choose a career in the legal field?

I always intended to go on to law school right after college, but my professors . . . actively engaged in my learning and taught my classes with such enthusiasm that it piqued my interest in the paralegal field. I was fortunate enough to intern at Peper Martin in 1994 in the employment/education department. I fell in love with the paralegal side of the field and decided to remain a paralegal.

What is the best part of your job?

It gives me great pleasure knowing my work makes a difference in the lives of others on a daily basis. 

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Early in my career, one of my mentors said, “You will either swim or sink in this job. The difference between the two [is], how hard are you willing to work?”

What is your favorite thing to do away from work?

Travel with my family and watch my daughter compete in horse riding and jumping. 

What is something that would surprise people about you?

Throughout my 25-year career, I have always worked for at least one attorney that I originally worked with at Peper Martin.

SARAH NANCE

SARAH NANCE

Paralegal, Dowd Bennett

As a paralegal with Dowd Bennett since 2016, Sarah Nance has worked on a number of high-profile cases. Among other things, she researches, organizes files and offers thoughtful suggestions in order to consistently produce outstanding work, her nominators say.

Sarah Nance

Nance

“Like a lot of paralegals in litigation, she often works under pressure due to hard deadlines and management of voluminous case files. On multiple occasions, Sarah has juggled a number of cases with great professionalism and skill, and has always demonstrated a willingness to put attorneys’ and clients’ needs ahead of her own,” one of her nominators wrote.

Nance also is described as “the epitome of a team player,” always willing to work with people on her team with an optimistic attitude that is “simply contagious.”

What is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is the teamwork attitude that is prevalent throughout the firm. Having co-workers who are always willing to jump in and help out whenever needed is invaluable.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Keep a positive attitude and calm demeanor during the stressful moments. The long hours and rush deadlines are inevitable, and remaining positive and calm during the chaos makes it more enjoyable for everyone.

What is your favorite thing to do when you’re outside of work?

Spend time with family and friends, go to church and relax with a good book.

What is something that would surprise people about you?

I was an Irish dancer when I was a child/teenager, and also I have been on two mission trips to Mexico to build homes for the homeless.

Anything else you want people to know?

Thank you to whoever nominated me; I feel very honored to have been considered for this award.

– Dana Rieck

PAM OHLENDORF

PAM OHLENDORF

Client Relations Manager, The Carson Law Firm

Pam Ohlendorf began her career at The Carson Law Firm as a secretary, but she quickly earned a promotion to client relations manager “due to her incredible skills with clients and her ability to accurately distinguish what she could and should answer,” her nominator wrote.

Pam Ohlendorf

Ohlendorf

She flourished in that role, learning the basics of law and developing an intuition about the necessary next steps in cases. Ohlendorf also is credited with keeping the practice running when firm founder Leigh Joy Carson was sick and out of the office last year.

“She is my hero, and I cannot sing her praises enough,” Carson wrote in her nomination of Ohlendorf.

What is the best part of your job?

Working with clients and helping them through a difficult time in their lives.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Be organized, and pay attention to detail.

What is your favorite thing to do away from work?

Travel and spend time with family and friends.

What is something that would surprise people about you?

I like to play Texas Hold ’Em poker.

Anything else you want people to know?

I’ve been married for 26 years and have three great children.

MELETTE POBST

MELETTE POBST

Paralegal, Blanton, Nickell, Collins, Douglas & Hanschen

While many in the legal profession may point to higher education as an important step to success, count Melette Pobst among those who believe it’s not necessary for everyone.

Melette Pobst

Pobst

Pobst joined Blanton, Nickell, Collins, Douglas & Hanschen as a receptionist immediately after she graduated from high school. She learned quickly, she liked the work and she steadily worked her way up the ranks.

After amassing nearly 20 years of experience, she operates her firm’s trial presentation program when it tries cases in state and federal court. Her nominator notes her expertise in putting together documents for complex corporate dissolutions, stock and asset business sales, large estate plans and pleadings in state and federal courts.

“It is my belief that she could run most businesses and banks. She is truly a superstar,” her nominator wrote.

What led you to choose a career in the legal field? 

I believe that the legal field chose me, rather than me choosing the legal field. It has been a win-win experience for me.

What is the best part of your job? 

Helping people to find resolutions for the legal issues they face.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?  

Take pride in my work, and proofread, proofread, proofread!

What is your favorite thing to do away from work? 

I enjoy spending time with my husband and son as well as reading, scrapbooking and playing piano.

What is something that would surprise people about you?  

I do not believe higher education is for everyone. I love what I do and have no regrets. I have been blessed with a great career, first as a legal secretary and then as a paralegal, beginning in 2004.

Anything else you want people to know?  

Anyone can be successful when they do their best and work for genuine, supportive employers who believe in their employees.

JENNIFER PURVIS

JENNIFER PURVIS

Legal Assistant, Paralegal, The Regan Law Firm

When Jennifer Purvis applied for a position a position at The Regan Law Firm almost 20 years ago, a word appeared at the top of her resume: compassion.

Jennifer Purvis

Purvis

Her nominator said Purvis has embodied that one-word idea ever since.

“She has been kind, giving and compassionate with expert advice on a daily basis to our clients, ranging from poor individuals to multimillion-dollar corporations,” her nominator wrote. ”Jennifer is considered a vital part to the firm and has received compliments and praise from judges and clients alike.”

What is the part of your job?

The best part of my job is helping our clients navigate successfully through the intricacies of their legal issues and achieve satisfactory and just results.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

The best career advice that I have ever received was that I am not defined by my chosen career or job, but by the way in which I perform my job and how much I give back to the people I have been given the chance to help through my job.

What is your favorite thing to do away from work?

My favorite things to do away from work are reading, traveling and spending time with my family, friends and pets. On a great day, I can do all of them.

What is something that would surprise people about you?

Something that might surprise people about me is that I tend to be very superstitious.

Anything else you want people to know?

I actually have two undergraduate degrees: a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and a Bachelor of Science in biology with a minor in chemistry.

SISSY RUSSELL

SISSY RUSSELL

Paralegal, Baker Sterchi Cowden & Rice

As a member of her firm’s Kansas City office for more than 20 years, Sissy Russell is a sought-out resource for attorneys and other paralegals, thanks to her calm demeanor and outstanding skills.

Sissy Russell

Russell

After helping to raise her children, Russell looked to the legal field, and she said she found the paralegal profession to be a perfect fit for her. Those who work with her agree.

Said one of her nominators: “Sissy cannot be ruffled; she is an oasis of stability. Words cannot express the appreciation we have for Sissy’s diligence, loyalty and thoughtful input. She continues to be the glue that holds our team together, day after day, case after case, crisis after crisis.”

Another attorney at the firm has simply nicknamed her GOAT, as in “Greatest of All Time.”

What led you to choose a career in the legal field?

I was a political science major in college and considered law school after graduating, but marriage and children altered that path. When my children were grown and I was considering my “second” career, my continued interest in law and the nature of the paralegal profession to offer assistance and support seemed like a perfect fit — and it has been.

What is the best part of your job?

Problem-solving and a sense of accomplishment when projects, deadlines and trials are successfully completed.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Years ago, a lawyer friend advised me that while everyone makes mistakes, try your best never to make them on Friday because it ruins your weekend. I think about that advice almost every Friday.

What is your favorite thing to do away from work?

Travel, spending time with family and friends, and serving as an amateur food and wine critic.

What is something that would surprise people about you?

I am a certified SCUBA diver.

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