Attorney at Law Magazine Miami publisher Rhenne Leon sat down with Sarah Zabel of Maze Resolutions PA to discuss her career and her plans for the future in the 2018 Women in Law special issue.
AALM: What was the beginning of your career like? How has it evolved over the years?
Zabel: My legal career began with the State Attorney’s Office Child Support Enforcement. Originally, I wanted to become an entertainment lawyer. I was involved in law school with the Entertainment and Law Society and was a research assistant to the entertainment and sports law professor at Nova.
Life takes many directions. When I worked for child support, I did the 180 and fell in love with helping children. I stayed at child support until I became assistant division chief and ensuring the workers’ compensation program I created (where past due child support from workers’ compensation was collected) sustained itself. I left after seven years to open my own practice.
As part of my practice I was a certified circuit civil and family mediator. Then life happens. My husband had a catastrophic accident when I was four months pregnant with our fourth child which left him a paraplegic for the rest his life and my first cousin was killed in 9/11. These two events were the catalyst for me running for judge.
Now I have come full circle and have a full-service alternative dispute resolution practice. My career path certainly has evolved since I graduated law school. No one has a crystal ball and life certainly is a journey and my path now is to resolve disputes away from the courthouse.
AALM: Did you have any mentors or professors who helped you develop your career?
Zabel: I have had many mentors throughout my life. Beginning with my parents. The late Sunny Schneider was the person who got me involved with Florida Association for Women Lawyers (FAWL). She took me by the hand and brought me into the organization. Sunny was a true cheerleader for FAWL and inspired me to help women break barriers in the legal profession. No matter what she was going through, especially due to her illness she always had a positive attitude.
Edith Osman is another role model and a true trailblazer for women. When she was president of the Florida Bar her mission was to put women on bar committees. It was because of Edith I was put onto the family law rules committee. She is someone I greatly respect because she is always true to her word.
Sandy Karlan (retired judge) is someone whom I greatly admire and who I learned so much from when I was on the bench. Also, Rosa Rodriguez (now retired judge). When I was in law school I interned for the Public Defender’s Office. Rosa was my mentor lawyer. When I became a judge, Rosa was there as a mentor and friend. Now we are still friends and are both mediators.
The best lesson I have learned is to be true to yourself and pay it forward!
AALM: How welcoming do you think the South Florida legal community is to women practitioners? How do you personally try to help women following in your career path?
Zabel: I believe in mentoring! I have had a lot of interns over the years. I participate every year in FAWL’s speed mentoring event. This event puts law school students with practitioners and judges. One of my mentees from a few years ago, became my summer intern. She gave me the honor of swearing her into the Bar and invited me to her wedding. Our relationship has now evolved into a lasting friendship. A few years ago, I was asked to join the leadership committee of FAWL. The committee created a leadership summit which is now in its sixth year. Each summit has different panels with a keynote speaker. The goal is for the audience to be inspired, by listening and learning to these amazing women. Last year, we had a panel on women led law firms and the year before we had women deans of Florida law schools. I am proud to be part of this committee which excites women to pursue a path they thought might be closed to them.
AALM: Tell us something about yourself that people would be surprised to learn.
Zabel: I am writing a book about my journey and hope it will communicate to the reader that when you are given lemons you make lemonade.
AALM: What accomplishment are you most proud of achieving?
Zabel: The four greatest accomplishments of my life are my four children. They make me look good. My oldest son who currently is working with me with my new practice, wants to eventually create a nonprofit startup and is currently volunteering with Aces for Autism. He plays tennis with children who have autism. My second son who is in his last year of law school is a mentor to several students and my daughter volunteers for the school for the blind in Boston and is studying to become a pediatric oncologist. My youngest who is in high school volunteers in the theatre department and mentors middle school students.
AALM: What case most defined or redefined your practice?
Zabel: Recently, I mediated a post judgment family case. I was able to help facilitate closure for the parties. It was so rewarding for me, knowing I helped stop the bleeding. This emphasized to me that I am traveling on the right journey.
AALM: What do you most hope to accomplish in the future?
Zabel: What I would like to accomplish is to build and sustain my ADR practice. My goal is to help navigate litigants (especially children and the elderly) through the maze of litigation and facilitate a healthy resolution to their conflict.
A few years ago, when I rotated into the family division, I created a pro bono collaborative law pilot project. It is named The Law Collaboratively (TLC). Collaborative law is the new frontier of dispute resolution. This project helps families who live pay check to paycheck stay out of the court system. My hope through these cases that are resolved collaboratively that they will not end up being the boomerang cases. With a great team of collaboratively trained lawyers and professionals (it takes a village) the project has had several successful cases.
I hope to obtain grant money for future training. I have brought the project to the Broward family judges who now are in the process of implementing the project. My goal is to take this project statewide to help indigent families have another avenue of dispute resolution.