How I Quit My Big Law Firm Job, Moved to an Island, and Built a Thriving Boutique Practice Closer to Nature

 

 

It was the spring of 2015: I was a corporate law partner in the Austin office of a 200-lawyer firm with a successful practice. The firm was collegial and my partners were smart and amiable. Our two kids, then ages 6 and 7, enjoyed Texas life, friends, and attended an excellent Waldorf school. My wife, Shannon, had a lifelong group of friends and family and a thriving yoga teaching practice. We had an eclectic group of friends and lived in a cool mid-century ranch house within biking distance to Barton Springs Pool and the Barton Creek Green Belt.  While Austin was hip and we were in the groove, we felt something was missing.

Indeed, during our eleven years as a family in Austin, the city’s population had increased by over 30%, transforming what once felt like a relatively small college town into a major metropolis with valet parking.  The inveterate traffic and furnace heat during most of the year increasingly made it a challenge to move about and enjoy being outside.

Having attended a small outdoors-oriented high school in Idaho and the University of Colorado at Boulder for my undergraduate degree, I developed a strong affinity for nature.  I thought escaping the urban life from time to time might be our remedy to Austin’s congestion.

My initial solution was to surprise the family with a vintage Sportsmobile that I purchased, sight unseen, on eBay.  We camped locally a couple times, sweltering while listening to our campsite neighbors crank up their generators and A/C units.  We made the seven-hour drive to Big Bend National Park, a desert treasure with purple mountain sunsets and ocotillo that proved too hot and too far to become part of our weekend routine. One summer, we spent a month living in a VRBO on Toddy Pond in Maine. Another, we rented a rustic cabin and small fishing boat at a lodge in Hayward, Wisconsin.  One more, we spent a week at a family camp in the Adirondacks.  

These nature sojourns confirmed that bigger lifestyle changes were required.  As woo-woo as it sounds, I felt a preternatural force pulling me closer to nature. Synchronicity at work, Shannon also experienced a need for change and a strong call to the wild.  Of course, the children were eager for more of life’s natural wonders.

That was about the time when I discovered Dylan Tomine’s wonderful book, Closer to the Ground, describing his family’s life on an island in the Pacific Northwest: fishing, foraging, picking berries, and gathering firewood. Although I am no expert fisherman, the lifestyle sounded right to me. Shannon read the book and agreed to make a solo reconnaissance trip to the island.  Huddled around the laptop, the kids and I watched via FaceTime as she rambled down a trail flanked by massive Douglas fir and Western red cedar trees, passing llama and sheep down to a local Italian restaurant. “We could live here,” she said with thoughtful optimism. And that was sufficient impetus for all four of us to board a plane and a ferry a few weeks later to conduct a family assessment.

Our visit confirmed not only that it would be possible to live on an island in the PNW, it would be phenomenal. We decided to make it happen, but how?  Due to a stroke of luck and my wife’s Texas-born tenacity, on the last evening of our trip, we arranged for a showing of a fairytale home for sale by owner: a historic, 1900 farmhouse on over two acres with a magnificent garden and orchard. Three days later we signed the purchase contract and sold our home in Austin within the same week.

As these events transpired, I resigned from the big Texas law firm and launched my boutique solo practice, adding a Washington law license to my quiver (Washington allows admission by motion to Texas attorneys practicing for three of the past five years).  I am thankful to my clients, who were understanding of our life changes and elected to continue as clients of John Dorsey PLLC.

We are now approaching our fifth year on the island and we have truly become closer to nature: we plant our gardens in the spring; we drop crab pots for Dungeness in the summer; we harvest our apples, plums, and pears in the fall; we collect and split wood for the stove in the winter; we sail and swim year round; and we try to live outdoors. We have developed new friendships and continue to explore our new Pacific Northwest surroundings.

My law firm’s clients are mainly from Washington, Texas, and Mexico.  I visit clients in Austin about once per quarter, and travel to Seattle, Mexico City, and elsewhere as needed. Shannon has a thriving home, garden, arts, writing, and yoga teaching practice. Our children are well-settled and enjoy a Waldorf education (yes, they are vaccinated) and life with hens, cats, dogs, coyotes, and owls in communion with nature.  

A couple of years ago, at the local 4th of July parade, we encountered Mr. Tomine and shared that our story to move to the island was influenced by his writings.  He replied with a reticent smile, “Really? That is a big responsibility. Don’t call me in February.” We are still here. And we hope to be here for awhile, closer to it all.

 

 

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