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2019 MWL Conference for Women in the Law: Speaker Biographies


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2019 MWL Conference Speaker Biographies

Alia Abdi is an associate at Zimmerman Reed concentrating her practice on complex litigation involving consumer protection, and securities and financial fraud in state and federal courts. She is currently representing consumers alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Prior to joining the firm, Alia externed for the Honorable John R. Tunheim, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota. Alia graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School, where she served as the student managing director for Maynard Pirsig Moot Court and was mock trial team captain for Phi Alpha Delta. Alia is admitted to the state courts of Minnesota and the U.S. District Courts for the District of Minnesota.


Sommer Spector Angstman is partner at Lucēre Legal, LLC, a law firm business that offers a unique fee structure and services to small businesses and individuals looking for asset protection.  Lucēre places the well-being of its attorneys squarely in its mission statement with a unique shared economy of cases within its firm. Ms. Spector Angstman got her start in law 14 years ago in criminal defense as a government attorney and has revitalized her love of the law over the last four years with business law and civil litigation.


Hilarie Bass is the president and founder of Bass Institute for Diversity & Inclusion. Hilarie is a global evangelist for gender parity and an outspoken advocate for expanding the ranks of women leaders at corporations, nonprofits, and other institutions. She is also one of the most recognized attorneys in the United States, having served as co-president of the international law firm Greenberg Traurig from 2013 to 2018 and as president of the American Bar Association (ABA) from September 2017 to August 2018. Hilarie traveled the world speaking on behalf of the ABA about the importance of retaining and promoting female leaders.


Erin Bryan is an attorney at Dorsey & Whitney.  Her areas of practice include commercial bankruptcy, creditors’ rights, and financial regulations.  She previously worked as a Senior Corporate Counsel in the Law Division of U.S. Bank. She has been named one of the “40 Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40” by The National LGBT Bar Association and an Up & Coming Attorney by the Minnesota Lawyer.  She is the chair of the Minnesota Lavender Bar Association.


Amy Dahl has served as vice president, human resources and distributor development of The Toro Company since December 2016. Previously, she served as vice president, human resources from March 2015 to December 2016 and, prior to that, she served as managing director, corporate communications and investor relations from June 2013 to March 2015. Prior to joining Toro, Amy was in the private practice of law with the Gray Plant Mooty and Norton Rose Fulbright firms. Amy earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities and a Juris Doctor, with distinction, from The University of North Dakota School of Law where she was a member of the Order of the Coif.


Sybil Dunlop of Greene Espel PLLP, presents to audiences across the nation on the topics of federal practice, discovery, and legal writing. She offers her thoughts about the practice of law in a monthly column for Minnesota Lawyer entitled Sybil Procedure, and she hosts a recurring webcast series for Minnesota CLE. She recently received a Diversity & Inclusion Award from Minnesota Lawyer for her work developing an implicit bias CLE program. 


Luz María Frías, Bio coming soon


Debra Frimerman is General Counsel at Calyxt, Inc. Before joining Calyxt, Ms. Frimerman was Associate General Counsel for Syngenta North America, as well as acting General Counsel for Syngenta Seeds, LLC. Prior to her role at Syngenta, Ms. Frimerman practiced law at Stoel Rives LLP and Lindquist & Vennum PLLP (now Ballard Spahr LLP).


Beth Forsythe is a Partner at Dorsey & Whitney LLP.  Boards and executives that need to determine whether employees have engaged in wrongdoing and analyze related internal controls issues rely on Beth to plan and conduct efficient, effective investigations to define the scope of the issue and, where necessary, defend them against actions by federal or state authorities or engage in litigation to address follow-on issues.  Beth draws on her background as a CPA (certified public accountant, inactive license) to help clients through investigations that focus on financial issues like accounting fraud and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act ("FCPA") violations, and in complex litigation centered on accounting issues, including earnout and post-close adjustment disputes.  Beth frequently combines her general investigations expertise with her colleagues’ subject matter expertise to help plan and conduct investigations in areas such as export controls and sanctions violations, securities fraud, health care fraud, and environmental regulatory issues.  In her FCPA and anti- corruption practice, Beth assists clients not only with reactive investigative services, but also with proactive services like compliance program evaluation and development (including board and employee training), M&A due diligence, and deal negotiations.


Jenny Gassman-Pines of Greene Espel PLLP, is an engaging public speaker and regularly educates audiences of in-house counsel, business executives, and other trial attorneys about how to reduce liability exposure arising from business communications generally, and interactions with in-house counsel. Jenny also speaks across the country regarding recent developments in employment defense and investigations, including at Minnesota CLE, the National Business Institute, the American Conference Institute, and in-house for clients such as Cargill and Target.


Nicole James Gilchrist is Senior Counsel at Thrivent Financial advising its dually-registered broker dealer and investment adviser firm on matters related to development and offering of financial planning, managed accounts and brokerage services, as well as sales practice and compensation issues and other distribution-related matters. Nicole has over 15 years of experience in the financial services industry. She also serves as a member of the Mitchell Hamline School of Law Board of Trustees. Nicole is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and obtained a J.D. from William Mitchell College of Law.  She is admitted to the Supreme Court of Minnesota.


Valerie Jensen As President of Azon Consulting, Val Jensen is an expert in sourcing talent, creating effective teams across differences and coaching leadership on how to leverage all their human resources to achieve their goals. Val has used her training as a lawyer over the past 20 years to lead high talent teams across industries, both in the for profit and non-profit worlds. Val's ability to work in a global marketplace and build cross-functional teams that allow for true innovation and creativity is unmatched. Val has an ability to bring together people around difficult issues and build understanding and open communication. She understands that in order to build a more inclusive work environment leaders must move beyond checking the box and build authentic relationships. 


Karen Mathre leads the Coaching Center of Expertise at Medtronic which builds world-class people manager capability through coach training and engagements.   She designed, developed and delivered interactive Leadership Development programs for over 20 years.   She has presented on a variety of leadership topics at Medtronic Specific Conferences such as the Medtronic Women’s’ Network as well as external conferences such as the University of St. Thomas Executive Coaching Conference, the Conference Board’s Executive Coaching Conference and Association for Training & Development.


Sonia Miller-Van Oort is an experienced litigator at Sapientia Law and an active member of the bar, having served as President of the Hennepin County Bar Association in 2007-2008 and the Minnesota State Bar Association in 2017-18.  She was the MSBA’s fifth female president and first Latina president in the organization’s 100+ year history.  In her 21 years of practice, she has handled a variety of commercial litigation matters involving breach-of-contract cases, franchise disputes, non-competition and non-solicitation matters, trade secrets, tortious interference claims, misrepresentation and fraud claims, employment claims, and defended product liability claims.


Maria Mitchell is an Assistant Ramsey County Attorney working and living in St. Paul Minnesota. As an Assistant Ramsey County Attorney, she represents Ramsey County in Child Protection cases. Ms. Mitchell was previously employed by the State Public Defender’s Office in Hennepin County Minnesota where she handled serious person crimes.  Ms. Mitchell is a member of the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers.  She has served on the board as President, Immediate Past President, Secretary and at large board member.  Presently Ms. Mitchell serves as the Chair of the Saint Paul Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity Commission, on the Vocal Essence Witness Board, and the Women’s Advocates Board.


Abigail Nesbitt is Senior Vice President, Litigation Manager at TCF National Bank with responsibility for managing litigation and resolving disputes across the enterprise.  Prior to her current role, Ms. Nesbitt spent 15 years managing all aspects of the legal function at Winthrop Resources Corporation, a TCF subsidiary providing financial support for the acquisition and use of technology by businesses.  While at Winthrop, in addition to “lawyering,” she also functioned in various business capacities including the pricing and structuring of finance transactions and developing new financial products for commercial customers.  Ms. Nesbitt began her legal career practicing commercial litigation at the Robins Kaplan law firm.  She holds a B.A. in History from Carleton College and a J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School.


Elizabeth Patton is a partner at Fox Rothschild.  She represents clients in all stages of litigation, and devotes a large portion of her practice to intellectual property issues, brand protection litigation, and employment defense. Liz is currently a co-chair of MWL’s Equity Committee. She also serves as a housing court volunteer for the Volunteer Lawyers Network. Liz earned her J.D. at the University of Iowa College of Law.


Lisa Lodin Peralta is a solo practitioner at Peralta Appellate Law. During the 25 years she has been a lawyer, the focus of her work has always been appellate litigation. She practices in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, Minnesota state courts and immigration courts. Lisa contributes many pro bono hours on appellate cases, particularly criminal and immigration cases, and usually representing minority clients. In 2017 she was awarded Pro Bono Attorney of the Year by the Hispanic National Bar Association. She is an active member and leader within the Minnesota Women Lawyers, the Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association, and the Minnesota State Bar Association organizations. She regularly writes and presents CLEs on appellate and diversity-and-inclusion topics.


Michelle Perdue, M.Ed., is the founder of Speak to Advance Communications, a professional development consultancy that helps women leaders at all professional levels communicate with confidence, find their authentic voice, and develop an appropriate leadership presence. Michelle has positively impacted the lives and careers of numerous current and future leaders, including those affiliated with such organizations as Land O’Lakes, Ecolab, TeamWomen, and the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundations.


Denise Rahne is a partner at Robins Kaplan LLP in the business and commercial litigation department. She is a commercial litigator specializing in fiduciary litigation, specifically wealth disputes in the areas of trust and estates, shareholder conflicts, and closely-held business conflicts. Prior to joining Robins Kaplan in 2003, Denise taught high school English and coached swimming and track in the Minneapolis Public Schools for ten years.


Kelly Rodgers has been the Mock Trial Director at Hamline since fall of 2014. Her duties, along with coaching the mock trial teams, include teaching Beginning Mock Trial, Legal Systems and a variety of other courses within the Legal Studies Department. Kelly brings her experience not only from competing in mock trial at the national level for Hamline University School of Law, but from court appearances, and teaching with the National Institute of Trial Attorneys. Prior to coming to Hamline, Kelly worked as an Inside Account Manager at Thomson Reuters and as an associate at a local creditor’s rights firm.


Dawn Rosemond Based out of their Fort Wayne, Indiana office, Dawn is a partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP and serves as the firm’s director of diversity, professional development and inclusion. She spearheads diversity and inclusion initiatives through deliberate programming and strategic priorities, as well as leads the charge for cultivating and maintaining an environment that boldly promotes the training, sponsorship, empowerment and promotion of all legal talent, regardless of background. Dawn is the first African-American female to make equity partner at Barnes & Thornburg and reportedly in the state of Indiana. She has been with the firm her entire legal career, representing business clients in virtually all stages of litigation, including pre-litigation counseling, ADR, trials and appeals.  Today, she focuses on representing, counseling and protecting clients that range from entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 companies in business and commercial litigation. Notably, Dawn chairs the firm’s African-American Partners affinity group and the Black Female Lawyer Resource Group. She also serves as co-chair of the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee and is a member of the Pro Bono Committee. The published author of Boss Presence, Dawn is a national speaker on leadership and personal development and a deliberate mentor. 

Stacey Slaughter A partner at Robins Kaplan LLP with nearly 20 years of experience, Stacey Slaughter focuses on recovering damages for businesses and investors who are victims of financial fraud, antitrust violations, commercial disputes, and cybersecurity breaches.  Recoveries in the cases she has been involved in total well over a half a billion dollars.  She practices in courts and arbitration forums all over the country, and was recently named a 2018 Litigation Trailblazer by the National Law Journal. 


Libby Stennes is a Partner at Steptoe & Johnson LLP.  Libby is a respected complex commercial disputes lawyer who skillfully manages clients’ legal risk before claims are filed through ultimate resolution.  She has a track record of guiding clients in the agribusiness, chemical, food, manufacturing, and retail industries through their most challenging legal issues.  Her clients value her understanding of the impact of global regulatory decisions and market demands.  Libby has practiced at Steptoe since completing a clerkship in 1997.  When she relocated to the Twin Cities over ten years ago, Steptoe supported her plan to telecommute.  Libby represents Steptoe on the MWL Partner Leadership Council.


Sarah Stroebel is Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at U.S. Bank.  In this role, Sarah partners with her direct report team to lead the Bank’s Litigation, Government Investigations & Subpoenas, Employment Law, and Financial Crimes & Political Law functions.  Sarah engages with a variety of constituents concerning the work on her team, including outside counsel, senior Bank executives, auditors, regulators, and the Board of Directors.  Sarah also actively participates in the Law Division’s Diversity & Inclusion and Mentorship programs.  Prior to joining U.S. Bank, Sarah was an attorney at the Minneapolis law firm of Lindquist & Vennum (now Ballard Spahr), focused on intellectual property and financial services litigation.  Sarah received her JD, with honors, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Jayne Sykora is a 2009 graduate of the University of Nebraska College of Law. Shortly after law school, Jayne formed Sykora & Santini PLLC with her business partner, Jen Santini. Sykora & Santini provides estate planning, estate administration and business law services to client around the Twin Cities Metro. Jayne is an active volunteer with Wills For Heroes, is a board member for both the Hennepin County Bar Foundation and the Hennepin County Bar Association and sits on the Drafting Wills & Trust Agreements Deskbook committee for Minnesota CLE.


Cynthia Topel, as Director, Corporate Counsel for Sleep Number Corporation, supports various departments within the organization and provides legal counsel primarily in the areas of marketing and advertising strategies, contracting, compliance, sourcing, securities, and general corporate law. Cynthia is also a Board Member for Minnesota Independence College and Community, a nonprofit that provides a college and community setting for young adults with ASD or other learning differences to engage in a three-year program to gain the skills they need to become employed and live an independent life.  Cynthia earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, with high distinction, in sociology from the University of Minnesota, Morris and a Juris Doctor, summa cum laude, from William Mitchell College of Law.  Prior to joining Sleep Number Corporation, Cynthia was in private practice at Fox Rothschild LLP in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Betsy Van Hecke is the VP, Legal for Medtronic’s Cardiac and Vascular Group, an 11-Billion-dollar division within Medtronic, and leads Medtronic’s global legal Center of Excellence for Value-based Healthcare and New Business Models.  She is a Medtronic-certified executive coach with more than 250 hours of experience.  Betsy has presented at numerous CLEs and legal conferences over her 25-year career.  She introduced the keynote speaker at MWL’s 2017 annual meeting.


Lola Velazquez-Aguilu is a Litigation and Investigations Counsel at Medtronic.  Lola joined Medtronic in October 2018 and currently manages a broad range of civil litigation including securities, tax, and products liability.  Prior to joining Medtronic, Lola served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the District of Minnesota, where she was assigned to the white-collar and public corruption section of the criminal division.  While at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Lola prosecuted large-scale financial crimes including bank fraud conspiracies, mortgage fraud, investment fraud, embezzlement, and tax fraud.  Before joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Lola was a litigation associate at Dorsey and Whitney; she also clerked for Retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan C. Page and U.S. District Court Judge Ann D. Montgomery.  Lola is also Chair of the Minnesota Commission on Judicial Selection. 


Judge Sophia Y. Vuelo was appointed as a Second District Court judge in 2017 by Governor Mark Dayton. Previously, Judge Vuelo was a solo practitioner at Vuelo Law, a Special Assistant Ramsey County Attorney, and an Assistant Public Defender in the Second Judicial District. Judge Vuelo serves on the Board of Directors for the Collaborative Community Law Initiative, as well as the former Vice President of the Hmong American Bar Association.  She received her B.A. from the University of Minnesota, and her J.D. from Hamline University School of Law.



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