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Thursday, April 18, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Deborah Arron helped lawyers solve career crises

Seattle Times staff reporter

Deborah Lee Arron, once a high-powered lawyer who gained national recognition after writing a book about leaving the legal profession, helped guide countless lawyers out of career crises.

Her book, "Running From the Law," published in 1989, challenged the belief that lawyers with a lot of money and prestige had it all. At the time, lawyer dissatisfaction was a taboo topic, and her book brought the issue to national attention.

"She did a very courageous thing to name this thing," said Carrie Molenda, a former partner in a large Seattle law firm. Molenda remembered tiptoeing up the stairs of Arron's home for a workshop 10 years ago, hoping no one would recognize her.

"Back then, you didn't admit you were going to see Deborah Arron. It was like going to see a therapist."

Ms. Arron, who had a rare blood disorder, died Sunday (April 14) after complications of a bone-marrow transplant. She was 52.

In summer 1985, Ms. Arron closed her successful Seattle practice, forsaking a profession that had brought her much acclaim and compensation. She wrote that she had no other option. Even though she was working only a 40-hour week, she wrote that she was not satisfied: "I hated waking up to go to work."

Soon after she stopped practicing law, Ms. Arron struggled with what to do. "Who am I? What do I want from life? Where am I going? Why did I leave my safe little prison for the frightening unknown?" she wrote in a journal.

A Seattle native, Ms. Arron was a University of Washington Phi Beta Kappa who graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree. She earned her law degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, and was a member of the UCLA Law Review.

She was hired as the first female associate of Seattle law firm William, Kastner & Gibbs in 1976. After a stint teaching legal research at Highline Community College, she co-founded the Seattle law firm Arron & Zeder in 1978.

It was after a sabbatical in 1986 that she decided to devote her life to helping disenchanted lawyers.

Former Seattle lawyer Molenda said that when she went to a workshop by Ms. Arron, she was feeling vulnerable and embarrassed because she didn't know what to do with her life. She said Ms. Arron asked her questions that helped her make decisions and ultimately gave her the strength to leave a successful practice in commercial transactions. She is now writing and teaching about employee benefits.

Another lawyer, Mike Gillick, said that after he attended a 1997 workshop by Ms. Arron in Denver, he left his practice in Tampa, Fla., and bought 35 acres in Colorado. "I now practice law in a small town and spend a lot of time outdoors enjoying life," he told Ms. Arron in an e-mail.

In the past three or four years, Ms. Arron had wanted to take her message beyond lawyers and write a book on how to deal with the worst moments of life, according to her husband, Mark Jaroslaw. He said she was even taking notes for her next book while she was in the hospital.

"There was so much more Debby wanted to do, but hers was a life interrupted," said Jaroslaw.

In her free time, Ms. Arron enjoyed gardening, cooking and traveling.

"She didn't like too much structure," her husband said, so she never used recipes or read books on gardening. And when it came to travel, he said, he and his wife had a simple formula: "We wanted a place that combined great history, great food and great shopping. There always had to be shopping."

Ms. Arron is preceded in death by a son, Benjamin Jaroslaw, and is survived by her husband; parents, Irene and Eugene Arron of Seattle; and sisters Judy Rosen, Cherie Causey, Barbara Arron and Jan Arron, all of Seattle.

Services are at 1 p.m. today at Temple De Hirsch Sinai, 1511 E. Pike St., Seattle. The family has requested that any contributions be given in Ms. Arron's name to Childhaven, a care and treatment program for abused and neglected children under age 6.

Bobbi Nodell can be reached at 206-464-2342 or bnodell@seattletimes.com.

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