ALA Conference Recap: Cindy Snook




Even though many of us were not able to attend the ALA Annual Conference and Expo we can live vicariously through various local administrators who were able to attend.

Karen Wilhelmi recently shared her first-time attendee experience and we have a few other recaps from Sacramento administrators coming up which will be posted over the next week.

Cindy Snook and Michele Tracy “enjoying” the snow

Today we are sharing the experience of Cindy Snook who is a seasoned conference attendee! Cindy has the unique perspective of having served on the Region 6 Board of Directors from 2011 – 2013 as the Region 6 Projects Officer, even helping to plan two Regional Conferences as well as be the point person for the Exhibit Hall.

Cindy tells us about a couple of classes that stood out for her at the recent ALA Annual Conference and Expo:

The ALA Annual Conference this year had good and not so good aspects to it. We were situated in downtown Denver, Colorado and there were many interesting places and restaurants that you could walk to.  The not so good part was the weather in April.  We had a couple days of sunshine and several days of snow and rain.  I thought the hotel and the conference rooms were very accommodating with respect to walking distance, exhibit hall, etc.

One of the classes that I really was not anticipating attending but somehow ended up in due to the overbooking of another class was the “Surviving an Active Shooter” class.  The three police officers that presented during this class were all involved with capturing the shooter at the Columbine massacre.  They provided a great deal of insight into how to protect our law firms should we encounter such an unfortunate event. Some of the tips they gave were (1) run, (2) stay behind locked doors, (3) silence your cell phones so they cannot hear them ringing and, (4) the use of pepper spray. One of the things they told us not to do is to pull the fire alarm. The reason for that was that you don’t want the firemen interfering with the police officers who are hunting down the shooter. I found this class to be very interesting and hope that this never happens to any of us but it is nice to have a plan of action.

Another class that I really enjoyed was “Executive Presence: How to Achieve Greater Influence in your Firm,” presented by Elizabeth Fried, Ph.D.  She was an excellent speaker and had us go through several activities/exercises that I found to be very helpful. I liked the way she broke it down into how people see you and your executive presence: (1) How you Act, (2) How you Speak and, (3) How you Look.  One of the books that she suggested we buy was one titled “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” by Marshall Goldsmith. I’ve already ordered my copy!

Joelle, Penny, Cindy, Tammie (l-r)

I would say the highlight of my trip was being able to spend some quality time with the other members of our chapter going to various events and dinners.  We are lucky to have so many talented individuals in the SVALA to bounce ideas off of from time to time.

Many thanks to Cindy for sharing her conference experience with us and for being such a valuable resource to SVALA members.

For those planning ahead, information about future conferences can be found here. The 2018 Conference will be held in National Harbor, Maryland. Hopefully, the weather cooperates!  

Also, don’t forget to check out the Virtual Conference Sessions!



ALA Conference Recap: Karen Wilhelmi


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The SVALA was well-represented at the ALA Annual Conference and Expo in Denver! We have a few recaps of the event which will be posted over the next few weeks but I thought it would be appropriate to start with one from a member who had never been to an Annual Conference before.

First conferences are always so exciting and inspiring!

Karen Wilhelmi is the SVALA Website Chair and the Chief Financial Officer at Weintraub Tobin. Please read all about her experience and then check out the Virtual Conference Sessions!

From Karen:

Joelle Stone and Karen Wilhelmi hanging out after a full day of the Conference

This was my first time I have ever attended a National Conference of ALA; previously I had only attended a Regional Conference. Right out of the gate I noticed the sessions they offered were two-three-four times the amount than offered at regional.  This is great but actually makes it really hard to pick what you want to listen to. Although, I went to a Newcomer’s Reception on Sunday night and one of the things they really encouraged was if you aren’t getting what you thought you would out of a session don’t be hesitant about getting up and leaving and going into another session that was your second choice.

They offered different tracks to make it easier for you – Basic, Intermediate and Advanced education tracks, a 2020 education track (core competency sessions that will help you prepare for what lies ahead in the future of the business of law) and a new track called LPM (Legal Project Management).  It is hard for me being a CFO to not want to go to the Finance related sessions, but I really made an effort to stay away from them as much as possible. I was happy that I did as my best sessions were not finance related. My best sessions were: (1) Generational Marketing Strategies and Tactics for Engaging Different Generations, (2) Social Media, Digital Marketing Mechanics and More, and (3) How to Help Senior Partners and Administrators Transition Out of Practice and Prepare Their Successors.  I didn’t come away with any handouts that said how to do or implement any of this but it got the light bulb and momentum going for making or suggesting some changes.

Yep, that’s snow!

Just a personal fun fact, I told Joelle how much I hoped that the snow that they predicted would come in on Tuesday so I could just walk to the conference in the snow . . . and it did! Joelle admitted she enjoyed it too. 🙂

Thank you for sharing your experience, Karen! It sounds like it was a terrific experience for a first-timer. Hope to see you at more Annual Conferences! For those planning ahead, information about future conferences can be found here.



Board Member Spotlight: DeeAnn MacLaughlin


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When we first added the blog feature to our SVALA website I thought it would be fun to learn a little bit about the board members so presented the Board Member Spotlight idea to the board. The overwhelming response was positive but everyone assured me they were very, very boring.

Ha! We haven’t seen one boring spotlight yet! (If you need to catch up on the spotlight interviews, click on the “Meet the Board: 2016-2017” tab at the top of the page and then click on a board member’s name. You will be directed to that person’s spotlight feature.)

Adventures in the air

Speaking of not boring! I am happy DeeAnn sent pictures along with her interview or I would not have believed she had such an adventurous spirit!

While serving on the Board of Directors with DeeAnn I knew she was friendly, diligent and hard-working with a delightful laugh but I had no idea how much her heart was truly an outdoorsman. The only time she sits must be when she is taking the minutes at a board meeting. Just reading about everything she finds time to do makes me want to get outside and go hiking (hey, it could happen).

Tell me you don’t feel the same once you read about DeeAnn!

DeeAnn MacLaughlin
Accounting Manager
Boutin Jones Inc.
SVALA Board Position: Secretary

Adventures with family

Tell us about your professional life. I am the accounting manager at Boutin Jones Inc. and have happily worked here for 15 years. When I first started at Boutin, back in 2002, we were a third of the size we are today.

Prior to that, I worked for two CPA firms. My first professional job was for a CPA that did tax returns for NFL football players. It was so exciting to receive those size 14 shoe boxes full of bizarre receipts; it was like an accountant’s Christmas! I was undecided if I wanted to become a CPA which lead me to give the private industry a try. Working on one set of books vs. thirty was very appealing.

I love my job and the people I work with so, unless I strike it rich, I can see myself working here for many years to come.

Adventures in the snow

Why did you choose to serve on the SVALA Board? Truth be told, I was a victim of peer pressure. I was initially asked to be a part of the “nominating committee” for the upcoming board for 2015/16. I was a little confused by the invitation but flattered to be asked (really, all I remember hearing was there will be wine … I was like, OK!).

Joelle Stone and Jessica Miller eventually confessed (strategically after my second glass of wine) that they had an opening on the board for the Law Firm Leadership Luncheon and Holiday Event Chair.  I was thinking….you want me to do WHAT!? ME!? The extent of my event planning experience was limited to my kids’ birthday parties.  I hesitantly decided to step out of my comfort zone and agreed to take on the challenge.  I am now serving my second term as secretary.

Adventures on the water

Tell us something about your personal life/passion. I am married and have two children; my daughter is 20 and my son is 13.

Outside of work, I lead a pretty active and adventurous lifestyle. Depending on the season I do a little of this and a lot of that.

Right now I’m totally enjoying the epic snow and getting my money’s worth from my season pass and snowboarding every week (except for Super Bowl weekend when my Patriot’s won an unbelievable comeback…and no I’m not a bandwagon fan). Fun fact: I was actually at Tom Brady’s very first game against Peyton Manning and the Colts back in 2001 (when I was visiting my husband’s family in Boston).

Adventures on land

Besides snowboarding, I enjoy riding motorcycles. Nowadays, we do more dirt bike riding than street riding and I’ve had my motorcycle license for about 17 years. We do a lot of boating – we have a fishing boat, sail boat and a smaller aluminum boat plus four kayaks. We enjoy camping which we’ve graduated from a tent to a trailer. We camp in the Sierras and go forest dirt bike riding, or camp on the coast and go ocean fishing on kayaks.

Our newest love is our cabin that we just bought right outside of Tahoe. It’s a two story, 4 bed, 2 bath on a half-acre with the American River flowing behind us and the Pacific Crest trail along the side of us…overlooking our ski resort (no, I’m not bragging…these are just the facts people.)!!

Adventures in the new cabin

The history of the property and family that owned it is quite interesting. It was a fifth- generation owned home with the family going back to the early 1800’s. The town we live in is named after the family (which is pretty cool). Every year the annual snow pack is measured in my backyard.

I also love to travel. My most recent big trip was three weeks in Spain to visit one of my oldest childhood friends. No kids, no husbands…this was a well-deserved girls-only trip. Me and two other childhood friends traveled together and, boy, was it a trip of a lifetime! Included here are some pictures of my last few vacations to Spain, Maui, Kauai and Cabo.

Adventures around the world

All in all, finding the balance between work, play and happiness has been quite the journey. I’ve been blessed in so many ways and even through my struggles I’ve found contentment in learning valuable lessons. My struggles are my testimony!

I don’t know about you but I am exhausted just reading about all that activity! From the photos, it sure looks like DeeAnn has found the key to her happiness which makes her a delight to be around.

DeeAnn won’t be on the 2017 – 2018 Board of Directors (I mean, how would she even have time?!) but I am hoping she will consider serving again in the future (there will be wine!). Our chapter has definitely benefited from this energetic woman.

Thanks to DeeAnn for sharing her photos and her story with us. It was about as far from boring as you can get!


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!