Early Career Professionals

Gaining Experience with No Direct Reports

I don’t recall how I first learned about NACM. Most likely, my predecessor had been a member, and it seemed to be a good idea to join myself. Honestly, I had “fallen” into the court administrator position by happenstance. It was probably a combination of a seasonal job ending; a desire to stay in the community, which I had just moved to a few months prior; and a position that combined my previous skills with some of my higher education. I had never been in a court before, so I had no idea what to expect. However, upon interviewing, I figured it wasn’t all that much different than dealing with administrative tasks or assisting employees/customers in a health-care setting—just different issues.

As such, I started a new career in my mid-thirties and found NACM. I also found an association for municipal court administration in my state (CAMCA). I was eager to learn the information I would require for my position, so I attended any trainings that CAMCA provided. It took a few years before I was able to attend a NACM training, mainly due to budgetary restraints. If I wanted to attend an annual conference, I would need to apply for a scholarship. I did and was fortunate to receive a scholarship to attend my first annual conference in Louisville, Kentucky in 2015. By this time, I was also serving on the board for our state municipal court association, as secretary.

I remember a social hour for the Early Career Professionals (ECP). While ECP’s focus is for those who are younger than 40, it also is for those who have less than ten years’ experience in the judicial branch. Honestly, I felt a bit out of place in the room, as I felt too old to be there, even though I met both parameters. This did get me to think about the trajectory of a court professional. What background best suits the judicial branch, and how does one go about gaining the experience needed to elevate their career within the judicial system?

The second question, particularly, holds credence for me, as I am the only full-time court employee for my court. The other employees are the judge, the prosecutor, and 10 percent of the town clerk’s time (to serve as my supervisor). I do not have anyone that is a direct report, and there’s no budget to hire another person to assist with court duties. Before my hiring, the court had two full-time employees, a court administrator and a court clerk, in addition to a half-time administrative assistant. The recession necessitated the reduction in staff and, I guess, I do my job efficiently and effectively enough to not require additional staff. With that being said, the majority of court administrator positions that get listed require supervisory experience. So, how can that be gained?

I previously mentioned that I served as secretary for our state municipal court association. I soon moved up to vice president and then to president. I served a two-year term as president and just recently stepped down. During that time, I was also a trainer, providing instructional courses for all municipal court employees in Colorado. As vice president, I had served as the chair of the education committee, helping to organize the trainers and host locations, as well as compiling and modifying the educational content. In this vein, I supervised the rest of the committee. As president, I managed the various committees and board personnel for our association. So, while I wasn’t in direct influence of one’s position, I did coordinate projects and programs that required results. My first piece of advice for gaining supervisory experience in a position where you don’t have direct reports is to seek out opportunities to volunteer your time and expertise on projects. If you put yourself in the position of being the project manager, you will have responsibility for a deliverable item, as well as responsibility for the actions of those who are also working on the project.

NACM has many committees that can provide opportunities to participate. I have yet to attend a committee meeting where there is not a project that requires assistance and coordination. They serve as the perfect opportunity to showcase one’s skills and to gain experience within the judicial system. Additionally, it provides an opportunity to meet court professionals from around the nation (and world) and could provide you with a mentor. Participation at a national level can assist in gaining similar supervisory skills as projects and programs closer to home. In addition, the friendships made through NACM can provide a sounding board to clarify your role. You’re also welcome to participate in the mentor program provided through NACM (and if you’re someone who would love to be a mentor, please sign up).

Another good way to gain supervisory knowledge is to work on your personal and professional development. Read books and attend training pertaining to management best practices. Having that knowledge will at least provide a background for the skills you would need to become an effective manager/supervisor. Every workplace is different, so even if you were a supervisor in your current workplace, there could be different parameters in a new position that would require finesse and adjustment to your style. Being aware of how others lead is helpful.

In summary, to gain supervisory skills in a nonsupervisory position:

  1. Join and participate in local associations—volunteer time and expertise to coordinate projects and programs where you can serve in a leadership position.
  2. Participate in NACM committees.
  3. Find a mentor—either locally or through NACM.
  4. Actively work on your personal and professional development by reading and attending training.

While these won’t guarantee you’ll obtain a position that requires supervisory experience, you will at least have a solid background to reference for those types of positions.

In March of 2019, I will have been in my court administrator position for six years. I’m still an Early Career Professional, but I have gained so much experience during that time. I don’t consider myself overly ambitious, but I do always want to assist others in reaching their goals. Much of the past six years has been done to help myself gain the knowledge I needed to do my job, but more of it was done to make sure that others didn’t feel lost or helpless in theirs.

“Success is achieved by ordinary people with extraordinary determination.”

Zig Ziglar

Angie VanSchoick, LMSW, LCSW, serves as a director with NACM and is the court administrator of the Town of Breckenridge Municipal Court. She is the immediate past president of the Colorado Association for Municipal Court Administration (CAMCA), maintains their website, and provides training services to Colorado municipalities. Ms. VanSchoick is a licensed macro-level social worker in Colorado and Michigan, receiving her MSW from the University of Michigan in 2007. Her focus was on policy, evaluation, community organization, and community social systems, which has provided her with a solid background to assist NACM, her court, and CAMCA.