Even though Sarah Buel grew up without a television, she credits TV's "Perry Mason" with her decision to become an attorney. She became acquainted with the fictional lawyer while watching TV on baby-sitting jobs in the early '60s. "Once I saw Perry Mason and saw that he could make the right thing happen, I thought, that's what I need to learn." There were no female lawyers on TV back then, she adds.
A former domestic abuse victim, Buel has devoted her career to helping others in similar situations. When she left her abusive ex-husband back in the '70s, she was appalled at the treatment she received from the court. "I didn't really set out to have it be my life's work," she says, "so in some ways it's very humbling 35 years later to still be doing this...(trying) to figure out how we bring about family peace."
A Harvard Law School graduate, Buel spent close to seven years as a prosecutor in Massachusetts and Texas, before becoming a clinical professor at the University of Texas School of Law, founding the university's Domestic Violence Clinic and co-founding the University of Texas Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
Since July 2010, Buel has been a clinical professor at Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law and the founding director of the Diane Halle Center for Family Justice with the Nextcare Family Violence Clinic.
Her work at the Halle Center has several components. One is overseeing the Ruth B. McGregor Family Protection Clinic, in which law students have full cases, go into court under attorney supervision and represent victims.
Another arm of the Halle Center brings together health-care and legal professionals to help low-income populations who have legal problems that almost always exacerbate their medical problems, Buel says.
By helping the abuse victims with comprehensive legal assistance, which includes helping them through divorce proceedings, custody and other poverty-related legal issues, the center is able to help victims become self-sufficient, Buel says.
The Halle Center often refers clients to Jewish Family & Children's Service for counseling. "They are fabulous," she says. "I can't say enough wonderful things about them."
Buel, who has garnered more than 35 awards for her work, including being profiled by NBC as one of the five most inspiring women in America and being named one of the "Top 50 Female Graduates of Harvard Law School," says it's important to approach family violence as a problem for which there are many solutions. "We absolutely have it in our power to end family violence."
In order to do that, Buel says, people in the community need to think about ways they can help. "It really takes all of us. It doesn't have to be this issue, but make sure you're giving back in some way, whether it's writing checks or volunteering time. I find that the most disgruntled students, colleagues, family members and friends are those who have pretty self-focused lives and are not giving back in any way."
In addition to her ASU duties, Buel currently serves on eight commissions and community panels, has authored more than 35 articles and is working on her first book about positive rights for abuse victims.
"I'm trying to do better at creating personal time," she says. "It's a constant struggle. I'm just interested in too many things."
As for her career, she says she feels blessed beyond her wildest dreams.
"I couldn't have planned all this."