New NALS president oversees ten chapters

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When one door closes, another opens — and that’s certainly true for Vicki Ballinger, PLS, who in mid-March wrapped up two years as president of the NALS of Lansing chapter.

One month later, she succeeded Renee Stout, PP, PLS as president of NALS Michigan, and now oversees 10 local chapters — Berrien-Cass, Calhoun County, Detroit, Genesee, Grand Traverse Area, Greater Kalamazoo, Jackson County, Lansing, Northern Michigan and West Michigan.

“NALS has been in Michigan for over 50 years,” she said. “The Lansing chapter celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009, and was recognized by the State Bar of Michigan for its decades of good work.”

Administrative assistant to the executive director at Foster, Swift, Collins, & Smith in Lansing, Ballinger is a six-year member, at the chapter, state, and national levels of this association for legal professionals, “I had heard early on that you get out of NALS what you put into it, and as I’ve been immersed in it for five years, I know it to be true,” she said. “I’ve put in much and received much in return.”

Ballinger’s first official role was in April 2009, as a chapter delegate to the NALS of Michigan annual meeting. As an annual meeting “first timer,” she was pleased with the education offered and the recognition of members and their accomplishments.

“I was surprised by the pomp and circumstance during the opening of the meeting’s general session,” Ballinger said. “I was impressed by how they honored our country with a color guard presenting the flags of our state and our nation,” she says. “It was quite an experience.”

In early 2010, Ballinger was asked to join in a national initiative, “Think Big,” to help the association develop fresh ideas for marketing and membership initiatives.
That led to her being asked to participate in a national level Future Leaders Development Committee and the following year to co-chair the Next Generation Leadership (NGL) Committee.

Ballinger delivered two presentations on behalf of the NGL Committee: Change Management 101 and Generational Differences.

“I truly enjoy sharing knowledge and helping people succeed,” she said.

At the same time she became involved at the national level, Ballinger agreed to be nominated as the state’s marketing director and was elected to that position for two terms, followed by a term as certification and education director and then president-elect.

In this most recent role, she chaired the Strategic Planning Committee whose team effort culminated in a new vision and mission statement adopted by the NALS of Michigan Board of Directors last October.

Ballinger’s goals as state president are to heavily market NALS to all facets of the legal industry in Michigan and expand its reach into areas where few resources are available by offering education webinars. She also hopes to create an environment that the next generation of legal support staff will embrace.

“I have great admiration for these dedicated, hard-working people who take the time to help further the careers of others, and I want to do my part to help in that noble endeavor,” she said. “Our membership numbers have decreased and we have a challenge to help a new generation of attorneys with their support needs. They are unaware of what we can do to help them be successful, as we have learned from our booth at successive State Bar annual meetings.

They are asking for what we help to provide — well-trained and experienced legal support staff.”

Ballinger said NALS has the resources to keep legal secretaries and paralegals “in the know.”

“For a relatively small investment in time and money,” she said, “NALS can give them what they need. Employers have as much to gain by supporting the professional development of their staff as the individuals do themselves.”

Founded in 1949, NALS — which counts legal secretaries, paralegals, court reporters, office managers, educators and human resources staff among its members — has a long history of success training legal support staff.

“Whether they are just out of high school, recently graduated from a paralegal program, changing careers from a genral office environment, or have been in the field for 20 years, there are always new things for a professional to learn or skills to develop,” Ballinger noted.

Members enjoy access to education for a nominal cost and opportunities for regular networking, professional development and leadership experience.

“We enjoy social activities, and we have fun together,” Ballinger said.

Ballinger entered the field in 2008 after living in Grand Rapids where she worked as the Pricing & Contract Administrator at Crystal Flash Energy.

Less than two years later, she landed a job as administrative assistant to the executive director of Foster Swift. In that role, she has daily interaction with the accounting, human resources and marketing departments, supports the executive committee and has frequent contact with many of the firm’s attorneys and secretaries.

“It’s very interesting to work on the business side of running a larger law firm,” she says.

Shortly after starting this job, she saw a flyer offering the NALS Basic Legal Training Course.

“I felt this would be a great way to become more familiar with the legal industry and would help me with my work,” Ballinger said. “The decision was easy because the firm generously invests in the education of its employees.”

After passing the course, Ballinger joined NALS and sat for the Accredited Legal Secretary (ALS) exam in March 2009 and Professional Legal Secretary (PLS) exam a year later.

A mother of three and grandmother of two, in her leisure time the Lansing resident enjoys cooking, traveling, fine dining, old movies and gardening.

For the past six years, her volunteer time has gone to NALS community service projects. Previously, she enjoyed supporting activities that brought people together as a community such as National Night Out, an annual event promoting involvement in crime prevention activities, police community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie.

Ballinger originally hails from a publishing background. Her father published a hobby newspaper centering on history and treasure hunting in North America, and later her parents purchased and operated a small town paper. As a teenager, Ballinger wrote articles about school events and helped her father paste up the paper while her mother prepared ads and did the typesetting.

Following in the footsteps of several family members who served in the military, she joined the Air Force, earning a Computer Operations Certificate from the Community College of the Air Force.

“I wanted an education and needed to support my family.”

At the end of Technical School, she was assigned to a three-year tour of duty in the Air Force Data Services Center at the Pentagon.

“Working at the Pentagon was a great experience,” Ballinger said. “It is still one of the world’s largest office buildings with about 23,000 employees and 17 miles of corridors. Basically, it is a city unto itself.”

The military experience has been a huge asset throughout Ballinger’s career.

“Our military offers some of the best training in the world for both leaders and teams,” she said. “My experience in the service laid the groundwork for reoccurring periods of service to my community over the last 30 years and gave me the courage to lead many of those efforts. I hope to use my experience for the benefit of NALS of Michigan’s members and in turn to the legal community at large during the coming year.”