Christine Larrabee
Underwater Videographer

Just a little over a year ago, Christine Larrabee swam through a daily legal sea of tobacco defense work in San Francisco as a paralegal at Shook, Hardy & Bacon.

A former case clerk and paralegal of two years at Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe, Larrabee, 34, said she loved the attorneys she worked with at Shook Hardy and that the work was substantial and interesting. But that wasn’t enough.

“I just was really unhappy,” she said. “I kept telling myself that if I worked more, if I was more successful, that I’d be happy.”

Without another job lined up, she gave notice after one year with the firm. “I was so busy at Shook, I didn’t have time to look for a job,” she said.

With nothing holding her down, she took off on a trip to the Cayman Islands with her mom to go deep-sea diving. The trip marked her first time scuba diving.

On the last day of her vacation, the deep-sea diving business she used offered her a job.

“They asked me if I wanted to be a videographer,” she said. “I came home and told my roommate and she said, ‘You’re going to do it, aren’t you?’ I thought, ‘How can I give up everything I’ve worked for?’”

Larrabee went to her family and friends for guidance.

“If one of them had said no, there’s no way I could have done it,” she said.

Now Larrabee spends most of her waking hours filming scuba-diving tourists.

She dives in and out of coral reefs, swims by hammerhead sharks and plays with schools of baby squid. “I’m probably the only person you know who has to give a presentation dripping wet in a bathing suit,” she said.

And no, she doesn’t regret leaving the law. In fact, she makes use of some of the skills she gained as a legal support staffer. There are the organizational skills, the goal setting and the time management.

“What I do now is so different,” she said. “But it’s not a party. When it’s raining and it’s cold, I have to dive — that’s my job. When I’m sick or I have an ear infection, I have to dive — that’s my job.”

Still, even with the nine-hour work days, no breaks, and pay that keeps her living hand-to-mouth on a regular diet of peanut butter and jelly, she said she plans to sign on for another year.

“You’re not bound by the laws of gravity,” she said. “It’s like a flying dream.”


photo: Jason Doiy

Susan Bologna

When Susan Bologna turned 50, she came to a realization that would end her eight-year tenure as a legal secretary and paralegal at Fenwick & West.

“My husband said, ‘What do you really want to do? What would really make you happy?’ ” she recalls. “ And I said I wanted to go to cooking school.”

In March 2000, Bologna started taking classes at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. She completed the school’s cooking program in April and is currently taking pastry and baking classes. This coming winter, she hopes to extern at a restaurant in Italy or Spain.

Even before attending the academy, Bologna, 51, said she was always reading cooking magazines and cookbooks and experimenting in the kitchen.

But going to cooking school hasn’t been a piece of cake. Bologna has to get up at 4 a.m. to commute to San Francisco from her Sunnyvale, Calif., home, allowing extra time before her seven-hour school day begins to change into her chef’s hat and checkered pants — or lose points for tardiness.

“There were a lot of things I really hadn’t expected, that I didn’t think you’d have to know,” said Bologna, who has taken classes in chemistry, bacteria and mathematics while at the academy.

Bolgna took a leave from Fenwick to free up time for studying, returning on a part-time basis after five months. She has since quit the firm, not only to allow more time for school but also to make the separation she needed to move on to her next career.

Now she’s finding out that some lawyers and haughty French chefs have a lot in common.

Bologna remembers a black-tie dinner she helped out with at the academy.

“They had about five French chefs all in the same kitchen at the same time,” she said. “And they have their egos, like people can have, like lawyers can have. Some people were scared to go in, and I said, ‘This is nothing.’ “


photo: Shelley Eades