03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Leaving the Law, Part Two: A Different Kind of Green

Yes, okay. I admit it. I miss the paycheck. But, the good news is that I've replaced the green I used to see in my bank account, with the kind of green that makes it easy to sleep at night. In May of this year, I left my post as an associate at a large international law firm to stake my claim in the Wild West of Colorado's clean energy economy.

My husband, David Neiger, laid the groundwork for my law firm departure two years ago when he left a Boulder architecture firm to launch Populus Sustainable Design Consulting. He had tired of designing large inefficient homes and was inspired to put his skills to use, giving architects and builders the tools they needed to create high-performance, net-zero homes.

While I reviewed documents by the soft glow of my computer screen, David discovered the workings of Quickbooks and sales tax reporting and employer identification numbers. While I was crossing the great plains of Iowa to take depositions at a Holiday Inn Express, David landed Populus' first client. In those days, I tracked his progress by the emails delivered to my BlackBerry as I was between client meetings, brief writing and marketing lunches.

I was with him each step of the way, toasting the small accomplishments that business owners start to take for granted when they become more established. We hugged each other in joy when clients paid their bills on time. We drank champagne and smoked cigars from the balcony of Populus' first office. And then, we toasted with Two Buck Chuck on the day we moved the office back to our second bedroom in a push to reduce overhead. We stuffed ourselves with sushi the day we achieved LEED for Homes certification on our first project.

Then, on November 4, 2008, we cooked an eight-course Thanksgiving Dinner for two and cried like babies when Obama won the presidency. For the first time in years, a president who shared our values would live in the White House, and there was talk that it would be the greenest White House we'd ever seen. As the nation embraced the new green economy, I started plotting my escape from the law. Like anyone who is running from the law, I went to Mexico, and on the beach of a Cabo resort, I read Escape from Corporate America. When I returned home, I read every book I could find about entrepreneurs who followed their hearts and reclaimed their happiness.

Months later, on March 20, 2009, after an all day deposition in a Denver high-rise it happened. As I was thanking the witness for his time, he turned to me and asked why in the world anyone would want to do my job. I told him that depositions weren't always so draining, that my job was really very pleasant, especially when I had a good working relationship with opposing counsel.

But his words had struck a chord in some forgotten place. After a long RTD ride back to Boulder, over Chicken Marsala at California Pizza Kitchen, David and I decided it was time for me to leave. It was scary and exhilarating. So I did what anyone in my position would do. First, I bought myself an iPhone (after all, I was about to become a serious business woman). Then, I took a week in Maui to sleep on it. And finally, in May of 2009, I escaped the law.

The day after I left, I cleared old boxes out of the office closet to make room for my desk. As luck would have it, I came across a sheet of paper with three lists, titled My Goals in Life, What I Love and My Dreams. I smiled, took out a pink highlighter and put a check mark next to "be my own boss," "never put $ over the ones you love" and "getting back massages." I reminded myself that I once loved writing poetry. I laughed until my eyes teared up reading: "Patent/Invent something awesome."

Populus is a full service sustainable design consulting firm that focuses on high performance, net-zero and near-net-zero custom residential and multi-family projects. Populus guides architects and builders through the requirements of mandatory green building codes and optional green home certification programs, providing HERS rating, LEED for Homes Green Rater services and LEED for Homes training. Visit Populus at