Sabrina L. Thomas steps into her role as President of the Sacramento County Bar Association (SCBA) with two primary goals. One is to increase the legal profession’s participation in the Sacramento community. The second is to ensure that every lawyer in the region understands they are welcome and have a place at the SCBA. This will mark Sabrina’s seventh year on the SCBA Board after serving three years as a Member-at-Large, Secretary/Treasurer, Second and First Vice President, and now President.
Sabrina’s initial seat on SCBA’s board came due to the encouragement of her law firm partner, Timothy Yeung of Renne Sloan Holtzman Sakai. Yeung said, “[I] urged Sabrina to get involved with the SCBA because she has an amazing ability to bring people together. She’s a great listener and knows to how draw upon the strengths of individuals to make a team stronger.” During her second year on the Board in 2012, Sabrina impressed many by both stepping in at the last minute to co-chair the Bench-Bar reception committee and setting a fundraising record. Fellow SCBA and Conference of California Bar Association Board member Andi Liebenbaum says, “[Sabrina] is that rare and wonderful combination of quiet and calm on the one hand, and perfectly on point and direct on the other. She has resolve and vision. All of these qualities will make her an exceptional bar leader, and already define her successful legal career.”
Sabrina grew up with five siblings in Oak Park, one of Sacramento’s earliest settled communities. Her siblings and she spent several summers visiting Sacramento area libraries. At the age of 10, after reading the book The Super Lawyer, she knew she wanted to be a lawyer when she grew up. She was intrigued by the enormous impact one profession could have on the life and liberties of citizens. Sabrina’s love of reading also fueled her curiosity about people, cultures, and her dream to see the world.
Her sister, Felicia Thomas-Hill, an Assistant Principal at Father Keith B. Kenny School, fondly recalls observing Sabrina at a mentoring talk to South Sacramento elementary school students. Sabrina told the students
“[w]hen I look at you, I see me. When you look at me, I want you to see you. Read everything because it expands your world, helps you to dream big, and erases boundaries.”
Growing up in one of Sacramento’s most diverse communities, Sabrina’s parents encouraged her to appreciate all people – no matter their race or culture. Sabrina took her parents’ advice by traveling to countries she could only dream of as a child and started her professional career as a UNICEF policy analyst in Kenya, East Africa. There, she worked on initiatives for “girl-child” education and women’s entrepreneurial programs. Sabrina acknowledges that a quality education, solid preparation, and strong self-confidence are essential ingredients to her success prior to her legal career and as an employment law attorney. Walking onto the campuses of UC Berkeley, Harvard University Graduate School of Education, and Vanderbilt University Law School may have been intimidating to some, however, Sabrina said, “I always felt like I belonged.” That same confidence is the quality she imparts to youth through community service.
Since becoming a member of the Massachusetts and California Bar Associations, Sabrina has had the unique experience of practicing law in the private sector in Boston and the Silicon Valley and in the public sector as a government attorney for the Employment Development Department (EDD) and California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS). Her diverse practice areas and ability to identify the essence of legal concerns has made her a better lawyer. State Personnel Board Senior Attorney Chian He says that Sabrina has a thoughtful approach to issues, sharp observations and an innate ability to quickly discern and dissect the relevant facts of cases.
Colleagues admire this same practical quality in Sabrina no matter how controversial the issue. According to Jack Vetter, a fellow SCBA Board member, “Sabrina brings a voice of reason to every discussion. She is gracious in her approach, tireless in her energy and always keeps the big picture in mind.” This is a common theme that echoes from Sabrina’s colleagues. Nancy Miller, a partner at Renne Sloan, describes Sabrina as an exceptional lawyer, combining intellect, business acumen, and a human touch to the legal issues she faces.
To better understand Sabrina’s goals for the SCBA, you have to look beyond her professionally accomplished career. Outside of her practice as a Senior Attorney at Renne, Sloan, Sabrina is fully committed to community service. She serves as a community advisor on former Mayor Johnson’s Oak Park Promise Neighborhood, advocates for women and children at crisis shelters, mentors students at the SCBA-sponsored C.K. McClatchy Law & Public Policy Academy, and supports pro bono work at the Voluntary Legal Services Program (VLSP). Her philanthropic work also extends beyond Sacramento’s borders, with support to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Doctors without Borders, the Equal Justice Initiative, and College Admissions Counselors (her twin sister, Regina Thomas’s organization focused on educational services for foster youth in California). Vicki Jacobs, VLSP Managing Attorney, says, “[w]orking with Sabrina on the SCBA Board is a pleasure. She is very smart, organized, and articulate. She cares deeply about our legal community and the community at large and will make an excellent President in 2017.”
As the SCBA prepares to celebrate its 100-year anniversary, it is appropriate to take stock of all that it has done well and expand on that wealth of accomplishments. Sabrina plans to seize the opportunity in the coming year to illustrate how the SCBA is not only relevant, but crucial to the practice of both traditional and non-traditional lawyers in the region. Sabrina’s spirited commitment to the community follows her challenge to the SCBA Board and legal community to increase their support to the SCBA’s pro bono services.
Sandra Clifton, General Counsel for EDD sums it up best, “I have known Sabrina for many years. From the first time I interviewed her for a job as one of my staff counsel, I knew I had hired the right person. She is a bright and articulate attorney. She always demonstrated integrity. I shed a tear when she left my employment because I knew I was losing one of the finest attorneys I had ever met. I also knew she would succeed in any endeavor she pursued. She has now reached the pinnacle of success. She is a fine example of what it means to be a leader: A commitment to excellence and unwavering dedication to community service. I congratulate her on becoming the Sacramento County Bar President.”