Board Member Spotlight

Board Member Spotlight: Julie and Karen

It has been a while since we ran a Board Member Spotlight but who can forget that Lindsey and Susan love to travel and Joan loves to do some ballroom dancing! Or that Paula loves both dogs and Star Wars and Kellie is who you want with you in Hawaii and when going out for sushi!

We have several more board members to feature over the next few months. We also would love to feature a member or two! It is fun to find out a little bit more about our fellow administrators so let me know if you are interested in answering a few questions.

Today, let’s see what surprises Julie Denker and Karen Wilhelmi have up their sleeves!

Julie Denker, President-Elect

Julie's three grandkids - taken before grandbaby #4 arrived!
Julie’s three grandkids – taken before grandbaby #4 arrived!

Tell us about your professional life. I am currently putting my Legal Administrator career on hold to enjoy being a grandma! I help take care of my new grandson, Nixon, and will get back into the legal world after the first of the year. Before taking time off, I was a Firm Administrator at a Roseville firm. Prior to that, I was Firm Administrator/Legal Secretary for a small boutique firm in Auburn for 12 years. My introduction to the legal field started almost 25 years ago as a receptionist for a real estate, bankruptcy law firm in San Luis Obispo. As a young single mother of three without a college degree, the legal profession seemed to provide greater growth and financial opportunities for me at the time. Through the years my skill set and experience have grown by doing almost every job there is in a law firm setting except be an attorney. Though a difficult and challenging industry I can’t imagine doing anything else. As far as certifications, several years ago I obtained my paralegal certificate and I intend to sit for the SPHR exam at the end of this year.

Why did you choose to serve on the SVALA Board? As a junior administrator working far from downtown I needed to find a way to surround myself with seasoned administrators and network. That is when I discovered ALA and then SVALA. Looking back on my first couple of meetings, boy was I scared and shy. But before long I found myself surrounded by a group of administrators who were more than willing to share their knowledge, experience and friendship. Soon I found myself serving two years as Law Firm Leadership Chair. Serving on the board has provided me the opportunity to strengthen my project and team management skills, help increase my business knowledge, and build a network that are ready whenever I need to call upon the people in it.

Tell us a little about your personal life/passion. Oh my goodness. Well, some might be surprised to learn a very long time ago I drove (yes, I really drove) a semi-truck across country and back. Was I a licensed truck driver you ask? I plead the 5th! Also, in another lifetime, I lived on a ranch in North Eastern British Columbia south of the Yukon border where we farmed wheat and raised cattle. There I learned to live off the land, which means moose, elk and deer hung in the meat shed (no worries about spoilage winters get well below zero)! I learned to can and pickle vegetables from the bountiful summer garden and pick summer berries in the spring while keeping a watchful eye out for bears. While my (then) husband maintained a trap line, mined gold in the Yukon, worked the ranch, and guided hunters in the mountains (actually called the bush), I was home on the ranch tending to our newborn daughter, canning, sewing, knitting (yes, I actually sewed his western denim shirts and knitted sweaters) and sometimes I was the fill-in cook for the 13 ranch hands. I learned rather quickly the ranch hands expected three square meals that included homemade bread, meat and potatoes at every meal. What? You mean you don’t like Cornflakes for breakfast? I was so young and had so much to learn! It was a rough, tough beginning but soon I fell in sync and love with the lifestyle and I am more than grateful for the experience. When the time came, sunny California never looked so good!

Julie's husband, Randy
Julie’s husband, Randy

Marrying my husband seventeen years ago is one the greatest joys of my life. Without a doubt he is my rock!  He retired from law-enforcement nine years ago and has morphed into quite the house-husband running the entire household – even having dinner on the table when I walk through the door from work! In addition to Randy, my greatest loves are my four grandchildren. Peyton is 8, the two boys just turned two and Nixon was just born September 1! We are blessed beyond measure they live close by and that allows my husband and me to be active and involved in their lives and activities. Home life, grandkids and work is all I have time for at this stage of my life. However, retirement is oh-so-close. 🙂 Our country is rich in history and holds some beautiful natural wonders all of which I want to take in at a leisurely pace behind the wheel of our car.

Karen Wilhelmi, Chapter Website Chair
Chief Operating Officer/Chief Financial Officer
Weintraub Tobin

Karen attending an Adele concert
Karen attending an Adele concert

Tell us about your professional life. I am the COO/CFO at Weintraub|Tobin and have been here three years! I didn’t choose the legal field (this is my second go-around at a law firm) but I certainly enjoy it and there isn’t a slow day. I am a Chico State graduate and Coopers & Lybrand (yes, I am dating myself) alumni and have a CPA license.

Why did you choose to serve on the SVALA Board? I always had considered getting more involved but never offered – I am a first time board member. Cindy Snook and Cheri Blethen asked if I would and so I said yes!  It is a good way to get involved (at least behind the scenes with the website) and I have been enjoying it.

Tell us a little about your personal life/passion. What personal life?  No, that’s right, we all have great work/life balance. Sometimes time flies and I don’t know where the month went. A little of this and a little of that. My highlight this year might have been going to the ADELE concert at Staples Center this month (picture attached).

Many thanks to Julie and Karen for sharing a little bit about themselves.

If I had to choose between driving an 18-wheeler or feeding a bunch of hungry ranch hands and going to an Adele concert – well, Adele would have to be the winner! No one wants to see me drive an 18-wheeler (or cook for that matter). 🙂

I am constantly amazed at how the board is comprised of people from so many different backgrounds and with such a variety of life experiences.

I look forward to learning even more about the rest of the board members and, hopefully, some members!

Trish Hughes Kreis




SVALA Activities

Community Connection Event: Walk to End Alzheimer’s

Several SVALA members and a Business Partner or two helped at the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s registration booth last year and it was so much fun we are doing it again!

CCE Walk to End Alzheimer's (2015)
CCE Walk to End Alzheimer’s (2015)

Every year our Community Connection Event chairperson plans an event for the SVALA members to participate in and make a difference in our community. Members have helped refresh the Sacramento Children’s Home, cleaned up landscaping at the Ronald McDonald House and even mended dog kennels for a local dog rescue organization.

Joan Gabrielson is the current Community Connection Event Chairperson and because the event last year was such a rewarding experience she planned for members to do it again! Not only do we meet hundreds (if not thousands) of people walking for a worthy cause but we are able to work as a team with our fellow members, laughing and giggling the whole time – even at 7:00 a.m.!

Plus, we get a free t-shirt!

Landscaping with Ronald McDonald
Landscaping with Ronald McDonald

The walk is this Saturday, October 1 and we while we do have enough volunteers for the registration table we definitely need more donations!

Please consider asking your firm for a donation to help end Alzheimer’s. Many of our members have a personal story about Alzheimer’s or who care for a family member who suffers from it or any of the other dementias. Let’s support our fellow members by showing our commitment to stopping this brutal disease.

Please make your donations payable to SVALA and we will present one check to the Alzheimer’s Association, Greater Sacramento.

CCE - Mending kennels
CCE – Mending kennels

Please mail donations to:

Joan Gabrielson
c/o Cook Brown
555 Capitol Mall, Suite 425
Sacramento, CA  95814

Many thanks to Joan for coordinating this effort and for somehow talking us into coming back to downtown on a weekend! (Did I mention we have to be here by 7:00 a.m.?)

Also, many thanks to all SVALA members for your continued support of the Community Connection Events!

Trish Hughes Kreis


SVALA Activities

Salary Survey: We Need You!          

We need as many firms as possible to participate in the 2016 Sacramento Valley Association of Legal Administrators Salary Survey!

Just a few of the 2015 prizes! 2016 prizes will be just as awesome
Just a few of the 2015 prizes!
2016 prizes will be just as awesome

Your participation in this process is crucial so that the results of this survey can become one of your most useful tools for recruiting and holding on to valuable employees. This survey is unique to the Sacramento, Roseville, Folsom, and nearby areas, which makes it valuable to local law firms and satellite law firms alike!

Susan and I, along with several other local administrators, have used this tool during our review processes and when hiring.  I refer to it throughout the year when conducting reviews or hiring to make sure we are keeping competitive in order to attract top talent.  Plus, I want to be sure my people are happy and confident they are being paid at a fair market rate. I personally don’t like interviewing so the happier people are, the happier I am!

The survey needs participants, though, to make it useful! We have found over several years of doing this survey that the more participants there are, the more useful it becomes.

If that isn’t enough to get you interested there’s this: PRIZES!!

Participants in this year’s survey will be automatically included in a drawing for several PRIZES! There are two separate drawings this year – one on Sept 23rd and one on Oct. 1. You can’t win if you don’t participate so get those surveys in!

We have developed an online system that is easy to complete, highly confidential and your participation is absolutely FREE!! By completing this survey you will help in making this a fantastic tool that you can use to stay current and competitive!

You can access the survey here.  Please contact our SVALA Salary Survey Chairperson, Susan Nielsen, for the user instructions. (Or leave a comment here and we will contact you.)

The cutoff date for entering your data will be on September 30th.

Also: you can still participate if you are in the area but have not yet become a SVALA member. The more, the merrier!  (But we’d love to have you as a member too!)

We hope you will participate. The survey will not be the same without you! (Plus, there are those fabulous prizes.) 🙂

Trish and Susan




August Luncheon Recap: Simply Sex


Let’s start this monthly SVALA luncheon recap with a huge THANK YOU to Kellie Narayan, our Programs & Education Chair. We would not have these terrific luncheons and topics if it were not for her hard work in hunting down dynamic speakers and interesting topics.

Speaker, Samson Elsbernd
Speaker, Samson Elsbernd

Thank you, Kellie!

Back to the luncheon recap: no, the August luncheon was not really about sex – it was about gender (did I get that right?). Samson Elsbernd, an attorney with Wilke Fleury, explained there is a difference between the two and it can make quite a difference when using one word or the other on a job application.

Samson’s presentation on “Simply Sex . . . Sex, Gender, Gender Identity, Gender Expression in the Workplace, and Tips for Eliminating Bias” showed us not only how well-versed he is on the topic but also how a sensitive subject like this can be handled with maturity and grace. Not only that, but Samson’s pop-culture acumen was impressive! I mean, how often do you go to a luncheon that somehow ties together Twisted Sister, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Mrs. Doubtfire?

2016 - August luncheon - dee ann and terrapin
DeeAnn MacLaughlin, Nathan Johanson, Jean-Paul Taylor

There were more questions than usual from the audience which indicated to me we were engaged in learning more about this topic. One interesting question was about the seeming increased prevalence of transgender individuals today than in previous generations. Are there more transgender individuals now or are people just more willing to express who they are than they were fifty years ago? Samson didn’t have a definitive answer to that question but it is very likely people are more willing to “come out” as their true selves today.

However, the social issues and our personal beliefs about this topic are of no matter when it comes to the law. While I personally think it is a step in the right direction when we allow people to freely express who they truly are, others may disagree or have some level of discomfort with it.

2016 - august luncheon - debbie and julie 2
Debbie Jordan and Julie Denker

When it comes to the law and managing our firms, our personal beliefs need to be set aside. What is important is that we are following the rules and treating employees equally, fairly and with respect. Not every employer does, though, as evidenced by Samson’s statement that he is kept very busy with FEHA claims.

Whether a firm is currently dealing with these gender identity and transgender issues in the workplace now or will be in the future, Samson advised training and educating managers and employees now so they will be well-prepared for when the situation does present itself.

Many thanks to Samson for sharing his knowledge on this important topic.

Coming up: The September 28 luncheon will feature Mary Grandy of EPIC Insurance Brokers & Consultants who will present on 360° Risk Management for Law Firms.