Kelli M. Smith, CRP, is Assistant Vice President and Senior Paralegal at Plains Capital Corporation – Legal where she focuses on Litigation, Corporate, Bankruptcy, Employment, Mergers & Acquisitions. She has earned an AAS – Management and is a Core Registered Paralegal (CRP) through NFPA.
1. What prompted you to choose a paralegal career? In 1997, I returned to Dallas from Houston, Texas, and accepted a temp-to-perm position at Centex Corporation in their Legal Department as a Legal Secretary. Although I had no prior legal experience, they decided to hire me.
In 2000, I transferred to Centex Homes Legal Department and became a Legal Assistant, what we now call a hybrid paralegal. Working closely with several Centex Homes’ paralegals, it was then that I became interested in becoming a full-fledged paralegal. When I later transferred to CTX Mortgage Company, the financial services division of Centex, I became certificated through the Professional Development Institute, a certification program sponsored by the University of North Texas. After becoming certificated, I continued to work as a Legal Assistant for CTX Mortgage Company and decided to go back to college to obtain my Associate’s Degree in Management.
After becoming certificated, graduating college in 2006, receiving numerous college honor society awards, including Guistwhite Scholar (highest honor of Phi Theta Kappa), I was armed to head out to the paralegal trenches!
It was then that I was hired by a full service international law firm as a Corporate Paralegal in their Mergers and Acquisitions Section. Later, when the economy took a downturn, I transferred to the Bankruptcy Section to obtain more billable hours. In 2013, I accepted my current position at PlainsCapital Corporation assisting our General Counsel with litigation and corporate matters.
My journey has been a steady, gradual ascent into, not just a paralegal career, but also the paralegal profession, including taking on increasing leadership roles in the Dallas Area Paralegal Association (“DAPA”), the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (“NFPA”) and the Paralegal Division of the State Bar of Texas.
2. What is your favorite part of your job? In my current position, I really like being able to communicate with the different governmental agencies like the FBI, DEA, Homeland Security, and local law enforcement agencies, which stems from an early childhood dream of becoming a police officer. I usually spend the majority of my time each day responding to various law enforcement inquiries, grand jury subpoenas, and requests for bank records. Some of the requests are very interesting and I’m usually thinking in the back of my mind, “I wonder why they are investigating these people, what have they done?”
3. What professional associations do you belong to? I have been a member of DAPA since 2008 and I currently serve as DAPA’s Education Vice President and Chairperson over the Mentor/Protégé Program. I have held various positions on DAPA’s Board since 2011 including Director-at-Large, Professional Development Director, Membership Vice President, NFPA Primary Representative, and Vendor Co-Advisor (non-board position). Additionally, I currently serve as Internal Marketing Coordinator for NFPA. I am an active member of the Paralegal Division of the State Bar of Texas, and I do volunteer Pro Bono work for Legal Aid of Northwest Texas.
4. How has your membership benefited you? My memberships have benefitted me in numerous way, too many to count really! I have made countless friends from all over the country, and have obtained quite a network of top notch paralegal colleagues, recruiters, and vendors who are always there to help through a tough spot. We all stick together!
5. What has been the highlight of your career? I would have to say the highlight of my career was winning DAPA’s Paralegal of the Year Award in 2013 – what a surprise!! I had no idea I had been nominated, so I was quite shocked at our annual holiday luncheon when they started describing the winner, and it was me! I literally started shaking in my chair. I am extremely honored to have received this award. Another highlight was when my home association received both NFPA Pro Bono Awards (Individual and Association) when DAPA hosted the National Convention in Dallas in 2014. Since I submitted both nominations on behalf of DAPA during my term as NFPA Primary, I was thrilled that DAPA received not only one, but both awards. An honor which was well-deserved, and illustrated all of the hard work and dedication to DAPA’s Pro Bono efforts.
6. What do you see as hot trends in the paralegal industry? Of course the hot topic is the Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT) Rule that authorizes a legal professional who meets certain educational requirements to advise and assist clients in approved practice areas of law, this is a very exciting time for paralegals and I hope this catches on nationwide!
7. Is there a quote that inspires you? Aspire, break bounds. Endeavor to be good, and better still, best. –Robert Browning
8. You’ve enjoyed a successful paralegal career. To what single event or person do you attribute that success? I cannot attribute my success to one single event or person, and there are several people that come to mind. My dear friend and colleague, Allen Mihecoby, of course. Another very close friend and colleague, Jay Williams inspired me when I first joined DAPA, as he was the incoming president. Michele Boerder and Kathy Connell with whom I serve on the Board of Directors. Past President of the Paralegal Division of the State Bar of Texas, Joncilee Davis. Fellow NFPA colleagues, Lori Boris, Mianne Besser, Janet Williams, Brenna Dickey, Becky Reedy, Maggie Haas, and numerous others! Kristine Farmer, who we in DAPA refer to as the Trifecta because she has served as President on local, state, and national paralegal association boards. Pamela Starr, the paralegal extraordinaire. You, of course – The Paralegal Mentor, and superstar paralegal, Jamie Collins. I could go on and on!!!
9. What was your first job? My first job was working as waitress and cashier in my dad’s catfish restaurant in a very small town near Cedar Creek Lake when I was 14 years old. I learned a lot from my dad.
10. If you could not be a paralegal, what would be your dream job? When I was very young, I wanted to become a meteorologist. Later, I dreamed of becoming a police officer (detective). Now, in my older age, my dream job would be to own, run, and maintain a 6-plex cabin resort nestled in the base of the Ozark Mountains at Beaver Lake near Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Doesn’t that sound like a dream? I love it there!!!
11. Strangest thing you ever ate? On a pub crawl in Deep Ellum about 20 years ago, I tried fried rattlesnake. From what I recall, it tasted like chicken.
12. What’s your most treasured possession or keepsake? My grandmother’s wedding ring, given to me upon her death. I wear it proudly and miss her dearly.
13. What sports team are you passionate about? Why the Dallas Cowboys, of course! Dez caught it!!!
#CowboysNation #ThisIsOurYear #Romomantic
14. What TV channel do you most often have on? Investigation Discovery (I.D.) – I tape all of the crime shows, I can’t get enough of them.