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Jon Stark discovered a few years back that he literally didn’t have the heart for big-ticket intellectual property litigation. Stark, then a partner at Pennie & Edmonds, had embraced an admirably healthy lifestyle years earlier. But he 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. That’s when he quit the firm in favor of teaching high school for $41,000 a year. Now a calculus teacher at Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, California, Stark bicycles to work, enjoys long summer breaks and hasn’t missed a holiday dinner since he gave up his law firm partnership. “The schedule is delightfully kind,” says the lawyer-turned-teacher. “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. Plus, as Stark puts it, his “capital needs are met,” so he’s not stressed out over his greatly diminished salary. “I amassed enough capital that I can be comfortable,” he says. “I don’t have to rely on a teacher’s income to save up to buy a house.” Still, there are some things that Stark does miss about his litigating days. Besides the pay being just shy of insulting, the support in the schools is nothing like in a law firm, says Stark. “Schools are just not set up to support the professionals in it.” Besides having to get by without the assistance of a secretary and scads of junior associates, Stark also says he misses the teamwork that is part of the litigation process. “I spend most of the day as the only adult in the room,” says Stark, referring to his classroom duties. “There’s a loss of collegiality.” Stark readily admits that he 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, he says. “The idea has never occurred to them that something is impossible. They’re not jaded. They’re excited about their future and anxious to get on with it.”

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