SVALA Member Spotlight: Elizabeth Sabel


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I am very excited to bring you our first Member Spotlight. Sure, you’ve read the Board Member Spotlights but, this time, we are interviewing a long-time administrator who is dearly loved in the legal community and who has announced her retirement.

If I didn’t adore her so much I would be consumed with jealousy!

Liz Sabel and Yvonne Moore

Elizabeth Sabel has been a staple of the SVALA for many years and many of us have had the good fortune to enjoy her company at luncheons, at conferences and even on the Board of Directors a time or two.

Liz is busy wrapping up her time at her firm but was generous enough to answer a few questions for us.

Tell us about your current position and firm.

I have worked as the Human Resources Manager at Trainor Fairbrook since October 1, 1998 (almost 19 years)!  Prior to working in this office, I was the Administrator for Thomson (Bob) & Heller (Steve) from 1989 to 1998.

What made you become a legal administrator?

In 1989, Bob Thompson asked me to have lunch with BJ Ward (bless her heart; still love that woman!) so that she could tell me all of the wonderful things that SVALA had to offer for a person coming into this field from outside of legal!

Liz, Yvonne, Paula Lee and Cindy Pilon

I understand you are retiring! Tell us about your decision to retire.

My husband and I have been married since we were 20 years old!  He retired in 2015 and now it’s my turn!  We are planning to live with our three dogs and (find a dog-sitter) so we can do some traveling!


Tell us if you served on the SVALA Board.

I did have the opportunity to serve on the Board for a couple of years (and was responsible for the Salary Survey) during that time.

Please tell us what you gained from being a member of the SVALA and a Board Member.

The connection with other administrators is unmatched and unparalled.  There is such camaraderie and support that in itself is a great reason to belong!

Liz, Yvonne, Mike Young, Julie Denker

Please tell us what you will miss most about the SVALA.

Being able to call administrators from other firms throughout the course of my career for suggestions or brainstorming has been the standout of this organization.

Tell us a little bit about your personal life. What are your post-retirement plans?

My husband and I have three daughters and six grandchildren!  I’m really excited to spend more time with them!

Ken Sokolov and Liz Sabel

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Thank you to each and every member of the SVALA for their generosity of spirit!

I am delighted Liz agreed to an interview about her SVALA experience and hope that administrators new to the field will see just how helpful it is to join a network of people sharing the similar goal of doing the best job they can for their firm.

I know Liz did just that and am sure her firm will miss her terribly. I know many of us fellow administrators will as well!

Note to Liz: Be sure to send pictures of your travels!



Business Partner Spotlight: Fujitani Consulting


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When Geri Ximenez and Christopher Johnson of Fujitani Consulting show up at your office you cannot help but feel energized and, well, happy. Whether at our office, at an SVALA event or talking on the phone, you can feel the enthusiasm from both of them!

Christopher Johnson and Geri Fujitani

Their emails even exude passion for what they do and you just know they are smiling when writing them.

Their positive outlook on life seems to be a key ingredient to their business success. When Geri says in the following interview they “understand the members’ challenges and celebrate their successes” she is not just saying that. Geri and Christopher genuinely do care about their clients and the SVALA members.

Both are friendly and intuitive so know the importance of a “good fit” when hiring. They work hard to understand a firm’s culture so the right people are presented and their goal of finding candidates “that will make positive contributions” is fulfilled.

Finding the perfect candidate for our staff and attorney openings is critical and, even when the market is tight, they will go the extra mile to be sure we only need to go through the hiring process once. There’s nothing worse than finding someone only to have it not work out a short time later!

Geri and Christopher are welcome fixtures at our SVALA events and we are very happy to have them as a Gold Business Partner (and it isn’t just because they always have such creative and beautifully arranged raffle prizes)!

Geri took some time out from her busy schedule to answer a few questions.

Thank you for being a Gold Business Partner of the Sacramento Valley Legal Administrators Association. Please tell us why you chose to support our organization.

We wanted to get more involved in the legal community, and also understand the members’ challenges and celebrate their successes.

Please tell us about Fujitani Consulting and the services you provide.

Our focus is to successfully provide full-time and temporary staffing to law firms and supporting businesses throughout the Sacramento area.  We also assist our clients with strategic hiring plans and our candidates with career planning.

Give us a little background about yourself.  

Fujitani Consulting was established in 2008 and I have been recruiting in the Sacramento area for over 20 years.

Winner Joelle Stone with Christopher Johnson

How is it different working with law firms than other non-legal businesses?

The legal community is much smaller than it appears to be and law firms are more involved with their staff.  In the past, I have recruited for major international corporations and they seem to lose touch with their employees and forget about what is important to making their business a success.

Tell us how you would describe your working style. What makes you successful at what you do?

Our success comes from our passion to make a difference. We are a family business that cares about our clients and their long-term goals.  It is important to us to find candidates that will make positive contributions.

We are also excited about the growth our company has experienced over the past couple of years and are always striving to improve our services.

Geri Fujitani, Kellie Narayan and Christopher Johnson hamming it up at the Holiday Party

Tell us something fun you enjoy doing outside of work. 

My husband and I have four adult kids, our last set to graduate high school in May, and 6 grandchildren. I love Sunday family dinners; the house is full and it feels like Christmas. We also enjoy eating out with friends, traveling and laughing.

What do you want the SVALA members to know about you and Fujitani Consulting?

We truly care… as a small business our reputation means the world to us!  We are also very proud of our new website which was launched March 1st!

Many thanks to Geri and Christopher for their support of the SVALA! Please be sure to check out their new, fabulous website and stop by to say hi to them at the next SVALA event. You will definitely walk away with a smile!  


Law Firm Leadership Luncheon


Paula Lee and Cindy Cintas Pilon strike again!

We need to have these two on permanent party planning duty! (I wonder if they do birthday parties.)

We know they throw a spectacular Holiday Party and now we have seen them put together an informative and fun Law Firm Leadership Luncheon. Bonus: Our attorneys even got MCLE credit while enjoying good food and even better company!

Firehouse Restaurant, Golden Eagle Room

The event was held in the Golden Eagle Room of the Firehouse Restaurant and started with a warm (and very organized!) welcome from Paula Lee and Glenda Osborne (an assistant at Paula’s firm).

We could immediately visit with our fabulous Business Partners who were beyond generous with their raffle prizes! Once inside the dining area, the tables were immaculately set and topped off with a gorgeous centerpiece (which, as it turned out, doubled as a prize at the end of the event).

Jack Marshall, president and founder of ProEthics, Ltd. prepared the tables with not only literature but several signs with a number printed on them. Oh boy! This was going to be interactive. Yikes! A test? But I didn’t even study!

Brian and Russel, Gallaway Commercial getting the answers right!

Thankfully, Mr. Marshall made the event fun and quite lively. The stories and questions centered on bias which was interesting because bias, obviously, affects everyone. I sat near the back of the room so couldn’t tell if he ever gave us the correct answers but I will assume our table got 100%. Why not?!  A+ for everyone!

Once the presentation ended, it was time for the raffle prize drawings. Our Business Partners generously gave a variety of gift cards and baskets to members and even our guests! I even won one of the flower centerpieces which, a week later, still looks gorgeous. (You read that right: I actually won a prize!)

Many thanks to our Platinum, Gold and Silver Sponsors for their support of the SVALA and the Law Firm Leadership Luncheon. Please take a minute to click on the hyperlink to read their Business Partner Spotlights or check out their websites.

Cheri Blethen, SVALA President

Platinum Sponsors: EPIC, Gallaway Commercial, Pacific Records Management, Sacramento Placement Services, Sierra Office Supplies & Printing and Terrapin Technology Group.

Gold Sponsors: Caltronics Business Systems, CMA Insurance Services, Inc., First Legal Network and Fujitani Consulting.

Silver Sponsor: Flex Manage and Smile Business Products.

And, of course, a very heartfelt and sincere thank you to Paula and Cindy for another very successful event! You guys rock!

Be sure to check out the event pictures on the SVALA Facebook page!

Gorgeous centerpiece!

Oh, and Paula and Cindy: let me know your party planning rates!



Business Partner Spotlight: Terrapin Technology


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Terrapin Technology Group, Inc. has been a Platinum Business Sponsor of the SVALA for several years now and various members of their team are welcome fixtures at our events. We appreciate being able to pick their brains about various IT issues over salad or cocktails (depending on the event).

Nathan Johanson and Joe O’Donnell at a member event

One topic that has been the subject of a few member email surveys and discussions among administrators is IT Security. Firms do not want to be subject to downtime because of hacking or viruses or even ransomware. Yikes! How scary does ransomware sound?

You can learn more about Terrapin from their first Business Partner Spotlight, including how they were listed by the Sacramento Business Journal as the tenth fastest growing local tech company from 2013 – 2015. We can now share they were ranked fourth on the list from 2015 – 2016! Congratulations to the Terrapin team!

Betty Nelson, a member of that terrific Terrapin team, took time out of her busy schedule to share a tip for keeping our IT systems secure. Betty has just the right mix of tech and people skills and has an infectious laugh that will definitely have you smiling or laughing right along with her. (Betty’s complete bio is at the end of the article.)

Two-Factor Authentication: Why You Need It Today

Remember the good ole days? You had a password you used for everything. It was something that was easy to remember — your child’s name, a pet’s name, your name. Well, those days are long gone. The bad guys seem to be upping the ante on a daily basis.

If you want to keep your personal information secure, you should be using two-factor authentication (2FA). It may sound complex, but it’s not.

What Is It?

It works a little differently with online browsing and computers.

Where You Can Use It

Ticketmaster just started enforcing use of 2FA. If you want to download and print your tickets, you need to provide a code they send to your registered email. You will see 2FA popping up more frequently every day, and in some instances, you can’t opt out from using it. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and LinkedIn are just a few companies embracing 2FA.

By requiring an additional factor, such as secret code sent by text to your phone or via email, the risk of being impersonated is dramatically reduced.

Google does a great job making 2FA easy. You can opt to register devices (a cell phone, iPad, etc.) and enter a lengthy one-time code. If your device is stolen or lost, you log into Google and remove that device from your trusted list. Also, when you first activate 2FA and initially log into a web browser with your username and password, a six-digit code is generated and sent to your cell phone via text messaging. In order to complete the log-in process you must next enter the six-digit code. At that time, you can opt to have Google remember and trust that browser, eliminating the need to use a six-digit code when you return to Google on that specific browser (Firefox, Chrome, etc.) from that same computer.

Banks are now starting to ask additional questions after you log in from a new device. That’s what’s important — because someone who is trying to log into your bank most likely isn’t doing it from your computer, but from a computer in Russia, China or other location. If you use two-factor authentication, you can stop that from happening.

Why Attorneys Should Care

I’ve seen attorneys and staff say this is too much work and skip voluntary 2FA, but we need to remember the risks of information being compromised. Not only can your bank account and personal information be stolen, but hackers often send out “spoof” emails from your account to everyone in your address book and include malicious embedded links. If you or your friends and clients click on those links, malware can be installed on your computer, making your data and files visible to the bad guys.

This is where the real trouble starts.

Terrapin recommends you start using 2FA for your personal email and social media accounts. It doesn’t take much effort but can make a big difference in protecting your data.  You can get started with these links:


Betty Nelson speaking at the July SVALA luncheon

About Betty Nelson: Betty has 36 years of experience working with Sacramento law firms. She spent the first the first 21 years of her career as a litigation legal secretary. Betty worked at Downey Brand for the past 15 years and left in 2015 to relocate to the mid-coast of Maine. She easily segued from her legal secretarial career into Downey’s information services department in 2000, where she became their Information Services Manager.

Betty’s always had a passion for changing technology – likely born out of the fact that technology simply didn’t exist in law firms when she started her career in 1980. Her project management skills, combined with her litigation background and passion for developing a positive technology experience for users, made her a natural fit as Terrapin’s Practice Support Coordinator. She’s known for her high energy, initiative, and ability to make business associates and clients feel at ease.

Betty taps her outstanding people skills and years of experience in the legal community to help with customer support, day-to-day operations and business strategy. She works with clients directly in areas such as technology support, firm security review, trial presentations (demonstrative evidence), project management and training initiatives. Betty also contributes to the Terrapin blog and assists with marketing and social media.

Many thanks to Nathan Johanson, President of Terrapin, and Betty Nelson for helping keep our systems safe!


Business Partner Spotlight: First Legal Network, The California eFiling Landscape


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First Legal Network is a Gold Sponsor of the SVALA and, for their Spotlight feature, Jim Pinter asked if they could share information about eFiling in California. Absolutely!

Jim Pinter and Allie Steinmuller

Jim Pinter and Allie Steinmuller

We have such great sponsors who are experts in their field and we are happy to share their knowledge and tips of the trade!

Larry Kirlin, author of this article, holds dual positions as Regional Manager and eProducts Manager with First Legal Network. This article originally appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of the GLAALA Leadership Exchange magazine but Mr. Kirlin shortened the article for our purposes. Don’t worry! It is no less informative or useful.

In addition, Jim Pinter is our local Senior Account Executive and a welcome presence at our SVALA events. Jim can provide you with additional information about eFiling in California, including a current and concise summary of the need-to-know information for each California Superior Court that mandates eFiling, along with the First Legal Network price sheet. Please contact Jim at or 916-281-1292.

(Personal note: I have invited Jim to talk with the secretaries and paralegals at our firm about his services and everyone has been very pleased with the information provided. I promise there is never a hard sell!)

Many thanks to Larry and Jim for providing information to our members that we can immediately use in our firms.

Enough from me! Let’s get right to the information.

The California eFiling Landscape

Few people disagree that within the next three to five years, all 58 Superior Courts in California will offer or require eFiling.  That means we can expect a lot of change in the way law firms and legal support professionals interact with the courts.  The goal of this article is to provide an overview of the eFiling movement.  In the end you should have a better understanding of how eFiling works and where the state is heading.

I’ve always been one to embrace change and new technology so when I saw the movement in the courts towards eFiling I wanted to be at the forefront.  This led me to join newsgroups, committees and generally stick my nose in wherever I could learn about eFiling.  In 2014 I was given the second job title of “eProducts Manager” and have been on a long pursuit to understand the parts and people driving change in the industry.

As a product manager, I’m responsible for staying current on industry trends, knowing what our competitors are doing and acting as a reference point within our company.  The position also requires me to perform market research and make recommendations to our executive board regarding marketing, infrastructure and operations.  It has given me the exposure I need to speak competently on the topic of eFiling.


So why are the courts pushing for eFiling now? As you know, the court budgets were drastically reduced during the economic downturn and were never restored.  The court administrators see eFiling as a solution to provide the best public access to the courts at the lowest cost.

When your goal is to get the best for the least you undoubtedly find yourself in a compromise.  While eFiling promises cost savings and convenience, it doesn’t mean fast, efficient or error free.  In most situations, eFilings are still reviewed by a court clerk before being accepted.  That means your filings will sit in a review queue on a computer; similar to being placed in a pile of incoming mail.  First in, first out.

This is a good time to explain the three basic building blocks of an eFiling system: CMS, EFM and EFSP.

CMS – Case Management System: The CMS is the backbone of the court and connects to both internal and external sources.  Think of it as the primary system that handles all of the case workflow specific to the court. Courts use one or a combination of CMS.

EFM – Electronic Filing Manager:  The connection between the CMS and the web – it handles all incoming filings, validates and processes according to court workflow.  Typically the supplier of the CMS also provides the EFM, but in some cases they can be two completely separate systems provided by separate companies.

EFSP – Electronic Filing Service Providers:  Third-party companies who provide an online solution to eFile directly to a specific court. EFSPs design and implement their own solution, specific to the workflow and local rules of the court, and are certified by the court.  No two EFSP solutions are the same from a User Experience (UX) perspective – as they are customized to the providers interface – however, they all meet the court’s requirements and local rules. Certification is critical – either the court or EFM control the certification process.

Many EFSP offer a “Concierge” service for filing documents on-behalf of a law firm.  Although they charge a premium for this service, the extra cost makes sense for the law firms because it is faster, easier and frees up time for the secretaries to perform higher level functions.  This is analogous to firms using a copy service to prepare deposition subpoenas for records.


Hand-in-hand with eFiling is eService.  It can be performed by the law firm or through a vendor.  Following is a summary of the legal requirements:

Pursuant to CRC 2.251(a), you can eServe a document if you can serve it by mail, overnight or fax.  Anything that requires personal service is not permitted for eService. A party must consent to eService as outlined in the rules listed as follows.

Consent to eService happens when a party stipulates to eService (CRC 2.251(b)(1)(A) ) or when a party eFiles a document with the court (CRC 2.251(b)(1)(B) ).

A party must eServe if eFiling is mandated (CRC 2.251(c)(2)), unless personal service is required by statute, the court orders otherwise or the case involves a self-represented litigant (unless that litigants consents).

Per CRC 2.251(h)(1), service is complete at the time of transmission or at the time the notification is sent.  Any period of notice, response, etc. is extended by two court days.

A Proof of Electronic Service needs to be included with the documents you are eFiling and eServing. The Proof of Service can be attached to the supporting document or as a separate document and can be submitted in pleading format or on a Judicial Council form.  Refer to CRC 2.251(i) for specific proof format requirements.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

As I speak on the topic of eFiling I discovered that most people have pretty much the same questions.

Why doesn’t California adopt a system like the Federal Court (Pacer)?  Hmmm, how do I say this?  California is special.  Even though we have one set of laws for the state, the various counties and judges demand a certain level of autonomy within their jurisdictions.  Evidence of this autonomy can be seen in local rules, local forms, and unique procedures.  Having one system puts too many restraints on the individual court’s ability to exert local control.

Why do I have to pay for eFiling?  eFiling is a user-pay system.  The software building blocks of the eFiling system are beyond the budget of most courts.  In order for the courts to offer eFiling, they had to pass the system costs along to the end users.

Why would I use a vendor instead of filing directly through the court portal?  Each court filing system (EFM) requires a separate login, credit card, workflow, etc.  By using your own vendor, you don’t have to manage several accounts.  This is particularly important to law firm administrators because it is difficult for them to track eFiling expenses through a credit card statement.  The more users and accounts a firm has, the more difficult it will be to reconcile.  With First Legal, and other 3rd party vendors, the client will receive the same invoicing they already receive from that vendor.

What is the rejection rate for eFiling?  At the time of this writing, the trend in California is 15% of all eFiling transactions are rejected.  That is about twice national average and four times worse than the rejection rate for over-the-counter filings.  A significant percentage of rejected eFilings were caused by incorrect formatting or submission.  Both of these errors could be avoided by using a “concierge” service to file on your behalf.

Who does the follow-up on a document awaiting clerk approval?  Documents take anywhere from 1-3 days on average to be filed and returned by the court.  A recent survey showed that 80% of eFiled documents are accepted or rejected within 24 hours.  If your assignment was submitted through an EFSP, you can monitor the status of your document online and filed documents will be available on the portal.  If you use a concierge service, they will monitor status for you and return filed documents via e-mail.

I hope this article has given you a solid understanding of eFiling in California.

Larry Kirlin is a board member with Fresno County Legal Professionals Association.  He began working in the legal support industry in 1991 and has been employed with First Legal Network since 2012.  He currently holds dual positions as Regional Manager and eProducts Manager.  Larry lives in Fresno with his wife Rebecca and their six children.