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Have a J.D. but Don't Want to Work in Law? Consider Cybersecurity

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

If you're a law school grad, but you can't find or don't want a job as a lawyer, there are plenty of alternatives: president, talk show host, Cuban revolutionary, or whiskey maker. Consider, too, the cybersecurity field. Cybersecurity, or "the cyber" as some have taken to calling it, is one of the fastest growing tech sectors, with the market predicted to be worth over $200 billion in a few years. The industry is adding millions of jobs and the unemployment rate for those with cybersecurity experience is zero, according to some reports. Zero. That's way better than the unemployment rate of law school grads.

And you don't have to be a computer sciences major to end up in cybersecurity. In a recent interview with Forbes, law school grad and former attorney Shelly Westman talked about her journey from law school to tech. Here's how she got from crim law to Senior VP of Alliances and Field Operations at the data security company Protegrity.

From Law School to Cybersecurity

Like many people, Westman "loved law school, but hated practicing law." Westman made the transition from law to cybersecurity early on. In an interview with Forbes' Whitney Johnson, Westman explains that she first started practicing civil litigation and domestic law at a small firm, but didn't like it. "When I realized this wasn't for me, I was fortunate to get hired into the contract group at IBM."

Working on contracts is a great way for lawyers and J.D.s to apply their legal knowledge in a corporate setting, but IBM also gave Westman the chance to experience a wide array of work, she says. She went on to work in supply chain management, ran hardware strategy, and eventually made her way to cybersecurity.

Westman is a prime example of how law students can evolve their skills and careers over time, using their legal background as the entry point into a career that can take them far from the law. But, she's not completely done with the law. When asked what she's reading, Westman explained that "I read so much for work that when I read for pleasure I read only legal and medical mysteries." Famous lawyer-turned-writer John Grisham topped her list.

But Will It Pay the Bills?

Will you take a financial hit if you leave the law for cybersecurity? Not likely. With cybersecurity workers in demand, many are able to command high salaries. The average salary of a chief information security officer is $204,000, according to the staffing company SilverBull. Cybersecurity software engineers can make an average of $233,000, according to Forbes. Many entry level jobs pay much less, however. For comparison, the average attorney salary in 2014 was about $115,000.

Of course, many cybersecurity positions require expertise -- the tech, not the legal, kind. J.D.s can come by necessary experience organically, as Westman did, or they can pursue cybersecurity training programs, from certification programs to masters degrees.

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