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In 1997, Jon Stark discovered he literally didn’t have the heart for big-ticket intellectual property litigation. He had adopted an admirably healthy lifestyle years earlier but was still fighting high blood pressure and a family history of cardiac illness. When he turned 47 — the age when his father had his first heart attack — Stark decided he had one last thing he could change: his high-pressure job. So the Pennie & Edmonds partner quit to teach high school for $41,000 a year. His new colleagues, many of whom are 20-somethings, snicker at his job change, probably thinking that he jumped from the frying pan into the fire. But Stark doesn’t see it that way. Now a calculus teacher at Cupertino’s Monta Vista High School, Stark bicycles to work daily, enjoys long summer breaks and hasn’t missed a holiday dinner since he gave up being a partner at Pennie. “The schedule is delightfully kind,” Stark said. “There are no client emergencies, no temporary restraining-order or preliminary-injunction motions to file, no judges moving hearings to make me cancel my vacation.” Stark also has a good gig by high school teaching standards. For one thing, he instructs advanced placement students, youngsters earning college credits for their high school work. And it’s not exactly an inner-city environment, he said. Plus, as Stark put it, his “capital needs are met,” so he’s not stressed out over his salary. “I amassed enough capital that I can be comfortable,” he said. “I don’t have to rely on a teacher’s income to save up to buy a house.” The nest egg also helps make up for the some of the shortcomings of being a public school employee. For example, Stark can afford to pop for copies at Kinko’s if he doesn’t manage to meet the deadline for having them completed by school staff. (Copy orders at the school have to be submitted 24 hours in advance.) “Besides the pay being just shy of insulting, the support in the schools is nothing like in a law firm,” Stark said. “Schools are just not set up to support the professionals in it.” But Stark found something he missed more than his office, a secretary and scads of junior associates. He missed the teamwork of being a litigator. “I spend most of the day as the only adult in the room,” Stark said. “There’s a loss of collegiality.” Stark also misses the excitement of being in a courtroom. But what he gets out of teaching more than compensates Stark for what he gave up. The 165 teenagers he teaches each year are rewarding to work with, Stark said. “The idea has never occurred to them that something is impossible,” he said. “They’re not jaded. They’re excited about their future and anxious to get on with it.” And there are those moments when a student — particularly one who was having a tough time — makes a remark or asks a question that reveals to Stark that he is getting through. “It just floats your ego for a week,” Stark said. “There are little moments of small rewards that will carry you past any frustrations.”

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