Forbes | Wondering What To Do With Your Law Degree, Consider Cybersecurity

Share this post:

Courtesy Shelley Westman

Your career may not turn out as you imagined. But what you learn in the process can springboard you to new opportunities.

Just ask Shelley Westman.

As a girl, her cousin would tell stories about his legal clients. She decided to become a lawyer. The fact that he was quite wealthy didn’t hurt either.

She loved law school, but hated practicing law. It was too negative and adversarial. So she left the law and joined IBM eighteen years ago. She held a variety of roles, the most recent being in cyber-security. Because only about 10% the people in this field are women, she decided to do something about it. At IBM, Shelley formed a group called WISE (Women in Security Excelling). WISE now has over 800 members.

Recently Shelley disrupted herself, leaving IBM to join Protegrity, a data security company. She's a Senior Vice President of Alliances & Field Operations. It's not where law school usually leads, but it’s where she’s landed.

Pivotal Moment of Reinvention

There have been so many. Leaving the practice of law was one of them; my most recent example is when I took the leap a few months ago to join Protegrity. It is a much smaller company than I have ever worked at. I can’t even imagine a bigger change. Moving from a huge company like IBM to a small company of less than 300 people where it's on me to help grow this company.

Valuable mentor / sponsor

I have had many great mentors and sponsors over the years, far too many to name for fear of leaving someone out. It has been really helpful to have mentors that are different from me so that I can get a variety of perspectives. For example, I tend to be an analyzer. I re-play conversations over and over in my mind, ruminating about what I could have done better. Many of my mentors often have a different approach. They don’t dwell on their decisions but rather learn from them and move on. They taught me it is ok to fail.  To adopt a “fail fast” strategy.  Try something, and course correct if it does not work.

Moonshot goal

First, I want to help grow Protegrity. We are at a critical stage right now. 2017 is our year to move the market. Data security is a huge issue; the technology we offer helps organizations protect their most sensitive data.

Second, I want to to help add more women to the ranks of cyber security. Women make up 50%+ of college graduates, but only 10% of cyber security professionals. Cyber security needs the best and brightest to stay ahead of hackers. We can't do that without more women.

First job, second job?

I have been working for as long as I can remember. From babysitting, working at McDonald’s, being a camp counselor and a waitress, work is in my DNA.

After graduating from law school, I practiced civil litigation and domestic law at a small firm in Raleigh, NC. When I realized this wasn't for me, I was fortunate to get hired into the contract group at IBM. The corporate world was fascinating. I kept finding more areas of expertise I want'ed to developed. I've worked in operations, including supply chain. Ran strategy for IBM's hardware group, owned product lines, then cyber security. When I don’t work for a few days, I miss it.

What I'm Reading

I wish I could say I was reading some great business book or a fabulous self-help book, but that is not the case. I read so much for work that when I read for pleasure I read only legal and medical mysteries. My favorite authors are John Grisham, Robin Cook, Phillip Margolin, and David Baldacci. I just started reading on my iPad which is great because I don’t need to put on my reading glasses!


I unplug by reading and going to the gym. Both of them transport me to another world. At the gym, I pay full attention, giving it my all. Reading takes me to another world all together. I hate to admit it but I also have a fair number of TV shows I am addicted to: Scandal, Grey's Anatomy, The Middle, The Goldberg's, SharkTank, and Designated Survivor. Best of all, I unplug by laughing with my 19 year-old daughter. We both think the other one is hysterical. The funniest part is that my husband doesn't think either of us is funny.

Song I Can't Stop Singing

“Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake. It makes me happy! It’s got a great beat and it is about dancing…what’s not to love? 

Best advice

It is a line from a song by Leanne Womack  that says “… and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.” To me this means we should be active participants in life. Say yes, take risks, put yourself out there. I know that I will only regret the things I didn’t do, didn’t say or didn’t try. I have taken a lot of risks in my career. I've been in several roles that were brand new. I had to chart my course. I always keep that line from the song in mind!

“Keep me going” quote

“At 211 degrees water is hot; at 212 degrees water boils. It’s that ONE extra degree that makes all the difference.” I have a signed copy of a poster from author S.L. Parker on my wall. I look at it every single day. It reminds me to always do a little more, to give it that extra degree of effort.

This post originally published at Forbes

Share this post:

Contact Us

Fill out this form and we will follow up to create a customized plan to help you build a smart growth organization.

Media & Press Inquiries

including requesting Whitney as a guest on your podcast

Media & Press Inquiries arrow_forward

Gain insight into growth, adaptability and agility

Download our free resources outlining the Accelerants of Growth—including books, podcasts and TEDtalks to help you move up your S Curve of Learning.