A poor grade on an undergraduate business law paper inspired attorney Mary Chaney to go to law school. “My goal when I went to law school was to graduate No. 1 in my class,” she says. “I needed to prove that professor wrong about me and law.”
Chaney was salutatorian at Texas Southern University, but a summer internship during her freshman year proved that working with a law firm was not for her. “It just didn’t appeal to me, and so, I ended up graduating law school and applying to go into the FBI.”
She found a specialty that matched her passion: technology. Working with the cybercrime unit in Los Angeles as a special agent beginning in 2002, Chaney was tasked with a caseload that included fraud and denial of service attacks. When the FBI would not approve Chaney’s request for a Cincinnati transfer closer to her hometown and family, she found herself at a crossroads.
“I was forced to make a decision, as women often do, between my career and my family,” Chaney says. “I chose my family.” She left the bureau in 2008 and began a consulting company, helping small and midsize businesses with information security.
Chaney also runs a group that provides support to women and minorities in the industry.
After moving back to her home state of Ohio, Chaney went on to hold cybersecurity positions throughout the Northeast at companies like Comcast and Johnson and Johnson but felt limited.
“I became frustrated with corporate America and trying to climb the ladder and pierce the double-paned glass ceiling that exists for minority women in that space,” she says.
In 2018, she moved to Texas, where she was still licensed, and opened a cybersecurity law practice in Dallas. She also formed a nonprofit, Minorities in Cybersecurity, which provides leadership development for women and people of color in the industry. Apple is among those that hold corporate memberships in the group.
Chaney is eager to see if more companies begin to take more of a preventative approach to cybersecurity rather than a curative one with the shift to remote work.
“[Cybersecurity] should be something people want to do before the breach,” Chaney says. “But still, people call me when there is a breach or when there is a problem, more so than to defend against that problem or to prevent the problem.”