Kristin Leary: Drive and Professionalism Pay Off

Single mother of two turns Legal Admin degree into a great job

Kristin Leary is one of those rare individuals who actually likes paperwork. It helps that she’s a swift reader with high retention. The 33-year-old single mother of two daughters, Tera, 10, and Teagan, 6, is also a quick study with a knack for adapting to new environments—especially fast-paced office settings.

“I enrolled in the Legal Administrative Assistant program at Dakota County Technical College because I like working in an office and that kind of work has always come easy to me,” Kristin said. “I was determined to increase my knowledge and skills because I wanted more than a job. I wanted a career.”

A native of Bremerton, Wash., and a 1998 graduate of Elk River High School in Elk River, Minn., Kristin gave college a try early on, taking her gen eds at North Hennepin Community College and one semester of Networking Administration at DCTC. She went on to earn her real estate license and was a practicing Realtor at the age of 21.

“Because I was so young, my clients didn’t always take me seriously,” she recalled. “I transitioned to the job of closing coordinator for a real estate title company. From there, I became a stay-at-home mom for eight years.”

Kristin and her two girls, Tera and Teagan, are avid downhill skiers. “My parents had me on skis by the time I was walking,” she said. “Both my daughters are on the Buck Hill USSA ski team and I take them to events every weekend during the winter. Tera is looking ahead to the day when she can try out for the U.S. Olympic team.”

When her marriage ended, Kristin found that she was out of touch with the workplace beyond her home. She knew she had to skill up in a hurry to be competitive. “I had one priority,” she said. “I needed to take care of myself and my girls.”

The Legal Administrative Assistant program turned out to be a perfect fit. Kristin liked the idea that understanding legal procedures in combination with clerical expertise would augment her success in the job market. She also liked that she could take courses that prepared her for Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certification exams. MOS credentials validate skill proficiency in Microsoft Office, including applications such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Access.

“Microsoft certification is something you can take into the workplace and use immediately,” Kristin said. “For me, it’s amazing. I use the applications every day. One certification I will eventually get is for Access, which has been my arch-nemesis up to now.”

According to ISEEK, Minnesota’s career, education and job resource, wages for legal secretaries in the state are above the statewide median. See below for figures:

Wages for legal secretaries in the seven-county Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area

  • Average wage: $24.51/hour
  • Top earners: $34.10/hour
    • Minnesota statewide median: $18.08/hour

Key employers for legal administrative assistants include law firms, court systems, insurance agencies, legal and trust departments of banks, corporations, and government agencies. Legal administrative assistants interact often and directly with clients and staff.

Charlotte Kodner, one of Kristin’s Office Careers instructors, remembers her as a team player and a positive influence on her fellow students. “Kristin was a joy to have as a student and very responsible,” Kodner said. “She helped other students by sharing excellent examples from her professional work experience.”

Kristin thinks of Kodner as a mentor and advocate. Brett Kolles, Kristin’s Business English instructor, also took on that role during Kristin’s time at DCTC. Kolles helped her land an internship at The Scoular Company, an employee-owned agricultural marketing company with locations across North America. Forbes ranks Scoular—with 727 employees and $6.4 billion in annual sales—as the 56th largest corporation in the U.S. .

“I worked at the Scoular corporate office in Minneapolis,” said Kristin, who completed her internship during her sophomore year at DCTC. “I loved working downtown. I still remember the energy I felt walking to the office from the train.”

“Kristen’s drive, intelligence and integrity make her an excellent applicant for most any professional organization. Academically, Kristen has done very well. What impressed me more, however, is the kindness and the support she provided to her peers in the classroom. She would share her notes if a student asked, and she was very adept at asking good questions in class for the benefit of all. The feedback I received from Scoular was overwhelmingly positive. Kristin was a productive and quick-thinking professional and a good addition to Scoular’s team.” — Brett Kolles

Kristin was an instant success as an intern. She worked in the Co-Packing Division as a researcher, assisting client companies such as Starbucks in the procurement of raw ingredients for their products. She eventually came up with a plan to update the division’s search engine database.

“I went to my manager and explained what I wanted to do,” she said. “I told him I could talk to IT and we could make changes to the database that would turn it into something people could really use.”

The Scoular Company offered Kristin a full-time job she could start when she graduated from DCTC with her A.A.S. degree. She would train for a project management position overseeing raw ingredients for Tetley, a tea company in England owned by Tata Global Beverages, the second largest tea manufacturer and distributor in the world.

“Unfortunately, legal issues held up the deal with Tetley,” Kristin said. “Scoular could only offer me part-time work, but with two daughters and a new home in north Minneapolis, I needed a full-time job. Both of my managers at Scoular were disappointed and they both wrote me letters of recommendation.”

Like anyone in the legal field, Kristin has her favorite legal drama on TV. “I like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” she said. She’s not alone. In 2012, Law & Order: SVU was voted the Best Cop or Legal Show on Best in TV: The Greatest TV Shows of Our Time. The top-ranked legal show for any season? L.A. Law (1986–1994)—according to the American Bar Association.

Kristin worked briefly for a real estate corporate relocation firm before a new opportunity presented itself, one working full-time for Hennepin County’s Taxpayer Services Department.

“My new job title is real estate and tax specialist,” she said. “I work with legal and real estate documents, which matches up with both my education and work experience. I really like the idea of working for an organization that supports the community where I live.”

Kristin started her new job in late September 2013 and she couldn’t be happier. She loves the work—and the pay and benefits are great. “I have learned more than I ever thought I would know about property tax. My day goes by very fast and I am enjoying my new coworkers,” she said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without my Legal Administrative Assistant degree from DCTC.”

For more information about the Legal Administrative Assistant program at DCTC, contact: