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2020 Unsung Legal Heroes: Legal Secretary/Administrative Assistant

Amy Buttrum

Legal Secretary

Capes Sokol

Amy ButtrumAs the mother of twin daughters, Amy Buttrum knows a bit about being a team player.

In the workplace, that commitment to others also shines through, her nominator said.

“Amy is selfless, generous, uncomplaining, poised under pressure, always willing to pitch in to help others and smart,” her nominator said. “She’s made herself an invaluable team member by steady competence and rock-solid dependability . . . What makes her special is the remarkably calm and dignified way in which she goes about demonstrating her sense of duty, her talent and her dedication.”

Tell us about your day-to-day duties in this role.

I am responsible for the work of four attorneys and one paralegal/business manager, along with various other duties.

Tell us about your key accomplishment(s) in this role.

Each holiday season, I run our firm’s annual gift drive to benefit Beyond Housing. Additionally, I helped with training and implementation of our new document management system; implemented a firm-wide process to create electronic closing binders; and managed the books for the campaign of a winning appellate judge candidate.

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

In college, the career services office suggested working at a law firm. I was always intimidated by the legal field, but I gave it a shot and have really enjoyed it. This is the second law firm I’ve worked for in the past 15 years — so I’d say the legal field chose me!

What is something that would surprise people about you? 

I have twin daughters and am a major introvert. I hope to travel to all 50 states with my husband when life slows down and live in a cabin in the mountains or in a house at the beach.

Erin Diven

Legal Administrative Assistant

Baker Sterchi Cowden & Rice

Erin DivenFor Erin Diven, a part-time job for a new mom led to an accidental career closing in on 40 years.

That includes more than 25 years with Baker Sterchi, initially working with the late Thomas Baker, the firm co-founder, and for the past several years with longtime firm member Hal Meltzer.

Her nominator calls her a “consummate contributor” who is “conscientious, loyal and dedicated.”

Tell us about your day-to-day duties in this role.

My day is heavy with dictation of correspondence, status reports and pleadings, making edits and following up on who has done what, when and why. The constant incoming and outgoing emails take on lives of their own each day, so keeping ahead can be challenging. If anybody is in a crunch and needs help, if available I’m in.

Tell us about your key accomplishment(s) in this role.

Realizing what is expected from me and being able to provide it (at times with help from co-workers). A pressurized day with many different tasks on multiple cases sends me home with a feeling of accomplishment. Through the years, learning the meaning of true dedication, loyalty and friendship.

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

When my son was born 37 years ago, I sought part-time office work and ended up with a sole practitioner through an ad in the Kansas City Star. He asked if I could type, took a copy of my GED, and I started with him the next day. Having had no prior education or training for this role, I got to watch the first trial I supported, and it made me never look back.

What is the best part of your job?

The challenge of working under pressure and time limits and knowing I gave it my all.  Doing something new successfully and wondering why it seemed so intimidating in the first place.

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

While they are a part of life and learning, no one purposefully makes mistakes. Also, expect to learn something new at least three times a week.

What is something that would surprise people about you?

I was certified by the state of Missouri as an emergency 30-day placement for teen girls entering the foster system. And I have been very blessed with two amazing grandsons —one of whom will begin driving this summer.

Susan Hoven

Legal Secretary

Armstrong Teasdale

Susan HovenWere it not for a case of motion sickness, Susan Hoven had designs on being the first female pilot at Ozarks Airlines.

That spirit of adventure perseveres, and the lure of new challenges is what drew her to Armstrong Teasdale in 2006.

Tell us about your day-to-day duties in this role.

I assist attorneys and paralegals with administrative responsibilities, including preparation of client correspondence, court filings and other documents, to name just a few.

 

Tell us about your key accomplishment(s) in this role.

I take pride in my strong work ethic. I also think attitude has a significant impact on your success and how others perceive you. I work hard, deliver quality work and am part of a team. Those are the attributes my colleagues (and our clients) recognize.

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

I’ve always enjoyed new challenges. When a friend who really enjoyed working at Armstrong Teasdale told me about a job opening, I thought it would be a great time to try something new. From the moment I met the HR director for my interview, I knew this was going to be my next challenge.

What is the best part of your job?

I find joy in helping others by taking responsibilities off their shoulders. I love that I am constantly learning new things. Most of all, I love sharing my 15 years of legal experience with co-workers, especially those new to the firm.

What is something that would surprise people about you?

I wanted to be the first woman pilot for Ozark Airlines — and I did take flying lessons.  That dream got grounded after I got sick during my last solo flight and was diagnosed with motion sickness.

Judi Long

Legal Assistant

Brown & James

Judi LongAfter more than 30 years at Brown & James, Judy Long retires as an Unsung Hero.

Fittingly, she continued coming into the office nearly every day during the pandemic, part of a skeleton crew of essential workers.

“Her reliability and work ethic are unsurpassed,” her nominator wrote. “Day in and day out, Judi kept everything on schedule, and did not let anything slip through the cracks.”

Tell us about your day-to-day duties in this role.

I assist my lawyers in all areas of their practices. My responsibilities include opening new files, maintaining email communication, scheduling, project management, taking dictation, proofreading, sending invoices and client relations.

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

I thought it would be interesting.

What is the best part of your job?                                                 

My bosses.

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

Pay attention to detail. The lawyers you work with are extremely busy and depend on you to help produce accurate documents and comply with all guidelines

What is something that would surprise people about you?

Probably that I am not as strong as I seem.

Michelle O’Leary

Team Supervisor, Legal Administrative Assistants

Stinson

Michelle O’LearyIn a job that values precision, Michelle O’Leary also knows how to deliver the personal touch.

“She has a handle on what you need and what will make your life easier,” says Stinson partner Brittany Barrientos. “She is smart, quick, efficient, detail-oriented and has a great ability to communicate and connect.”

O’Leary’s nominator adds that she is a “tremendous resource to the firm” and an “invaluable asset.”

Tell us about your day-to-day duties in this role.

I work on a team that supports different timekeepers among varying practice areas within the firm. There is no typical day on our team — every day brings a new challenge.

Tell us about your key accomplishment(s) in this role.

I helped to lay the groundwork to implement a new team of legal administrative assistants who support several timekeepers. The team was formed one year ago and has been highly successful.

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

In high school, a good friend’s Mom was a legal secretary. I thought she had the most exciting, interesting job. As a senior, I enrolled in a National Association of Legal Secretaries course and was immediately hooked. And I’ve never looked back.

What is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is the people I work with — from the fantastic group of timekeepers we support to my magnificent supervisor, who’s been a great mentor, and all of my colleagues on and off the team. I feel so fortunate every day to be a part of Stinson.

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

Work hard and do the best you can. No one is perfect — mistakes will be made — own them when they are and strive to learn from them. Be able to accept constructive criticism. Just be yourself.

Ceara Thierry

Legal Assistant

Coyne, Cundiff & Hillemann

Ceara ThierryIf the Unsung Hero Awards had a category for Best Pull Quote, Ceara Thierry would win in a landslide.

Asked about her key accomplishment in the role, here’s what she said:

“All I can say is that I come to work every day and do everything in my power to take as much weight as I can off the attorneys whom I work for, hopefully allowing them to be more productive and efficient.”

Tell us about your day-to-day duties in this role.

I answer phones, meet with clients, draft correspondence, manage files, take dictation, coordinate and manage schedules for two attorneys, run errands . . . the list goes on.

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

To be honest, the legal field chose me. I was at a crossroads and looking for a new start, and through a great deal of luck ended up in this field. I love the people and the work and feel that I found a career at which I excel.

What is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job are my employers. They are a joy to work for and make me feel so valued. I also love the work and the clients. I get to work for great people, doing my part to assist the attorneys get the outcomes our clients deserve.

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

Everyone is expendable. Don’t ever get so cocky as to believe that you can’t be replaced.

What is something that would surprise people about you?

Because I am rarely serious, I think it may surprise people to know just how seriously I take my work and how much joy I get from knowing that I played even a small part in getting justice for our clients.

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