Great Escapes: Wall Street to Wyoming

March 20, 1991|By Deirdre Fanning | Deirdre Fanning,New York Times News Service

At dawn every weekday morning, Peter Moyer, 42, feeds his daughter's pony, bundles his three children into his Jeep, and drives eight miles through the valley at the base of the Teton Mountains to drop them off at school.

By 8:30, he is at his desk in a bare, two-room law office across the street from the courthouse in the center of Jackson, Wyo., a town of about 5,000 people.

After doffing his parka, the lanky attorney removes his shoes, tucks in his denim work shirt and gets down to business as one of the town's most prominent lawyers.

Mr. Moyer is one of the few of that breed with the nerve to make a dream a reality.

In 1981, he pulled the plug on his promising career as a top Wall Street lawyer and headed for Wyoming.

His new life, he says, is every bit as good as the dream.

Born and raised in Bernardsville, N.J., Mr. Moyer seemed well suited for the Wall Street grind.

After prepping at Deerfield Academy, he graduated from Princeton University and the University of Virginia Law School.

Between college and law school he worked briefly as a trader at Kidder, Peabody & Co. in New York.

Upon finishing law school in 1973, he joined the Wall Street law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell.

It was exhilarating. Within a few months, Mr. Moyer was working on transactions worth billions of dollars.

He soon became the firm's lead associate for all the corporate financings done by the Bell telephone companies.

He also worked on deals for one of Davis Polk's bigger clients, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, eventually completing some $10 billion worth of private placements for the central bank.

Within five years, it was clear he was headed for a partnership.

But Mr. Moyer had misgivings. He didn't just dread the 80-hour work weeks or the constant trips away from his new wife, Robin.

He also worried about the life style that came with advancement.

In retrospect, he says, he feared becoming a Sherman McCoy, the bond trader in Tom Wolfe's "Bonfire of the Vanities," who lived beyond his million-dollar income.

"Being a partner meant getting locked in," he says.

"And no matter how much money you earned, it seemed you couldn't save. Everybody seemed to be on their second or third marriage, and with all those expenses, you didn't see a lot of people who had much to retire on. I didn't want that for me."

Mr. Moyer and his wife decided to find another place to live, someplace smaller, less expensive.

They chose Jackson, where they had taken ski trips and which Mr. Moyer, a fishing fanatic, had always loved.

Picking a new home was more pleasant than telling his colleagues his plans.

People simply didn't leave a firm like Davis Polk for the hinterlands, especially when they were about to receive the ultimate accolade of partner.

"Most of the older partners said they wished they had done it years ago," Mr. Moyer says.

"But some of the younger partners seemed actually angry at me. It was like they thought, 'How can you reject what I've worked so hard to achieve?' "

In Jackson, the reality of the move was jolting at first.

Mr. Moyer joined a two-person law partnership, earning one-fifth of his previous salary of about $100,000.

He also discovered that an Ivy League degree and a Wall Street resume mean little in a town full of cowboys.

"I had never done litigation at all," he remembers.

"My first appearance before the judge here, I stood up and asked for a temporary restraining order for my client. The judge waited a minute, looked down at me and said, 'Mr. Moyer, you have to prove four elements to get a T.R.O. You have only talked about two of those elements. Now get out of here.' I almost died."

Despite some initial setbacks, Mr. Moyer soon had enough clients to hang out his own shingle.

He refuses to handle divorce -- "It's too small a town to be someone's psychiatrist" -- or personal injury and criminal cases.

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