Sabbatical Story: From Business Attorney to National Park Ranger
For the past six months, Bernstein Shur Shareholder Dave Schneider spent his days far removed from the firm’s downtown Portland, ME, office where he specializes in a wide range of corporate matters, including mergers and acquisitions.
Schneider served as a national park ranger on a remote island in ME.
“I had never given myself any leeway to do anything but be a lawyer,” said Schneider, who earned his J.D. with highest honors from George Washington University Law School in 2009.
That changed in early 2021 when he applied for a job with the U.S. National Park Service and got hired as a park ranger to serve Isle au Haut, which is part of ME’s Acadia National Park.
“Some people are pretty surprised to hear what I’ve been up to,” Schneider said on his first day back in the office. “I wanted to work, but I wanted to do something different and challenging. I didn’t want to go on vacation.”
He knows it’s not the kind of sabbatical you might expect from an attorney at one of northern New England’s largest law firms, advising clients around the world—but Bernstein Shur isn’t your typical law firm.
Schneider remembers in detail his conversation in May with Bernstein Shur CEO Joan Fortin.
“I told her I have a rare opportunity to be a park ranger. Thousands of people apply. I didn’t think I would get picked,” he said.
The response was universally positive.
“She was super supportive of me taking that time, but she also told me that I better come back,” he said with a chuckle.
Fortin, who has been CEO of the firm since January 2020, said while there’s no official sabbatical program, it’s something she’s excited to explore, using Schneider’s experience as a launch pad.
“Dave is a great person and a great lawyer. When he told me he had this amazing opportunity to work for the National Park Service, which would allow him to recharge and refresh, it was an easy yes for me,” Fortin said. “I want our people to be at their best, and sometimes that requires taking some time away to focus on something totally different for a little while. Because of our deep tradition of giving back, I also think it’s important for our colleagues to be engaged members of our communities and to be of service to others.”
During his time on Isle au Haut, Schneider was busy welcoming visitors to the island, doing trail maintenance, and even got his chainsaw certification.
“Isle au Haut is a special place. It’s covered in spruces, moss and fungi, against the backdrop of ME’s bold coastline. It’s a hidden gem of Acadia,” Schneider said.
Using his research skills developed throughout his legal career, he spent about 100 hours developing an education program about moss for the island’s school.
“It was a lot of fun and special to see how much the students enjoyed it. It reinforced for me the importance of public service jobs,” he said.
Schneider is now back at Bernstein Shur recharged, ready to re-engage with his clients, and prepared to retell the tales of his journey from attorney to park ranger.