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Rookie of the Year

By Rachel Ng

November/December 2006 Table of Contents


The oldest of five daughters, Julianne Fink, NCCP, always was expected to help run the family retail business in her hometown of Saginaw, Mich. A career in the legal field never even crossed her mind. However, a few years ago, due to some life-changing events, LAT’s 2006 Rookie of the Year found her true calling as a paralegal.  

“I like the camaraderie of the paralegal profession. I enjoy the extra paralegal activities such as the volunteer work and mentoring new Meredith [College] paralegal students as much as I do my work,” said Fink, a paralegal at Kennedy Covington in Raleigh, N.C. “I think it’s the combination of the two, the work and the extra activities that really balances out my career. I believe that is why I enjoy the profession as much as I do.”

Family Business

In 1989, Fink graduated from Loyola University in Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in communications and a minor in business management. A year after she graduated from college, she decided to return home to help her father with his business. Then, in 1993, he retired and the entire family moved to Cary, N.C. There, Fink got a job working as the customer service manager for a large retail office supply company in Raleigh, and met her future husband. She got married, gave birth to Christopher in 1995, followed by Hannah in 1999, all the while moving to various states, including North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia. While married, Fink worked as a waitress and in a retail position.

Then, after nine years of marriage, Fink separated from her husband in 2002, and she and her children moved back to North Carolina to live with her parents. She got a job working long hours as a supervisor at a home retail store. “I never seemed to have time for the kids and I didn’t enjoy what I was doing,” Fink said. Wanting a more stable 9-to-5 job, but unsure of which direction to take, Fink took a Myers-Briggs personality-type test online. “The test showed that the best career for my personality was law, and more specifically, a career as a paralegal,” she said. “I had absolutely no idea what a paralegal was.”

That same day, Fink received a Meredith College brochure in the mail, listing paralegal courses offered in the fall. “I knew it was a sign from God,” she said. After taking one class that fall, she was hooked. “I knew this was a field I would find challenging so I decided to apply to the program as an intensive full-time student for the following spring.”

The intensive schedule meant Fink was able to complete the American Bar Association-approved paralegal certificate program in one semester instead of two. She attended classes from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday, and took night classes from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. In between, she continued working at the home retail store. In March 2004, two months before graduating, Fink applied for a litigation paralegal position at Manning, Fulton & Skinner in Raleigh. She got the job, and the firm allowed her to attend classes in the morning and work in the afternoon. “I was now going to school full time, working 30 hours a week as a paralegal, getting a divorce and buying a home,” she said. “Spring of 2004 was crazy.”

Even though Fink was balancing a myriad of responsibilities, she managed to make an impression on her ethics and law office management instructor, Camille Stell, a former paralegal with 20 years of experience. “I was very impressed with Julie’s work ethic, her initiative and her participation in the classroom,” Stell said. “She was clearly bright and was very excited about taking on the challenge of a new profession.”

During her commencement ceremony in May 2004, Fink was inspired by a speech given by Jennifer Swails Watford, CLA, NCCP, a graduate of the Meredith College paralegal program and LAT’s 2003 Rookie of the Year. “I remember sitting in the audience listening to her speak. She spoke of her accomplishments and goals, and I thought to myself: ‘I want to strive to be the best paralegal I can be. I am proud to be a paralegal and I want that to show,’” she said. “Who would have thought two and a half years after hearing that speech, I would have won this prestigious award?” 

The feeling turned out to be mutual when Watford heard Fink speak at a Raleigh-Wake Paralegal Association student social a few months later. “It was inspiring to hear a paralegal, months out of the paralegal program, speak with such authority, dedication, enthusiasm and excitement about the profession,” Watford said. “In fact, I left that meeting feeling more energized and rejuvenated about my own professional paralegal career after hearing her words.”  

The Right Fit

In November 2004, Fink joined Kennedy Covington’s 30-attorney Raleigh office after she found out about the job through Stell, a business development coordinator for the firm.

“Having been an instructor for 15 years, I have developed a knack for spotting superstars. I thought Julie would be a superstar,” Stell said. When her firm had an opening, Stell told the firm, “Julie doesn’t have much experience, but she makes up for it in drive, willingness to learn, excitement about her new career and her energy level.” Fink first worked as a litigation paralegal in the firm’s financial service department. The department represents large banks whose customers have claimed bankruptcy and defaulted on loans. Fink drafted memos, maintained dockets, filed documents with county clerks and prepared e-filings with bankruptcy courts. She also maintained client contacts.

During this time, Fink also had a chance to expand her skills. When a partner in the firm’s environmental section asked her for help drafting prehearing statements for a client, she jumped at the chance. “I didn’t know anything about environmental law, but I love to take on a challenge,” Fink said. The attorney was so impressed with her work, she sent an e-mail to Fink’s supervising attorneys and partners in charge praising her skills and efficiency.

A New Direction

After a year at Kennedy Covington, the firm asked Fink to join its corporate business and technology section. “At the time, Julie was the newest paralegal in our office, so it was thought the transition would be easier on her,” Stell said. That, combined with the fact that Fink had taken business and corporations classes at Meredith, worked in her favor to obtain the new position.

“Since they had never had a paralegal, I was excited to get in there and show them what a paralegal is able to do,” Fink said. Because of her education and her experience working with the firm for a year, Fink felt comfortable in the new department. “I look at change as an opportunity to grow and learn something new,” she said. “I am so grateful and flattered that they wanted me to be a part of their team.”

Fink currently assists 10 attorneys. “They all treat me as an equal and value my opinion and thoughts. I couldn’t ask for a better bunch of guys to work with,” she said. Many of the attorneys have their own specialty, which means Fink, the sole paralegal in the department, juggles several duties at once. “I can work on a trademark matter one minute, bylaws the next and then draft a Form D to send to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission,” she said. “I am also in communication with the Secretary of State in many states for various filings and Uniform Commercial Code filings.”

In addition, Fink conducts legal research, prepares drafts of agreements, certificates and other transaction documents, manages large diligence projects and closings, and assists clients.

Fink’s supervising attorney and mentor, Grayson S. Hale, has been overseeing her work for the past year. “I generally consider Julie an extension of myself, as do the other attorneys in our section,” he said. “She is proactive, often identifying issues and problems and making sound suggestions for resolving those issues and taking the initiative to solve the problem. I know if Julie is taking care of a project that it will be done timely, correctly and accurately.”

Firm partner Kent Christison is the former chairman of the business and technology section and has worked with Fink on business transaction matters. “She brings enthusiasm, vision and advanced planning, a sense of client service and attorney teamwork, excellent legal skills and a strong work ethic to all matters on which she works,” Christison said. “She demonstrates those attributes every day in a demanding and stressful profession, and it’s clear to me that she is deserving of the Rookie of the Year award.”

Fink is known in the office for going above and beyond her duties, and that is one of the reasons Stell nominated her for the LAT award. “I saw how she was always willing to do what is necessary for the good of the client and the betterment of the law firm,” Stell said. “[Her attorneys] have respect for her as a professional, and they value her participation on the team. It has been great to see a team with no paralegal adjust so quickly to utilizing Julie and doing so effectively for substantive assignments.”

Recently, Fink applied for and received the North Carolina Certified Paralegal accreditation. “I believe this certification, coupled with my degree from Meredith College, will differentiate me from others in my profession. I was pleased my firm supported the certification effort,” she said. The North Carolina State Bar Board of Paralegal Certification was formed in 2005 and is chaired by Mike Booe, a Kennedy Covington attorney. Certification eligibility is based on work experience, paralegal education or a combination of both.

Making a Difference

Fink joined the Raleigh-Wake Paralegal Association when she was a student at Meredith College. Seven months later, she was asked to fill the civic/community chairwoman position. “I knew this would be a great opportunity for me to help others in the community, so I gladly accepted,” she said. “I organize charity work for the RWPA members to participate in to help our community.”

This year, she took on the 1st vice president position while continuing her role as civic/community chairwoman. “[As 1st vice president], I am in charge of all memberships,” Fink said. “I approve the applications, forward the information on to the other members of the board and answer questions from new members about RWPA.”

“She has always been willing to pitch in a helpful hand no matter the circumstance — even taking on two leadership roles within our board in one year. That is not an easy task, even for a veteran paralegal,” said Watford, RWPA’s patron and sustaining chairwoman. “She has exceptional organizational skills that have made each of our civic and community services a success under her leadership. Julie is continuously searching for other areas where RWPA can contribute to the legal community and our community in general.”

Grateful for the help she received from RWPA when she was a student, Fink also finds time to mentor Meredith students. “[Mentors] help the students with their résumés, interview skills, questions they have about being a paralegal and finding a job,” she said. “We are a sounding board for the students, and if one of us doesn’t know the answer, we tap into the organization to see if someone does have the answer. It’s a wonderful tool.”

In addition, through RWPA, Fink is involved with the Wake County Guardian Ad Litem, an organization that aids families in Wake County, especially foster children. Every year, members of RWPA collect new backpacks and fill them with school supplies for these children. And every Christmas, Fink receives wish lists from several foster children and organizes the purchasing and wrapping of donated gifts, such as shoes, winter coats, clothes and toys. “The past two years the business, litigation and real estate sections at Kennedy Covington’s Raleigh office have each taken five foster children (for a total of 15), and as a section they collected money, and purchased and wrapped gifts for their foster children,” Fink said.

In 2005, Fink started a “Dress for Success” program through Wake County JobLink. She recruits volunteers from RWPA to help women work on résumés, interview skills and cover letters. “We gather gently used business attire and accessories for women to wear on their interviews and hopefully the first couple of weeks of their new job,” she said. “I think the greatest gift you can give someone is a chance at a job. A job fosters independence and self-confidence.”

A Helping Hand

Although her job and RWPA responsibilities keep her busy, Fink still finds time for charity work with her church.

This spring, she joined the DivorceCare group at Hope Community Church. The group helps women and men cope with their divorces and being single again, as well as get themselves and their children through this trying time in their lives. “Even though I live paycheck to paycheck, I want my kids to know that we can make a difference in people’s lives just by caring and giving our time,” she said.

Fink also is helping her church start a women’s group that will help women find homes, furniture and clothes. They also will provide cleaning, packing and other general duties for women who need it, and baby-sitting services so women can go on job interviews. “I think being a single mom has put a soft spot in my heart for other single mothers and their children. When you have gone through something yourself, it’s so easy to empathize with someone who is going through the same situation,” Fink said. “You can’t help but be grateful for where you are and what you have, and you want to be able to help anyone else you can to get to that same place. I am so blessed with a good job, a beautiful home and a great family, and I will never take those things for granted.”

The paralegal profession is a demanding one, and Fink credits her parents and siblings for providing unconditional support. “It’s truly a ‘village to raise the children’ atmosphere in our family,” she said. “I would not have been able to go to school and work at the same time if it were not for the help of my parents. Living with them for two years allowed me to quickly achieve my goals of purchasing a nice home for my children and obtaining a good career.”

Fink said life isn’t always easy, and everyone has stumbling blocks to overcome. “I had no idea what I was going to do or where I was going to live when the kids and I moved back to North Carolina,” she said. “I had nothing, no money, no car, no house. People say, ‘Julie, you are so strong, you have such a good attitude,’ and I just tell them my strength comes from my faith. God provided me with the will and the way to achieve my dreams, and I will continually try to help others who are going through difficult times achieve theirs.”



Rachel Ng is the former managing editor of LAT. She currently is the associate research editor at Bon Appetit magazine. She also freelance for several publications, including LAT and Fit Pregnancy.



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